Bangladesh: Christians attacked for wanting to build a church

Around 20 Christian families from northern Bangladesh were set upon by an angry mob and driven from their Muslim village just because they wanted to build a church. CSI provided emergency assistance to ensure food and accommodation for the victims and also covered their medical costs.

Day laborers Satar Sheikh and Shomsher Ali had journeyed all night for a chance to meet CSI’s project manager and recount the sad events of the past few months. It was February, just before the coronavirus lockdown made all travel impossible.

Bangladeshi day laborers.

Satar and Shomsher belonged to the Christian community in the village of Hori Ram that was founded 18 years ago when local missionaries made their first converts. By 2018, the number of Christian families in the village had grown to 20. The Christian community decided to realize a long-held dream and build their own church with the funds they had scraped together.

Attacked by an angry mob

That was too much for some of their Muslim neighbours who suddenly realized how big the Christian community had become. “They put us under constant pressure to return to Islam,” said Satar, on whose land the church was to be built. “They wouldn’t allow us to enter the stores, we couldn’t get work in the fields anymore and our children were excluded from school.”

Tensions increased until on December 6 last year an angry mob of over 50 people attacked the Christian families and destroyed their homes. Satar was one of those who suffered serious injuries.

Driven out of the village the families hid in the woods or found refuge with relations. Later, some were able to return home. But many, including Satar, are still displaced. The day laborer hasn’t seen his wife and children for months: they were taken in by his Muslim parents-in-law who made it clear that Satar was not welcome.

“We won’t hide”

Despite receiving threats, Satar had the courage to go to the police, but the response was not what he hoped to hear. “The police advised me to convert back to Islam to avoid problems in the future,” he told our project manager.

It was only when CSI’s local project partner intervened that the police agreed to investigate the case. Our Bangladesh partner also made sure that the victims received medical care as well as food and accommodation.

“Would it not be easier to withdraw the complaint and go back to living a normal life,” our project manager wanted to know. “No, the injustice we have suffered has to be brought to light,” replied Satar.

“As Christians we don’t want to hide away, we want to live our faith openly.”