Pakistan Muslim Leaders Apologize For Anti-Christian Violence

Two years on from one of Pakistan’s worst outbreaks of anti-Christian violence Muslim leaders have publicly apologised to people who lost loved ones, homes and businesses.

Marking the second anniversary of the violence in the Punjab’s Gojra city where eight people died, two ‘Pirs’ (holy men) addressed the crowds asking for pardon on behalf of the extremist mobs who carried out the atrocity.

Aid to the Church in Need UK report that the anniversary events saw the participation of hundreds of Christians in a memorial Mass at Gojra presided over by Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad.

Reporting on the seminar that followed the Mass, Father Aftab James Paul, director of Faisalabad’s diocesan commission for inter-faith dialogue and ecumenism, described the pirs’ apology as “hugely significant”. Pir Israr Bihar Shah, head of a Muslim seminary (madrassa), in the Gojra area, and Pir Hafiz Abbul Haui, who runs a nearby mosque, both explicitly apologised on behalf of the fanatics responsible, saying their actions went against the “spirit of Islam”.

Fr Aftab said: “Even though they weren’t in any way involved in what happened that day, the pirs gave a full apology for what happened. They said that Islam as a religion does not condone killing. They went on to say that those responsible did not understand the spirit of Islam and they condemned their actions.”

He added: “The two pirs are influential and well known and what they had to say was hugely significant even if what they said was not an official statement and came at the very end of the seminar.” Fr Aftab said that people listening to the pirs’ comments “gave a very good response” to the scholars’ remarks and “were very happy”.

Gojra’s Christian quarter came under fire on 1st August 2009 when a 1,000-strong mob rampaged through the streets, setting fire to more than 150 homes and businesses. They were responding to an allegation of blasphemy against the Koran, apparently committed by children in the neighbouring village of Korian who were accused of creating confetti out of paper on which were written verses from the Muslim holy book.

Under Pakistan’s notorious Blasphemy Laws, such a crime is punishable by life imprisonment.

At the height of the violence that followed, a Christian family – the Hamids – were trapped in their home after it was set ablaze. Seven members of the family died including two children, their mother and grandfather.

Emer McCarthy spoke to John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information about the unprecendent apology which he described as a ‘beacon of hope’ for the future of civil society in the country: