Sarhadi Lutheran Church was burned but can be repaired
President Asif Ali Zardari yesterday called the burning of a church, adjacent school and bishop’s house in the northwest of the country “un-Islamic” as the backlash over a film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad continued over the weekend.
Describing the near-destruction of Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan “unfortunate and reprehensible,” Zardari called on provincial authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to protect Christian churches from the continuing backlash by extremist Islamic groups.
“Ransacking public and private property, particularly the places of worship of other religions, was itself un-Islamic and highly condemnable,” he said.
Christians yesterday held a Sunday Mass on the site of the 75-year-old church, singing hymns opposite a charred bronze cross placed on the altar while the congregation wore black armbands.
The walls of the church were still covered with slogans spray-painted by the attackers including ‘Allah Akbar’ and ‘love of prophet.’
Zeeshan Chand, 18, said he was lucky to escape being burned alive after police, who were outnumbered by the attackers in a firefight outside, rescued him when he escaped through a back door.
“I was looking for my father, a pastor, when they [the attackers] arrived,” he said. “I was caught and some tried to pour petrol on me.”
Pastor Ghulam Shaad, vice-chairman of the Northern diocese, said the mob that attacked the church, school and bishop’s house also stole a laptop and an air-conditioning unit.
Government engineers have said that the church and school can be repaired but that the bishop’s house must be rebuilt.
“As humans we ask what have they done? As Christians we forgive them,” said Pastor Shaad.
Samson Simon Sharaf, a politcs and defense analyst, said that the attackers had also burned copies of the Qu’ran that were in the school and called for a blasphemy case against those responsible.
“Any comment on this is not enough,” he said. “A sincere and peaceful community is being persecuted.”
Sarhadi Lutheran Church was bombed last year and attacked with grenades in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani coalition government has showed signs of divisions over the response to the film which has sparked protests across much of the Muslim world.
Following the announcement on Saturday by Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour that he would offer a personal reward of US$100,000 to anyone who kills the director of the film – named as Californian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula – the Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the offer.
A spokesman said the bounty was “representative of Mr. Bilour’s personal views and had nothing to do with the official policy of the government of Pakistan.”
Religious leaders urge restraint over film
Church condemns blasphemous movie