LONDON (Reuters) - The death of eight Christians burnt alive in clashes with majority Muslims has diminished Pakistan and injured the Muslim faith, the spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans said on Tuesday.
Four women and a child were among those killed in the violence which broke out in Punjab province, central Pakistan, on Saturday, after Muslims torched Christians’ homes following allegations one had desecrated the Koran.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican church, called on the Pakistan government to protect the “small and vulnerable” Christian minority.
“The recent atrocities against Christians in Pakistan will sear the imaginations of countless people of all faiths throughout the world,” he said in a statement.
“As the minister of law in the Punjab has already said, such actions are not the work of true Muslims: they are an abuse of real faith and an injury to its reputation as well as an outrage against common humanity, and deserve forthright condemnation.
“Those of us who love Pakistan and its people, whatever their faith, feel that the whole country is injured and diminished by the violence that has occurred.”
Pope Benedict has said he was “deeply grieved” by the killings and has sent his condolences to Pakistani Christians.
A senior Pakistan government official said on Tuesday Islamist militants from groups linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban were suspected of being behind the mob violence in which 40 homes were burnt.
Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country and religious minorities, including Christians, account for about 4 percent of the 170 million population.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said Christians needed to be assured they lived in a “just and peaceful society”.
“They are disproportionately affected by the draconian laws against blasphemy, which in recent years have frequently been abused in order to settle local and personal grievances,” he said.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony and Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad