ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A 24-year-old Muslim man desecrated the Bible at the gates of Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church in Lahore on Friday in order to “avenge” extremist American preacher Terry Jones’ desecration of the Quran in Florida last month.
Police arrested the man, identified as Akhtar Hussain, a resident of the neighboring district of Kasur, and registered a case against him under Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Section 295-A states: “Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the 'religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.”
According to police sources, Hussain had first tried to force entry into the church where a large number of Christians were attending a special mass, whereupon security guards at the gates stopped him and asked for identification.
The sources told The Christian Post that the guards denied Hussain entry into the church when he told them his name, and the church administration asked him why he wanted to go into the church. Hussain told them that he wanted to burn the Bible in the church just as Terry Jones and his fellow preacher Wayne Sapp had conducted a trial of the Quran in their church. The Muslim man then suddenly took out the Christian holy book he had hidden inside his clothes and proceeded to tear it apart.
The guards captured Hussain and called the police, who arrested him along with the evidence. Senior police official Umer Saeed said the man was in stable mental condition and had told police investigators he was “taking revenge” from the Christians for setting the Koran on fire. He said he had been “very tense” since he heard the news of the sacrilege and wanted to do something to get even.
Talking to The Christian Post about the incident, Christian leaders and civil society activists condemned the incident, urging tolerance, respect and acceptance for people belonging to all faiths.
Asif Aqeel, director of Lahore-based Christian non-government organization Community Development Initiative, said, “Christians are told to turn the other cheek. They are also told not to take revenge rather pray for their enemies. The act of burning the Quran by Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp has no biblical basis and does not represent the teachings of the Christian faith. The Christians of Pakistan are facing the repercussions of their heinous act.”
He said that Muslims should realize that the act of two individuals should not be considered a collective act of all Christians. “At the same time we would say that no civilized person can imagine to repay these so-called preachers by burning the Bible… we condemn this act as uncivilized and similarly devoid of respect of others,” he said.
Napolean Qayyum, leader of the minorities’ wing of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, voiced similar sentiments.
“We strongly condemn this incident but we are not going to hold all Muslims responsible for the desecration of our holy book…Christianity preaches forgiveness and love. We are hurt but we will not respond in kind,” he said, adding that he hoped that the effects of the violence in Afghanistan over the Quran burning incident would not spill over into Pakistan.
Dr. Tahira Saleem, chairperson of Shekinah Ministries Pakistan, said Pakistan was increasingly becoming an intolerant society. “We don’t know why our countrymen hold Christians responsible for every action taken in the West,” she said, adding that the entire Christian community had voiced their protest against the incident in Florida “but Friday’s incident shows the resentment in the Muslims.”
“I just pray to the Lord that this incident does not lead to any kind of violence in Pakistan,” she said.
Father Emmanuel Nasari of the Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church did not attend his phone despite repeated calls. Police official Umer Saeed told The Christian Post that the catholic priests had refused to become a party to the case therefore the police had decided to become the complainant against Akhtar Hussain.
Meanwhile, several protests against the Quran burning were reported across Pakistan after the Friday prayers, but there were no reports of violence. The angry protesters shouted slogans against Jones and Sapp and burnt their effigies, and also targeted the government for “not strongly protesting against the incident internationally.”
The situation in neighboring Afghanistan spiraled out of control last Friday when thousands of people poured into the streets in various cities calling for justice. Seven foreign employees of the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif were killed by the angry protesters. At least 30 people have been reported killed in various Afghan cities so far. Meanwhile, Jones and his fellow preacher, who maintain that "Islam is not a religion of peace," remain unapologetic for their action.