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Church, Shia leaders in Pakistan join to protect Muslim cemetery

Government wants to use cherished graveyard to build new train station

Church, Shia leaders in Pakistan join to protect Muslim cemetery

Church leaders in Pakistan have lent their support to Shia leaders in demanding that the government not appropriate part of a historical cemetery for the minority Muslim sect to make way for a new train station.

"This is totally unacceptable. The proposed train station is a very good plan but should not be made controversial by hurting the sentiments of our Shia brothers," said Father James Channan, regional coordinator of the United Religions Initiative.

"An alternative route or an overhead bridge can be made but demolishing graves will only result in chaos," he told ucanews.com.

The government has begun plans for the Orange Line of Lahore Metro, the country's first mass rapid transit train system, which is to be constructed in the Punjab provincial capital. One of its proposed stations is to include a section of Mominpura Shia cemetery.

Almost all Muslims belong either to the majority Sunni or minority Shia branches of Islam. Muslims form about 95 percent of Pakistan's people, with the Shia community accounting for about 20 percent of the Muslim population. 

In a press conference on Oct. 21, representatives of the Shia community said the development plan was a practical demonstration of the government's enmity and bias against them.

"We shall not let them demolish more than 250 graves, some of them eight centuries old," Peer Syed Nobahar Shah, chairman of the All Parties Shia Federation, told ucanews.com.

Besides the cemetery, part of the 27.1-kilometer tract project also will affect commercial establishments on land worth millions of rupees belonging to the Shia Trust Property, which does not wish to sell the land.

"Funds raised from rent is used for organizing Shia processions, gatherings, managing our madrassas and scholarships for Shia students," Shah said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also called on the government to review the project and to stop attacking people's basic right to preserve their heritage.

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Father Aftab James Paul of the diocesan Commission for Interreligious Dialogue in Faisalabad has also supported the Shia demand.

"The government must not demolish graves or sacred places in the name of development," he said, adding that there was no harm in making small changes to the route.

Instead, the government should pay more attention to the security of the Shia community, he said.

In the past decade, Pakistan has witnessed several sectarian attacks against Shias including those targeting their worship places. Sunni extremists often denounce Shias as heretics.

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