MARDAN: When angry mobs set the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan on fire on September 21, along with countless holy books, coexistence efforts went up in flames.
The local Christian community, however, has pardoned the perpetrators, but is asking the army for special security arrangements.
Burning down the church
An angry mob, protesting against the anti-Islamic video The Innocence of Muslims forced their way into the Sarhadi Lutheran Church on September 21, and set the church, the home and office of the pastor, as well as a library on fire.
“We were shocked when we arrived at the church and saw the destruction of the holy books, said Munawar Akhtar Masih, executive member of the Northern Diocese.
“The demonstrators used some kind of chemical, which not only burnt everything, but also badly damaged the structure of the main service room, houses, office and library,” Masih said.
He added that the structures of the pastor’s house and the adjacent library have been declared unsafe and may have to be demolished.
After ransacking and burning down the structures, the mob wrote slogans on the exterior walls of the church in red.
Pardoning the perpetrators
Christian leaders in Mardan, however, announced that they have pardoned all those involved in the attack for the sake of unity and religious harmony.
“I believe the arsonists were ignorant, as belief in and respect of all divinely revealed books is an article of faith in Islam,” Masih said.
The Christian leaders said they have no enmity with anyone and want to live in peace with other communities. “We have adopted a policy of forgive and forget,” Masih said, adding that thousands of burnt sacred texts have been buried or thrown away at sea.
The local police had registered an FIR against the unidentified persons and had also arrested some people on suspicion. Masih said the Christian community has left the case for the police to investigate.
The church management has also allowed Muslim students to get admission in the school within the premises of the church.
“Muslim students are welcome to study their regular Islamic Studies curriculum in this English medium school,” Jimmy Mathew of the Diocesan Society told The Express Tribune. Two Muslim teachers are among the teaching staff.
Mardan, the second largest city in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa after Peshawar, has never seen any conflict between the Muslims and Christians. The church burning was also condemned by Muslim groups and was disowned by organisers of the September 21 procession.
To avoid such incidents in the future though, the Christian community has sought military protection for the church, and other buildings in the compound.
“The Christian community still has concerns about the security of the church and has asked the army for security arrangements since the church is located in the cantonment area,” Masih said.
The heavily-guarded Punjab Regiment Centre, which has been targeted earlier, is located just a few meters away. Over 30 army recruits were killed in a suicide bombing by a teenage terrorist in school uniform in February last year.
The government has deployed police contingents, both near the main gate and inside the compound.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2012.