Pakistan – Reverend Mukhtar Masih, 50, was shot near the Khanewal railway station, close to his home. Post-mortem reports show that the pastor died from bullet wounds in the chest. Khanewal is about 395 kilometers south of Islamabad.
Some Christian leaders have described the incident as “a terrorist act.” They point out that 3,000 rupees (US$54) was found in the slain Churchman´s pocket, and they say he had no dispute with anyone in the area.
In Pastor Mukhtar’s neighborhood, people heard the Muslim call to prayer five times a day from minarets atop the local mosques. Not to be outdone, Pastor Mukhtar installed a loudspeaker on the roof of his church. He planned to broadcast short prayers and sections of Scripture to the neighborhood.
Pastor Mukhtar wasn’t some obnoxious rebel with a microphone. He had a great love for Muslims and was a compelling witness; many Muslims came to Christ because of his outreach.
His deep love for Muslims and his success in winning Muslims to Christ deeply bothered his Muslim neighbors, earning him many enemies. In fact, his effectiveness was practically a death sentence.
The pastor was on his way to catch an early morning train when he was shot at about 3 a.m. Children later saw his body and informed police. The pastor was identified through the identity card he had with him.
Reverend Mukhtar had been serving as a pastor for about 14 years, first with the Full Gospel Assemblies and then the Church of God.
Strangers began to arrive at Mukhtar’s door to politely warn him against witnessing. Over time, the threats grew less subtle. He was told that he would pay with his life if he did not stop converting Muslims to Christianity.
After each visit, his wife asked him, “Who were those people, and what did they want?” Pastor Mukhtar kept these threats from his wife so that she wouldn’t be afraid. He would answer by saying things like, “Don’t worry, dear, it was only business.”
Despite the threats, Pastor Mukhtar couldn’t stop. God had revealed to him the key to life. He had to share that key with all those still imprisoned. Threats couldn’t stop him, even when his enemies offered to let him live if he would only stop preaching and allow the prisoners around him to quietly rot in prison. But Pastor Mukhtar could not accept such a small bribe. His deep love for the Father and for the prisoners around him forced him to keep going no matter the cost.
Local police reportedly told Reverend Mukhtar three years ago that he should stop preaching through the loudspeaker. According to Reverend Mukhtar´s family, two men on a motorcycle approached the family home late at night a few months ago but ran away, leaving their motorcycle behind, when family members woke up. They said police managed to trace the men but took no further action because the pastor did not pursue the case.
The pastor´s funeral was held Jan. 6 in Khanewal. About 1,000 men, women and children attended the rites led by Church of God Bishop Rehmat Danial.
Bishop Danial said Christians “belong to a peaceful religion” and “should not act against the preaching of Christ Jesus,” despite the killing. “I hope that we will reply to this evil not with terror but with peace,” he said.
After the funeral, about 650 Christians from various denominations as well as Muslims processed through Khanewal. They held placards and chanted slogans urging: “arrest the murderers of Pastor Mukhtar Masih;” “stop terrorism” and “stop killing minorities.”
Pastor Mukhtar was eventually assassinated. His murder was highly publicized. His widow feared that the men who killed her husband would one day return and silence her as well. After his assassination, state security services forbade her from speaking with foreigners. These restrictions applied to us, so we met with her in secret.
Mrs. Mukhtar had six children, including several older daughters at home. In Muslim culture, a girl without a father is vulnerable, so daughters stay with the family until they marry.
The stress of losing her husband and carrying the load of a large family left her shell-shocked. But Mrs. Mukhtar was stoic as she recounted the details of her living nightmare. From the outside, there was no sign that tragedy had engulfed her life just a few weeks earlier.
During the procession, Ejaz Rahi, regional animator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference, said his commission demands the arrest of all those responsible for violence against religious groups and institutions, including mosques and “imam bargah,” where Shia Muslims pray. However, he said: “I request all minorities, especially Christians, to be peaceful and calm. We should not break the law but wait for the government´s reaction.”
The commission has reported 43 people killed and more than 80 seriously injured in attacks targeting Christians since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. In July 2003, Father George Ibrahim, 36, was killed by masked gunmen who shot the parish priest while he slept in the courtyard of his residence in Renala Khurd, 350 kilometers southeast of Islamabad.
Pakistani Christians say they are perceived by local Muslims as allied to the United States and other Western powers, which many Pakistanis view as Christian nations.
Mrs. Mukhtar after the loss of her husband when Jeff met her. In Urdu, she cried out in anguish, “How could they murder him? All he did was love people. He loved the Muslim people. I cannot forget him. How am I going to live without him? What if they kill my son, too?”
Her life had been irretrievably broken.