A Christian in Pakistan has been accused of desecrating the Quran and arrested on charges of blasphemy after refusing to allow Muslims to build a water treatment plant on church property.
According to Christians in Pakistan, a Muslim man, Haji Nadeem last week filed a police report in Lahore claiming Babu Shahbaz of Kamaha village intentionally desecrated pages of the Islamic holy book to "hurt the religious sentiments of the Islamic world."
In the report, Nadeem claimed Muslims were going to a mosque to offer early morning prayers last month when they saw Koranic pages strewn on the road.
"100 pages were completely desecrated, while 150 pages were partially destroyed," Nadeem said. "The name of Babu Shahbaz was written on all the pages in blue ink ... We have strong suspicion that Babu Shahbaz and his unidentified accomplices are involved in this blasphemous act."
Shortly after the Muslim filed the complaint, Shabaz was arrested by police, and currently remains in detention. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
However, Shabaz's brother, George Masih, told Morning Star News that the allegations are completely baseless and made in retaliation against the Christian community, because they refused to allow Muslims to build a water treatment plant on church land some months ago.
"Local Muslims Rana Asif Rajpoot and Haji Nadeem have used the blasphemy law against my brother, as we had opposed their demand to vacate the church land eight or nine months ago," said Masih, adding that the charges are ludicrous, as his 40-year-old brother is illiterate and cannot write his own name.
Masih said that Rajpoot, Nadeem and other Muslims wanted to seize the Nasiri Pentecostal Church built on Shamlat village land: "They said that they wanted to set up a water treatment plant there, but we asked them to find an alternate place for the plant and even offered to share the cost of the land and the plant as a community," Masih said.
Masih and his brother told them they would not allow the church to be displaced, as some 150 families are members of the Nasiri Pentecostal Church. Rajpoot and Nadeem continued threatening them over the months, but they paid them little attention, he said.
"On Dec. 11, they again tried to pick up a fight with us by playing loud music on the occasion of my niece's wedding," Masih said. "We requested them to turn down the volume as it was disturbing the wedding rituals, but they refused to comply. We avoided an altercation with them, as we did not want to disturb peace in the village."
Masih said that shortly before his brother was arrested, he was summoned to an electronics shop owned by local Muslim Malik Akram, where 100 to 150 Muslims had gathered.
"When I asked them why they had called for me, they showed me the desecrated pages of the Koran and said my brother Shahbaz's name was written on all the pages," he said. "I was shocked to see the pages and told the gathering that no Christian could even think of doing such a heinous crime. I also offered them the cooperation of the entire Christian community living in the village in finding out the persons responsible."
He continued: "I came home and told Shahbaz about the allegation being brought against him," he said. "He denied having anything to do with the incident and said he was even willing to swear by the holy book to clear his name."
Masih said that Christians had been living peacefully alongside area Muslims for years, and that this was the first such conflict in the village.
"Several Muslims are helping us in resolving the matter," he said. "Meetings are held every day between the village elders, elected representatives and police officials to find a solution to this problem. There is no evidence or witness against my brother, yet the police registered a blasphemy case without even investigating the matter properly. We don't know yet where Shahbaz is being kept by the police, as we haven't been allowed a meeting with him."
Pakistan, the world's second largest Muslim country, is ranked #6 on the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.
International Christian Concern notes that false accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan are common with individuals abusing the law to settle personal scores, eliminate business rivals, or to incite religious hatred among minority communities. Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws often target Christians, which make up just 1.6% of the country's population. According to BBC News, "scores" of Christians have been found guilty of desecrating the Koran or of blasphemy since 1990."
The Nasiri Pentecostal Church senior pastor, identified only as Jaidoon, told Morning Star News that Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in peace for years, and said the church is trusting God will protect Shahbaz from any harm.
"This is an unfortunate incident perpetrated by a few miscreants to drive a wedge between the two communities, but I'm sure God will help us in resolving the matter amicably, and Babu Shahbaz will be back with his family really soon."