On August 16, 2023, violence raged out of hand against innocent Christians in Jaranwala in the early morning hours after several local Muslims accused two Christian men, Raja Amir Masih, and his brother, of tearing pages out of a book of Quran, throwing them on the ground, and writing derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad on other pages of the same book. The accused allegedly used red ink and threw the pages on the street close to the Chowk Cinema. On a page of the Holy Quran, the accused Raja Masih and his brother also supposedly pasted their own photographs along with complete information about their identities, including their home addresses. This information enabled law enforcement agencies to quickly arrest the accused.
After the Quran was purportedly desecrated, a violent mob armed with batons, iron rods and chemicals went on a rampage in Jaranwala city and its surroundings vandalizing and burning churches and Christian homes.
According to the several news agencies, mainstream media in Pakistan, and our own fact-finding, the assault carried out by the 6,000-strong extremist and jihadi groups resulted in the destruction of more than 200 Christian houses, 21 churches, and a large number of Holy Bibles. Teenagers made up the majority of the violent crowd that committed this most likely premeditated act of violence. There were no casualties or deaths since all of the Christians had fled their houses and sought sanctuary elsewhere. Many Christians, including our Orthodox parishioners, have hid themselves and their families in the crop fields outside the city.
After hearing this heartbreaking news, with blessings of my ruling Bishop His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas, the First Hierarch of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, I and my pastoral staff went to the targeted site. We did whatever we could to console the victims. Several women were lamenting the loss of their valuables and burned houses when I reached the Christian enclave. A group of women and children ran to me, pleading for help, begging and yelling, “Father, save us.”
Three Roman Catholic Churches were burned down, and two Salvation Army headquarters are decimated. Most of the damage was done to various Protestant Churches and homes. The St. John of Shanghai Orthodox community is located just just sixteen kilometers down the Jaranwala Road Fasialabad, and so our people are also fearful of attacks. But they have many relatives among the Catholic and Protestant victims, who are now taking refuge in their homes.
It was extremely sorrowful for me as I tried to offer them solace in their misery and trauma. Difficult as it was, I managed to control my emotions as their spiritual father and console them by quoting Holy Scripture:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:16–17).
Many Christians told us during our stay in Jaranwala that their Muslim neighbors in Jaranwala gave them refuge and pinned Quranic verses on their doors to protect them from the violent crowd. This was a wonderful gesture by pious and kind Muslims in Pakistan. As of August 17, 126 Muslims have been arrested by the Pakistani police and special forces.
The Pakistani government and law enforcement officials maintain that this incident was a plan by enemies of the state to destabilize Pakistan. For seven days, Section 144 has been in effect in Jaranwala, making processions, public meetings, and rallies illegal.
Pakistan has a long record of intolerance and its contentious blasphemy laws have been frequently used to punish religious minorities, particularly Christians, in order to satisfy personal grudges. As one Catholic priest stated in a video posted by the Associated Press, the law is often used against Christians in order to grab their property. In the past, blasphemy accusations in Pakistan have resulted in mob violence against accused individuals and Christian residential areas. Blasphemy laws frequently spark riots that lead crowds to violence, lynching, and murder of innocent persons. There have been a number of cases of violent attacks against peaceful religious minorities in Pakistan in the past, but here are a few examples:
A massacre of Christians in Shanti Nagar District of Khanewal:
February 5, 1997, the twin Christian villages of Shantinagar-Tibba Colony, 12 kilometers east of Khanewal in Multan Division, were plundered and burned by a 20,000 Muslim violent crowd and 500 policemen working together in response to a report of Quran desecration. The police evacuated the 15,000-strong Christian community before assisting the raiders in blowing up their homes and property and churches with explosives.
The Gojra Tragedy and the helplessness of peaceful Christians in Pakistan:
August 1, 2009 a Muslim mob attacked the Christians living in the town of Gojra and burnt eight innocent Christians alive. The violent mob set ablaze more than 100 houses and a church.
The arson attack on the Christian settlement known as Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh Lahore:
March 9, 2013, the arson attack on the Christian settlement known as Joseph Colony Badami Bagh Lahore brought into the news another story of religious bigotry and violence among the oppressed Christian minority in Pakistan. More than 200 houses of Christian inhabitants were set on fire, two churches and dozens of Holy Bibles were also desecrated in the attack by an extremist mob of around 3000.
In Pakistan, there is a call for justice and the protection of religious minorities.
Church leaders, human rights advocates, and Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan demand that those responsible for the tragic catastrophe in Jaranwala, burning churches and desecrating holy books, be brought to justice quickly and fairly. They demand that they be punished in accordance with the law of the land.
The Pakistani government must guarantee the security and safety of religious minorities and deal firmly with extremist mobs that misuse the blasphemy laws to persecute religious minorities, particularly Christians, to settle their personal vendettas.
Human rights groups have been demanding the repeal of these laws, but politicians are often weak and the state has been supporting, directly or indirectly, those groups which promote intolerance and violence in the country, and so it is unlikely at this stage that these laws will be easily repealed. However, the state should review the blasphemy laws, which put many innocent people’s lives at risk.
Please strengthen us through your holy prayers and generous support! We humbly request your kind donation for the Christian victims of Jaranwala through the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR.