Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 10 May 2013
Church in Bangladesh under threat amid violent Islamist protests
Country/Region: South and East Asia, Bangladesh
Barnabas Aid has received requests for prayer and practical help from Christian leaders in Bangladesh as the Church is endangered by a violent uprising by Islamists who are demanding that the country become an Islamic state.
Christian homes have been torched and churches threatened as increasingly volatile protests have rocked the country.
|Barnabas is replacing this tin shed with a brick church building and boundary wall for greater security|
Scores of people have been killed in the clashes, which erupted in February. At least 37 died earlier this week as police tried to quash protests in the capital, Dhaka, where 70,000 Islamist demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday (5 May), calling for the introduction of an anti-blasphemy law.
This was the deadline that one Islamist group, Hefazat e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB), had given the government to implement its demands, which include sharia rule, virtual segregation of women and the death sentence for those who insult Islam or Muhammad.
An anti-blasphemy law would be disastrous for Christians in Bangladesh. Their counterparts in Pakistan suffer grievously as a result of the blasphemy laws there, under which they are vulnerable to malicious, false accusation. Devotion to Muhammad is a particular feature of South Asian Islam, and the Pakistani law specifies a death sentence for anyone who insults him.
Jama’at-e-Islami (JI), the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh, has threatened to “kill all the Malauns [infidels]”. Muslims view Christians and other non-Muslims as "infidels".
In 2010, a constitutional amendment that had allowed religion-based politics was declared null and void, a move intended to underline the secular nature of the state. The government has, however, indicated, that the ban on religious parties will not be strictly enforced, giving groups like HIB and JI a platform ahead of the general election due early next year.
As the danger intensifies, Barnabas is helping one extremely vulnerable congregation that meets in a flimsy tin shed (pictured). It is located in a Muslim area and is just 500 metres from a mosque. We have agreed to fund the construction of a brick church building with a boundary wall, which will help to protect the Christians from attack while at worship. This fast-growing church recently baptised 62 people.
One of our partners in Bangladesh said that new believers are particularly vulnerable to attack from the Islamists, who are targeting evangelistic work. A brick was thrown at his ministry vehicle as it was travelling to the north of the country.
He sent us the following prayer requests yesterday (9 May):
- Please pray for protection for our believers and especially the new ones … for the safety of our pastors and evangelists who travel frequently and most of the time by themselves leaving their families behind.
- Pray that our constitution would be upheld and the freedom and relative openness we enjoy as a nation would continue. Pray that this call to radicalism would go unheard and ignored.
- Please pray for the government and its leaders, that they will have wisdom and foresight as they navigate us through these difficult times
We are supporting Christians in Bangladesh in a number of ways, including the provision of food parcels for needy families, the funding of a conference centre for ministry training, support for five Christian schools, funding the distribution of Christian literature and supporting ministry among students. We have also helped Bangladeshi Christians who have suffered as a result of flooding and bitter winter weather.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Aid, said:
Bangladeshi Christians are understandably feeling extremely vulnerable in this hostile climate; they need our prayers and support. Thankfully the government has so far rejected the Islamists’ demands and affirmed the country’s secular character. Pray that it will not give in to extremism and that the rights of all citizens will be upheld.
For a quick donation of £3.00 by SMS (see terms and conditions here) text Barnabas/831 to 70007 (Please note: This facility is presently only available to UK supporters).