Catholic and Protestant Church leaders have denounced a U.S. Christian news report that claimed 91,000 Muslims across Bangladesh have converted to Christianity.
The July 20 report from The Christian Post claims the surge happened over the last six years. "Even though persecution against Christians in Bangladesh is on the rise, so is the number of Muslims converting to Christianity," the report reads.
The report references a U.S.-based Christian human rights organization, Christian Freedom International as its primary source of information. It goes on to estimate that there are 1.6 million Christians in Bangladesh, accounting for 1 percent of country’s 160 million people, 90 percent of whom are Sunni Muslim.
But, according to data from the Catholic Church and a major Protestant church forum, there are only 600,000 Christians making up less than a half percent of country’s population.
Church leaders termed the report "baseless" and warned that it poses a "great danger" to Bangladeshi Christians who are already reeling from recent attacks.
"This is a totally false and fabricated report, there is no credible information that the number of Christians is rising in Bangladesh let alone through conversion of Muslims," Father Albert Thomas Rozario, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dhaka Archdiocese told ucanews.com.
"Religious minorities including Christians are being targeted by militants, and these kinds of "fake reports" might enrage Islamic radicals and invite more attacks," the priest said.
A senior pastor from the Bangladesh Baptist Church, the largest Protestant church, also denounced the report as "false" and "disappointing."
"Based on experience and information, the reported increase is baseless. It will make Islamic extremists angry and provoke abuse and persecution," said the 65-year-old pastor, who requested not to be named.
The pastor noted that some fake churches who proselytize among poor people in order to collect foreign donations might account for the mistake.
"I suspect those fake churches provide cooked up information to donors for their own vested interests," said the pastor. "It might bring them money but it puts the whole Christian community at risk. Christian leaders need to stand up against those false churches."
Though Islam is officially the state religion, Bangladesh's constitution established the country as a secular state. The charter also protects the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion freely, but bans proselytizing.
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