01/13/2016, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Baath: for local pastor, church fire not due to religious hatred

by Kamran Chaudhry
Overnight on 6 January, a fire partially destroyed the Christian place of worship. Some media have blamed Christian-Muslim tensions for the incident. For local clergyman, this is “a conspiracy to stoke tensions in the area”. Some “people started reporting on it without getting the facts straight”.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The fire that partially destroyed the Apostolic church on 6 January in Baath, some 40 kilometres north of Lahore, was not set following a row between Christians and Muslims over its loudspeakers during Muslim prayers, this according to the church’s pastor, Rev Yaqoob Saroya. Spreading such news is “a conspiracy to stoke tensions in the area”.

Christian and Muslim community elders in the Punjabi village back the clergyman’s account. For them, media are spreading false news. In fact, some reports claimed that before the incident local Muslims had asked Christians to turn off the church’s loudspeakers to avoid disturbing their prayers. The church pastor allegedly said no and the fire was thus a retaliation by Islamic extremists.

"We found foot and hand prints on the Church wall", said Rev Yaqoob Saroya, "suggesting someone climbed in but nobody reached out to us regarding the use of loudspeakers; there was no conflict. In fact, a neighbouring Muslim family helped in extinguishing the fire. Someone uploaded a video of Church building on fire on Facebook and people started reporting on it without getting the facts straight".

Abdul Hameed, the local Muslim nambardar (landowner exercising governmental powers) said that local Muslims are looking for the culprit who broke into the church.

"We feel grief and stand together with Christians because all religious places of worship are the same. The devil (i.e. the arsonist) does not deserve forgiveness. We cannot live without the support of Christians,” he said. “They are our backbone," he added.

Rev Saroya reiterated that Christians are free to worship. "Five police officers are stationed at the church during the service,” he explained.

Rumours about the blaze are “a conspiracy to stoke tensions in the area. We live like brothers. A Christian NGO said we should file a complaint against someone with police; another told us that we should not have repainted the church so soon (see video). This does not help minorities or the country.”

Police said the fire was caused by an electrical problem. The flames destroyed part of the building, chairs, carpets, curtains and the electrical system.

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