By Worthy News Asia Service with reporting by Worthy News; Jawad Mazhar in Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)– Two Christians in Pakistan were recovering of their injuries Thuesday, January 14, saying they were were shot at a wedding party for refusing to convert to Islam — the latest in a series of Islamic attacks on weddings across the country.
Imran Masih, 21, and Khushi Masih, 24, said two Muslims armed with automatic rifles shot them in the chest December 26 in Punjab Province’s Chak 297-JB village, in Toba Tek Singh district, after they refused orders to recite the Islamic "profession of faith" confirming conversion.
Instead, they said, they recited the Bible's Psalm 91. It's first two verses say "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty" and "I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust," according to a New International Version translation.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.
Masih said in a statement that the gunmen "got angry" and shot directly at him and his friend, instead of shooting into the air as is a tradition at village weddings. Although doctors at the local hospital said the two Christians will recover, there were concerns Thursday, January 14 of more violence as police admitted they have not yet detained suspects.
The violence comes amid mounting concerns over hosting weddings in a country where Islamic extremists have increased their attacks in Punjab province and elsewhere in Pakistan, as part of efforts to establish strict Islamic law in the country and increase their control.
In cosmopolitan Lahore people are also reluctant to visit weddings, following six attacks this year that killed 123 people, including 51 civilians in a suicide attack at a busy night market in December.
"I used to be a frequent guest at parties and weddings, but I haven't been at a party or event for four months," said Faran Shakir, a 25-year-old student. "If I try to leave the house after 9:00 pm, my parents ask where I'm going," he told French News Agency AFP.
Further away in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, Sara Qaiser told reporters her wedding was attended by armed guards and guests who had been frisked by Pakistani soldiers. "People marry once in life. I had a lot of desires about how to celebrate my marriage ceremony with pomp, but I was told the situation wasn't suitable," said Sara, 22, who requested that her real name not be used.
"All the plans I had in mind were drowned in fears," she added. Youngsters could not play music and the family reduced guest numbers to avoid the attention by militants.
Peshawar's upmarket Hayatabad township, where the wedding took place last month, borders Khyber tribal district, where the Taliban and another feared militia, Lashkar-e-Islam (Army of Islam), are active. Pakistan sent troops into the area last year and residents are on edge.
Bomb attacks in Peshawar are rising. They have killed over 280 people in three months as the Taliban avenge army assaults on their northwestern strongholds, nearly half of then in a suicide attack in October.
Weddings have also been hit. On October 23, a land mine killed 16 wedding guests in Mohmand district, just north of Peshawar.
Christians have also expressed concerns over threatening text messages forcing them to become Muslims, often ahead of attacks deemed "un-Islamic" by militants, including weddings.
Yet, a British delegation of Christian and Muslim leaders said last week that recent incidents of terrorism in Pakistan were against Islam and inspired by "political forces." The delegation said they came on the invitation of Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and met Christian victims of deadly riots in the town of Gojra that killed at least eight people last year.
One family of seven burned alive in their home during the early August violence, which broke out after Muslims accused Christians of desecrating the Koran – considered a "holy book" by Islam.
Speaking at Punjab University in Lahore Friday, retired Pakistani Bishop Alexander John Malik agreed with British delegates that people of different religions should not fight each other. "Killing one human being is like killing the whole humanity," he quoted the Koran — deemed a holy book by Muslims — as saying. (Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos contributed to this story).