August 22, 2007
Villagers and foreigners haul newly baptized Christians to mosque and threaten them.
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Local Muslims in Nilphamari district and Islamist missionaries from abroad are hauling recently converted Christians to mosques and forcing them to return to Islam, area sources said.
Evangelist and pastor Sanjoy Roy said the Muslims have forced 27 recently baptized Christians to return to Islam. Another 14 recently converts are still facing incessant pressure to return to Islam from villagers and from Muslim missionaries called Tabligh Jamat.
“The Muslims are still threatening us and saying that they will change our faith," Roy told Compass. "We wanted secrutiy and police protection, but the district commissioner did not accept our application."
Police provided eight officers to protect area Christians on July 28 but left on August 5. Muslims in Durbachari village then began capturing and hauling all male converts to a mosque to return to Islam, forcing them to sign or provide fingerprint signatures on written or blank papers. As nearly all the converts cannot read, area sources said, they did not understand they were signing or giving fingerprint signatures to return to Islam.
Earlier, on July 26, a local source said, local Muslims and Tabligh Jamat missionaries gathered in a schoolyard near the homes of some of the Christians who had been baptized in a river on June 12. Using a microphone, the Muslims threatened violence if the converts did not come out.
Fearing for their lives, the Christians emerged and gathered. The source said the Muslims asked them why they had become Christians and, furious, told them that Bangladesh was a Muslim country “where you cannot change your faith by your own will.”
“They said, ‘How dare you become Christian in a Muslim country?’” the area source said. “After that incident, some believers went to the local police station seeking protection, but police did not respond.”
Most of the Christians are laborers who rely on new opportunities each day to feed their families, and the Muslim villagers are withholding work from them, Christian sources said. Local Muslims are also vandalizing their homes and taking their daily essentials.
“Some of them in fear of life left the village,” said one Christian source. “They cannot catch fish in the river and buy or sell anything in the markets under the pressure of neighbors.”
Threat of Laceration
Abul Hossen, 38, a fruit seller, told Compass that Muslims in the mosque threatened to hang him in a tree upside down and lacerate his body with a blade.
“Then he will understand what are the consequences of being a Christian,” the Muslims told him, Hossen said, adding that they always use “filthy language whenever they see the Christians.”
Hossen said the Muslims “do not allow us to net fish in the river” and offered him 5,000 taka (US$75) and a mobile phone handset if he returned to Islam.
“But I did not give up my faith, because I found Christ in my heart,” Hossen told Compass. “They threatened me with severe consequences if I do not go back to Islam. I said I am ready to offer up my life to Christ, but I won’t renounce my faith in Him.”
Hossen said that, at night, he and his wife take turns keeping vigil while the other sleeps. “We are always worried that something dangerous may happen anytime,” he said.
Day laborer Mohammad Ali, 55, told Compass that around 20 people came to his house and took him to the mosque.
“After [taking] me inside the mosque, they pressured me to recant my faith,” Ali said. “But I did not give up my faith.”
Ali said the local Muslims and Jamat missionaries continue to come to his house four or five times a day to pressure him to give up his faith. “They always tell me to meet their emir [chief cleric] whenever they see me,” he said.
Another day laborer identified only as 37-year-old Sultan said that when local Muslims took him to the mosque a few days ago, he won approval to go outside to perform ablutions [ritual washing] before prayer. Once he had washed his hands and legs, he said, he snuck away.
“Some 50 to 60 people surrounded my house, and some of them came to me with knife drawn,” he said. “When they dragged me to the mosque, they tore my shirt. They tried to change my faith, offering lots of financial incentives.”
Sultan said the Muslims have declined to hire him for any work, taken his cooking utensils, vandalized his house and threatened to burn it down.
“How will I live?” he said. “I am out of my mind with worry. Leaders in our locality threatened to cut my tendon. They say, ‘This is an Islamic country, why have you become Christian?’”
A laborer identified only as Motaleb, 38, said village Muslims came to his house with cooked rice and meat.
“They gave me sweetmeat,” he said. “They said, ‘What has Christ given you? We will give you many things, if you come back to Islam.’”
Motaleb said the Muslims pressured him into returning to Islam after they forcibly took him to the mosque. “They do not allow me to go to the local market to buy or sell anything,” he added. “I do not get any work. Whenever our little kids go to other peoples’ houses, neighbors beat them.”
On June 26, two weeks after the converts in Durbachari village were baptized, Muslim villagers attacked and severely beat them. On June 27, they gave the Christians a 24-hour deadline to leave the village or face further beatings and the destruction of their homes. Last-minute intervention from local officials provided temporary relief; officials also agreed to station a special police force in the village for three months, but the officers left after only a week.
Bangladeshi Christian leader Edward Ayub said he was gravely concerned about the tactics of the village Muslims and Tabligh Jamat missionaries, terming the actions “social and religious tyranny.”
“Some Christians changed their faith under social pressure, not from the bottom of their heart,” he told Compass. “Changing faith forcefully is not the way of preaching any religion. It is a flagrant abuse of religious rights and violation of the Bangladeshi constitution, where it is written that every citizen has the freedom to practice or change his or her religion.”
Another local Christian leader, Albert Adhikari Hirak, said a Muslim cleric has repeatedly questioned and threatened Barek Ali, a 35-year-old rickshaw driver, “asking how much money he received for his conversion and demanding that he abandon his Christian faith. Ali denied receiving monetary incentives.”
Barek Ali said he still has faith in Christ. “Local people are putting lots of pressure on me and threatening me to become Muslim,” he said. “Secretly I try to meet with the believers, but local Muslims are staking out my every movement. I am leading a fugitive life in faith.”
Hatem Ali, a 23-year-old itinerant fruit seller, said he was forcibly taken to the mosque on August 8 as he returned home from his small business and was only released on August 13. The imam of the mosque and the Tabligh Jamat fed him something that made him senseless, he said, and they prohibited him from coming home.
His uncle, Motaleb Hossen, went to the mosque but was not allowed to see him. Peeping through the window the night of August 8, however, Motaleb Hossen saw that Ali was sleeping on the floor with Jamat missionaries surrounding him. Mosque keepers also prohibited his mother from seeing him that night and the next day, Adhikari said.
“Jamat people used abusive language against her and also threatened to attack her physically if she goes again,” Adhikari said. “They forced him to accept Islam and he ‘became Muslim.’”
Copyright 2007 Compass Direct News