Lahore (AsiaNews) – An Ahmadi-owned plant and three Ahmadi places of worship were torched in Pakistan's Punjab province.
According to a preliminary police report, hundreds of people, acting on unfounded rumours that a copy of the Qur‘an had been burnt in the factory, stormed the site and set it on fire. They later did the same to three Ahmadi mosques.
"We live in difficult times in terms of intolerance. We must unite to combat the scourge of racism, discrimination, and terrorism,” said Fr Arif John, from the Diocese of Rawalpindi.
The Catholic Church and other Christian denominations agreed to hold a special prayer in Rawalpindi as well as Jhelum, where the incident took place, to show solidarity with the people attacked "in the name of religion".
The first attack took place last Friday. A mob of hundreds of Muslims stormed a chipboard factory owned by Qamar Ahmed Tahir, an Ahmadi, who was also responsible for the factory’s security.
Following the violence, police arrested him on blasphemy charges. However, what actually happened remains unclear.
According to some, Mr Tahir ordered an employee to burn a copy of the Qur‘an. The day after the plant attack, a crowd stormed Ahmadi places of worship, torching three of them. Chaos spread across Jhelum and police were able to restore law and order in the city with great difficulty.
Investigation eventually showed that the allegations against the owner were false. It was determined that Tahir only supervised the burning of waste material. Nothing closely related to the Qur‘an, or religious material, was found in what was left of the site.
“Torching a place based on false information only leads to the loss of property,” said Fr John. “False charges like this one leads to complete chaos in the city.” For this reason, “we call on everyone to join hands to pray. We must pray more to send a message of peace in such sad times."
Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslim community has about four million members. Founded in the late 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in what was then British India, the Ahmadi faith is considered heretical by most Sunnis and Shias. Whilst claiming to be Islamic, it draws on the beliefs of other religions as well.
Within Pakistan, Ahmadis are not allowed to Islamic greetings and prayers, and cannot refer to their places of worship as mosques. However, like Pakistan’s Christians, they have often been victimised by the country’s blasphemy laws, which are used to persecute minorities.