The Pentecostal United Church in Lahore, Pakistan, where Riaz Rehmat is pastor.World Watch Monitor
A church leader in Lahore was beaten up during his Sunday service by a policeman, during a dispute over whether or not music was being played over his church loudspeaker.
Lahore has the largest concentration of the Christian community in Pakistan. The situation in Fazlia Colony, where about 400 households are Christian, deteriorated when a Muslim neighbour of the Pentecostal United Church called the police, saying that the church was using the loudspeaker to “cause inconvenience”, allegedly “violating the Punjab Sound System (Regulation) Act, 2015”.
Pastor Riaz Rehmat, who leads the Pentecostal United Church, told World Watch Monitor: “Four personnel of the emergency police arrived at about 10.30am and asked for me. I went outside and explained to them that the loudspeaker was not in use. I asked them to enquire from Constable Muhammad Nawaz, who is on duty every Sunday for our security. Nawaz told them that no loudspeaker was in use.”
Rehmat said that while they were discussing why someone had called the police, one of the four – Mir Ullah, a constable – rushed into the church, wielding his gun, shouting that they should stop their worship.
“At this, I went after him and told him to get out of the church, at which he started beating me,” he said. “As there are other churches nearby, soon the news spread. Other church congregants started pouring in; they blocked the Ferozepur Road and demanded immediate action against the policeman who had beaten me.”
Hundreds of Christians blocked the main road for about three hours; they dispersed only after police gave a full assurance that the accused policeman would be arrested and charged, according to the law.
The Icchra Police Station House Officer, Bilal Hanif, said Ullah has been suspended for his actions.
“A departmental inquiry has been launched and senior police officers are investigating,” he said. “The call was made by Shabir Shah, who lives next to the church. He made a similar call last week and the police are investigating that as well.”
Rehmat explained more background: “About three years ago, Shabir Shah arrived at the church gate one Sunday before worship. He shouted loudly that our music must be stopped. I informed the police and local politicians, and the matter was settled at that time.”
Rehmat said he believes that Shah belongs to the Deobandi school of Islamic thought, recently profiled in a BBC documentary.
Dilraj John, who also lives close to the Pentecostal United Church, told World Watch Monitor that two weeks ago the police briefly apprehended two Christians youths from Church of Christ, another church in the vicinity.
“The two Christians were arrested after someone called the emergency police, but these two were released after about an hour,” he said.
Ice-cream seller beaten
In a separate incident, a Christian claimed that he had been beaten up by a mob for selling ice cream to Muslim customers, who said they believed it was “ritually unclean” because it had been touched by a Christian.
On 16 May, Khalil Masih, 42, a father of six, was selling ice cream from the back of his motorcycle in the village of Badoke in Changa Manga, Kasur district.
“The wife of Muhammad Boota stopped me and told me that I could not sell ice cream, as I’m ritually impure, and so I defile Muslims by selling ice cream to them,” Masih told World Watch Monitor. “She warned me not to come again into the village, or I would face dire consequences.”
“The next day, when I went into the village, Muhammad Boota’s two sons, Muhammad Rizwan and Muhammad Farman, started beating me up, and took me to the square, where other people joined in beating me up. They beat me and then told me that being an ‘unclean’ Christian, I could not sell food. I lodged a complaint, but the police were not willing to help me. A similar incident took place about three years ago and, even then, the police did not arrest the culprits.”
Most Pakistani Christians trace their origins via Hinduism’s traditional caste system to the Dalit “untouchable” caste*. In this system, Dalits are thought to bring ritual impurity to others, which is why most Muslims do not like to associate them, especially when eating and drinking.
However, the Changa Manga Police Station House Officer, Muhammad Hussain, told World Watch Monitor that the issue was resolved through a compromise on 20 May and denied that religion was involved.
“Masih was selling ice cream when that woman asked him to give five-rupee ice creams for children,” he said. “He told her that he had only ten-rupee ice creams, at which she said that Masih should have five-rupee ice creams as well, so adults could afford them for all their children. Masih told the woman that she wanted to enjoy ice cream without spending money, which caused this tension.”
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan Peoples Party’s vice-president, subsequently told media that Christians are not second-class citizens.
“While realising that we all have a long way to go in building equality competence, Pakistan cannot continue to tolerate continual religious persecution of its minorities,” she said. “They are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.”
Asia Bibi, probably the most well-known Christian in Pakistan, has been in prison for almost seven years, convicted of blasphemy, a charge triggered after she offered a cup of water to a fellow female worker in the fields on a very hot day. Her co-worker objected that the mere touch of a Christian had made the water “haram”, or religiously forbidden for Muslims. Asia Bibi was told to convert to Islam in order to become purified of her ritual impurity. Her refusal was perceived as an insult of Islam and hence she was accused of committing blasphemy.
*Encyclopaedia Britannica explains caste as “socially ranked occupational categories”. The caste system splits occupations into three types: “clean”, “menial” and “defiling”. The upper three castes are assigned as “clean” occupations. “Menial” occupations include barber, cobbler and ironsmith. Jobs involving picking up dead animals, working with their hides, and also sanitary work, are considered “defiling”. Those working in “defiling” occupations are considered “untouchable” because, by touching them, a “clean” person becomes ritually “unclean”.