Christian religious leaders across Asia called for Muslims to take a stand against Islamic extremists and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. They urged Muslims to pursue a peaceful interpretation of religion in the aftermath of the Easter massacre at a public park in Pakistan.
“The attack is an outcome of a barbaric and insane interpretation of religion by a group of misguided people who exploit religion,” said Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, Bangladesh, chairman of the Bangladeshi bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.
A Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on March 27 in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which the group claimed was intended to target Christians. But of the 72 people killed, only 14 were confirmed to be Christians, police said. Another 340 people were injured. The bombing came five days after a terror attack in Brussels, claimed by the Islamic State, left 35 people dead and hundreds injured.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which once was part of Pakistan, has seen a series of extremist attacks and threats on religious minorities, including Christians. “From Europe to Asia, no one is safe from fundamentalist threats and attacks, not even in Bangladesh, where the majority of Muslims are peaceful,” Bishop Rozario said. “But minorities continue to be attacked sporadically, and possibilities of a gruesome attack like that of Lahore can’t be dismissed.”
It is impossible for governments in Pakistan or Bangladesh to contain fundamentalism unless large sections of the population are involved in a social movement against extremism, the bishop said. “There are many good Muslims, and they must play an active role in collaboration with the government to contain the rise of fundamentalism,” he said.
Any attack in the name of religion is un-Islamic, said Mufti Ainul Islam, head imam of Hizbul Bahar Jame mosque in Dhaka. “Those who are behind such attacks are insane, misled people and their acts are utterly unacceptable and condemnable,” he said, describing the perpetrators of religion-based violence as “foolish” and “ignorant” about the teachings of the Quran.
In Christian-majority Philippines, which has experienced Islamic extremist-related violence in southern regions in the past, Catholic bishops called for calm. “We should refuse to allow these extremists to dictate how we should live and relate with one another,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, Philippines.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila warned in a radio interview that “the spread of evil continues” and appealed to Christians “not to lose hope,” while at the same time calling for “deeper faith” in combating terrorism.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, Christians and Muslims alike condemned the Lahore bombing. Jakarta, its capital, experienced seven explosions and several gunfights in January in incidents reportedly coordinated by the Islamic State group.
“Whatever their intentions, violence is never to be justified. As Muslims, we dare to say that whoever uses violence to preach is against the very nature of Islam. Islam denounces violence,” Helmy Faishal Zaini, secretary general of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, said.
“This requires collective effort throughout the world against terrorism. The United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation must take tough action against the perpetrators of the Belgium and Pakistan bombings,” Zaini said.
Bishop Yohanes Yuwono of Tanjungkarang, chairman of the Indonesian bishops’ interfaith commission, urged all people to seek peace. “The pope’s act of washing the feet of a Muslim and a Hindu indicates a hope for peace throughout the world,” Bishop Yuwono said. “We should always echo such a message.”