05/29/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Punjab: Protestant pastor who cites Qur'an in sermon is accused of blasphemy

Jibran Khan
Local Christians save Rev Irfan Gill after his life was threatened. He could still face the law under the 'black law'. Village imam wants him to retract and apologise in public. Many Protestant ministers are reckless, says Catholic priest; they "put the lives of innocent people in danger."

Lahore (AsiaNews) - A Protestant clergyman cited passages from the Qur'an as he delivered his sermon during a recent service in a Punjab village. This angered the local Muslim leader who wants the pastor to stand trial for blasphemy. Local Christians now fear that they too might experience the wrath of the Muslim community.

In the village in Data Zedka (Punjab), tensions are still high. Rev Irfan Gill, a Protestant clergyman from Lahore, has received death threats and a complaint by the head of the local mosque, Maulana Hafeez Tariq, has been filed against him. The latter even tried to attack him with the assistance of a group of local Muslims. 

The local Christian community had invited Rev Gill to a prayer meeting. During his sermon, the clergyman quoted passages from the Qur'an to explain the errors and misunderstandings that underline today's interreligious violence. Outraged by such references, the imam called on the pastor to retract his statement and make a public apology.

Local Christians were able to get the reverend away, saving him from a dangerous situation. However, a blasphemy accusation still hangs over his head. Attempts by Christian elders and human rights activists to mediate failed. Maulana Hafeez Tariq wants a public apology.

For Fr Munir John, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Sialkot, the pastor is partly to blame. Many Protestant preachers are carried away when they speak and anger people.

For Fr Munir, Rev Gill "should come back and apologise" rather "than put the lives of innocent people in danger."

"It is not the first time that a Protestant clergyman endangers the innocent," he explained. "Their small denominations and street churches can become easy targets."

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