Hindu leaders are laying the blame for the arson of a Hindu temple in Fiji on Christian churches.

On June 19, the Sri Jai Maha Shakti temple, not far from Nadi international airport in the Fiji islands, was gutted by fire.

The Daily Post of Fiji reported that Vijay Raj, 26, was arrested at the site and was overheard yelling, "Hallelujah, Hallelujah. I did the right thing. God told me to do this." Later, Raj, apparently a recent Christian convert, pleaded guilty to arson and is serving a four-year prison term.

Tensions have simmered for many years between Christians, who represent almost half of the country's 750,000 residents, and Hindus (37 percent of the population). Military coups in 1987 strained relations between Indians and Fijians, the two principal ethnic groups. Government policy has encouraged Christian tradition, including strict Sunday observance.

Arumugaswami, managing editor of Hawaii-based Hinduism Today, claims the arson was not an isolated incident: There have been six arsons against Hindu shrines. "We believe the Christian churches in Fiji bear a responsibility for these attacks," he said. Hindus have unsuccessfully asked local Christian leaders to condemn the attacks.

A World Council of Churches interreligious relations team visited Fiji just one week prior to the arson. Hans Ucko, a team member, said Fiji's residents must "build bridges of understanding" and affirm "religious pluralism." He said at times some Christian teaching "stereotypes" Hindus as "idolaters." He said among many Indians and Fijians "there is ethnic suspicion, bitterness, and contempt."


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