PESHAWAR, Pakistan (UCAN) – Threats to minorities continue in North West Frontier Province, where church leaders and Christian communities have received letters warning them to convert to Islam or face suicide bombings.
Seven churches and five Christian settlements in Peshawar received threatening letters on Aug. 7 inviting them either to become Muslims or face death. The letters were sent to the pastors of three Church of Pakistan churches, two Catholic churches, an Assemblies of God church, a Seventh-day Adventist Church and another church, as well as to elders in poor Christian areas.
The city, capital of North West Frontier Province, lies close to the Afghan border, 150 kilometers (about 95 miles) west of Islamabad.
The letters, written in Urdu, are titled "Knock of Death." They read: "Allahu Akbar, Long live Islam, Long live Jihad, Down with Infidelity, Down with America. All residents are given an open invitation to leave Isaiyat (Christianity), the religion of infidelity, and embrace Islam. Become Muslims and reserve a home for yourself in heaven. Or else your community will be ruined after Aug. 10, the blessed Friday, and you will be responsible for the destruction of your life and property. This is not a mere threat; our suicide bombers will exterminate you. Consider it a knock of death."
Following the example of the fundamentalist Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until U.S.-led forces ousted them in 2001, a militant form of Islam is being imposed in tribal areas along the border. The pace of this "Talibanization" is accelerating, with some local mullah, or Islamic teachers, recently declaring mobile phone shops and Internet cafes "un-Islamic business" after banning music and barber shops.
At least four girls' schools have been bombed over the past 12 months in towns across the province, and the recent incident is not the first time Christians have received threatening letters. Similar letters appeared at the homes of Christians in Charsadda and Shantinagar in May and June.
Church leaders and community elders reported the receipt of the latest letters to local police stations the next day. About 150 Christians held a demonstration in the compound of St. John Vianney Church on Aug. 9 and blocked the road in front of the church for half an hour. The protesters carried banners saying "We are not infidels" and pointing out that Islam considers the Bible a holy book. They urged the government to find the culprits.
A group of church leaders, including two Protestant pastors and a Catholic priest, held a meeting with police officials on Aug. 11 at which they urged authorities to protect the minorities and apprehend the "fundamentalists" for causing unrest. According to Father Yousaf Amanat, parish priest of St. Michael's Church, the officials assured their cooperation.
Father Amanat told UCA News the threats have terrorized churchgoers. "The attendance at Sunday Mass was 40 percent less after the incident," he said, adding that a vocation day for college students was postponed indefinitely. About 1,000 college students of Rawalpindi-Islamabad Diocese had been scheduled to attend the Aug. 16 event at St. Michael's Parish.
"It was organized to invite youth to join religious life before the commencement of the new academic year in seminaries starting in September," the priest explained.
Some residents of Chorasi colony, home to about 20 Hindu and 60 Christian families, received the threatening letters. Talking to UCA News, Ram Lal, 55, a Hindu sanitation worker, described the letters as just another instance of prejudice against minorities. "Locals usually hurl stones at our mandir (worship place) during prayers," he told UCA News, adding that Hindus also face discrimination when they look for work. The residents of this area are mostly poor and earn their living as sanitation or domestic workers.
Meanwhile, a jirga, a consultative process traditionally used for conflict resolution, at a mosque in Swat on Aug. 19 declared that suicide attacks are haram (forbidden). The local peace committee, which organized the meeting, urged prayer leaders to utilize their respective mosques as platforms to promote peace in the district.
Following the government crackdown in July on Lal Masjid (red mosque) in Islamabad, militant Muslims have attacked army targets and made suicide attacks in North West Frontier Province and in Islamabad.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).