Thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes in Jaranwala, Pakistan, following coordinated attacks by Muslim extremists last week. At least 21 churches burned to the ground—along with hundreds of houses—and a Christian graveyard was pillaged. The attacks came after a mob accused two Christians of desecrating the Quran.
Believers in Jaranwala say that the mob was led by Muslim religious leaders and locals carrying sticks, knives, iron rods and daggers. Thanks to an early morning tip to the Christian community in the city, hundreds of families were able to flee to safety in a neighboring province. Leaders in Jaranwala said if not for the tip, many would have likely died.
Christians have now begun returning to their homes, hundreds of which have been completely destroyed.
The riots began when two pages of the Quran, with critical statements written in red paint, were found in the streets of Jaranwala, along with identifying information about the alleged. Police are investigating why such information—including names and addresses—would have been attached to the pages, but the accused Christians were arrested. A local judge ordered that they be held in jail for at least a week for questioning.
Local government officials have arrested more than 150 people in connection with the attacks. Paramilitary groups have also been guarding the community as Christians return to their neighborhoods.
Blasphemy—which is broadly defined as any insult to Islam—is punishable by death in Pakistan. Although no one has been executed under that law, many Christians and other religious minorities have been lynched by civilian mobs after being accused of blasphemy. Government officials have been shot and killed for trying to reform the law.
Open Doors, which monitors global Christian persecution, listed Pakistan as the seventh-worst country in the world for believers in 2023, citing blasphemy laws as well as the constant threat of violence from Muslim extremists.
Above: A Christian woman and her children walk through the rubble of homes vandalized by the mob.
Photo: K.M. Chaudary/AP