A pastor has been forced to abandon his house and flee in order to escape blasphemy charges after some of his parishioners accused him of defiling the Bible.
The pastor denied the blasphemy charges and maintained that they were concocted by a local Christian family which bore a grudge against him. The police investigator in the case supported his claim, though he said that he had instructed the pastor to apologise and to flee his post at the church as local Christians had been whipped up into a murderous frenzy.
Asghar Nizam Ranjha was appointed the pastor of the church in Ferozewala, Sheikhupura district, by the Salvation Army and served for about a year. On January 19, an application was filed with the DPO seeking an FIR against him for allegedly defiling the Bible in the church.
The application was forwarded to Ferozewala police station and Sub Inspector Nawaz summoned Ranjha and his accusers some eight days ago. Ranjha told The Express Tribune that SI Nawaz advised him to apologise and leave the area immediately, else his life was in danger. A baying mob had gathered outside the police station.
“The SI told me that if I did not apologise, he would have to register a blasphemy case against me. He said my only option was to apologise and leave, so I apologised,” he said.
“It was scary. I left the police station under police protection and was not even able to return to my house to get my belongings.”
His wife and four children joined him later. Ranjha said that he was still hoping for a chance to go back to the rented house in Hakeempura, Kala Shah Kaku, and collect the family’s belongings. The Salvation Army, meanwhile, has transferred him to Sahiwal.
Ranjha said that the allegations against him were baseless and were raised by Mushtaq Masih and his family. The family’s ancestors had donated the land for the church and used to call it the “Church of Siddique”, he said. “They acted liked they owned it. They would stop people they did not like from attending.”
Ranjha said that he sought to put a stop to this, which was why they had developed a grudge against him. They complained four times over the course of the year to the Salvation Army to try and get him transferred, but in vain. “They then used the blasphemy charge to get me to leave,” he added.
SI Nawaz, talking to The Express Tribune, said that he believed there was no substance to the blasphemy allegation. “The pastor is a bit harsh in his manner, but I don’t think he defiled the Bible,” he said.
He said that the complainant had a personal grudge against the pastor. “They did not want the pastor to continue heading the church,” he said. “But many other Christians joined the complainant against the pastor. Convincing him to apologise and leave was the only way to avert a violent incident.”
The complainant, Mushtaq Masih, said that he had many objections against Ranjha. He said that there were four churches in the area and Ranjha never mingled with the pastors of the other churches. He said that he was also very arrogant.
Asked about the blasphemy allegations, Masih would neither confirm nor deny them, saying he did not want to talk about them over the phone.
“One thing is certain. He (Ranjha) must never return to the area, otherwise he himself will be to blame for any harm that comes to him,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2013.