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Dhaka Christians refute Muslim conversion claims

Church leaders speak out against hardline Muslim group

ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

Published: April 22, 2013 08:35 AM GMT

Updated: April 21, 2013 11:33 PM GMT

Dhaka Christians refute Muslim conversion claims
Christian groups say they have kept silent amid fears of an Islamic backlash (photo by Chandan Robert Rebeiro)

Church leaders have broken their silence over a recent campaign by a radical Islamist group which has made accusations that Christians have tried to convert Muslims. The group has threatened to blockade Dhaka if its numerous demands are not met.

On April 6, the Muslim group Hifazat-e-Islam urged the government to initiate the death penalty for bloggers defaming Islam, guarantee mandatory Islamic education and restore a pledge to Allah in the constitution by May 5.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and ministers from the ruling Awami League have strongly rejected the demands.

Hifazat is a group linked to opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami, a major adversary of the government. Church groups have until now remained wary of commenting on its hardline stance which has also included accusations that newly formed Protestant churches and NGOs are attempting to convert Muslims.

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi denied Catholic involvement in conversion, an activity which is not illegal according to Bangladeshi law.

“The Catholic Church is not involved in such activities. Anyone with specific allegations should go to the court and we will prove our innocence,” he said in an interview at the weekend.

He added that, on the conmtrary, there was proof of Muslim conversions of Christians.

Accusations against Christian groups were made under article 10 of a 13-point list of demands made by Hifazat on April 6.

Mufti Faizullah, joint secretary of the group, declined to name churches and NGOs accused of converting Muslims over what he said was a fear of inciting unrest in a country which has seen political and religious tensions explode in recent months with almost daily strikes and protests.

“We don’t want to name churches and NGOs but we can if the government wants to know,” he added.

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Nirmol Rozario, secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association, accused radical Islamic groups of systematic campaigns spreading false information to discredit Christianity in Bangladesh.

“I think there is a sense of fear over reprisal and a lack of fortitude among Church leaders over the issue,” he said.

A Dhaka-based Catholic leader who declined to be named said fear of reprisals by Islamic groups had forced Christian leaders to keep silent in recent weeks following a backlash in the past by what he termed Islamic “fundamentalists.”

“The Church wants to work in silence and avoid further controversy,” he said.

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