- According to a recent report by Morning Star News, Christians in Lahore were left bewildered as it was revealed on Saturday that a church elder, Zubair Akhtar Khokhar, had confessed to intentionally setting fire to their place of worship.
- The incident, initially blamed on a Muslim extremist group, took place on Thursday, November 16, leaving the congregation in shock.
Following the incident, police arrested Zubair Akhtar Khokhar after confronting him with video evidence from the church’s CCTV cameras. The footage showed Zubair entering and exiting the building at the time of the fire, with no other person seen entering afterward. The Rev. Samuel Massey, pastor of Gulberg Presbyterian Church, stated that Zubair aimed to take his place as the senior pastor and admitted to fabricating a threat letter from an Islamist group to force Massey to resign.
The fake threat letter, dated October 16, 2023, warned the congregation against worshipping too loudly. Zubair’s confession revealed that he orchestrated the entire plot, hoping to create a fabricated threat to Pastor Massey’s life.
Zubair now faces charges under Sections 295 and 436 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 295 pertains to acts intended to outrage religious feelings and is punishable by imprisonment or fines. Section 436, related to mischief by fire, carries severe penalties, including imprisonment for life.
Pastor Massey expressed shock and disappointment, stating that the church leaders were already cautious of Zubair’s behavior, leading them to limit his role in administrative matters. While deeply pained by the act, Pastor Massey emphasized that, as Christians, they would continue to pray for Zubair but acknowledged that the law must take its course.
The blaze resulted in the destruction of the church altar, Bibles, Christian books, air conditioning units, and furniture, among other items.
Community and church leaders, including Bishop Azad Marshall, President of the Church of Pakistan, expressed embarrassment over the involvement of a congregation member in such an act. Marshall highlighted the impact on interfaith relations in the area and condemned the falsification of persecution for personal gain.
The incident has broader implications for the Christian community in Pakistan, with concerns raised about the negative portrayal of genuine cases of persecution. Adeel Rehmat, Chief Officer of Pak Mission Society, emphasized the need to condemn such deceitful actions to prevent potential consequences for the entire community.
The Lahore incident follows a pattern of false allegations within the Christian community. Earlier, a Presbyterian pastor in Jaranwala faked an assassination attempt, and in Faisalabad, a pastor admitted to making false allegations about an attack by Islamic extremists.
As Pakistani Christians face the shameful revelation of a church elder orchestrating the burning of his own church, community leaders stress the importance of condemning such acts to preserve the credibility of legitimate persecution cases.