KARACHI: A group of people praying in a mosque were so irked by the voices of children singing carols at a nearby church that they decided to silence them—by attacking their house of worship.
On Saturday evening, four men attacked the Philadelphia Pentecostal Church in New Mianwali Colony in Manghopir.
A young boy, Samson, was standing outside the church as his friends sang carols on the microphone inside. The children were preparing for mass to be celebrated the next day which was a Sunday. The loud cheers became terrified whimpers when suddenly four men, one of them with an axe, barged into the church.
The men slapped the children, wrecked the furniture, smashed the microphone on to the floor and kicked the altar. “You are disturbing our prayers. We can’t pray properly. How dare you use the mike and speakers?” Samson quoted, the men as saying.
The commotion inside the church made Samson call out for help. Three men ran away but one was caught by the residents who beat him up before the police reached the spot.
The incident is now a week old, but the attack frightened the community so much that all of the nine churches in the area were locked up.
“The day after the attack people did not come for mass,” said Lubna, the daughter of Pastor Daniel. “They came to our home to ask about what happened but did not go to church.” The pastor was away.
“The children are so scared that they don’t even want to talk about the attack,” Lubna said as she made sure that all the windows and doors of the church were tightly shut.
Inside the church, a Christmas tree stood in the corner and ribbons and balloons adorned the wall. But in the middle, the broken chair, microphone and altar with footprints served as a grim reminder of the incident.
“The attackers claimed that the sound from the loudspeakers was disturbing their prayers,” said a former councilor and resident of New Mianwali Colony, Akram Khokhar.
The residents did not register an FIR. A priest at another church in the area, Fr Arif M Shera, explained why. “Though it was our house of worship which was attacked and our children who were beaten up, we apologised to the other party,” he said. “For the sake of our lives we said that it was our fault.”
MPA Saleem Khokhar said that he informed the home minister about the incident. “The people don’t want to register an FIR because they are scared of the consequences.”
Meanwhile, a prayer leader of the mosque, Muhammad Usman, brought the leaders of both the communities together to talk to them. If the worshippers had problems with the church, they should have talked instead of attacking the church, he said. But he held the children responsible for what happened. According to him, the speakers were put on the roof of the church and the children sang loudly “on purpose” to irritate the people who came to the mosque. “It was their fault,” insisted Usman. “A number of ulema in the area complained that the loud music and songs were disturbing their prayers. They did not listen when some boys went to stop them.” However, he evaded the question when asked about the attack. He admitted this much that the men who attacked the mosque could have behaved differently.
Usman said that a similar dispute erupted seven years ago over the use of a loud speaker. It was decided then that the churchgoers would use speakers and the microphone from 8 am to 11 am on Sundays only, when mass is celebrated. They were not allowed to use the speakers otherwise because prayers would be disturbed.
Around 400 Christian families live amid Pakhtun families in New Mianwali Colony. The residents said that another similar dispute seven years ago ended up with the desecration of the church. The attackers torched the cross and abused the worshippers. “Things seemed to have cooled down for the time being, but we are being vigilant now,” said Fr Shera. “We won’t let this happen again.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2012.