A cup of water in the hellish heat of the May in the Panjab of Pakistan threw Asia Bibi on death row for eight years for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. In jail she suffered from intestinal bleeding and became so week that often she was not able to walk. The windowless cell where there was no difference between days and nights, she survived the inhuman atmosphere, nourished by the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. It must be her dream to see the walls of the jail falling apart that kept her alive.
A farm labourer and mother of five, Asia Bibi is free now from her solitary confinement. Her acquittal sparked violent protests across the country. There were threats for killing Supreme Court judges who acquitted her in their landmark decision and also Saif-ul-Mulook, the lawyer who defended her. During these eight years the provincial governor Salmaan Taseer who defended her was killed by his bodyguard. Within a month more than 70 persons were killed in a suicide bombing at a church, and a month later the minority minister was assassinated for suggesting a fresh probe into the blasphemy laws. The radical Islamists wanted Asia Bibi to be hanged publicly. Whenever any influential person advocated for her freedom, they brought violence to the streets, blocking highways and setting vehicles to fire. In some parts schools were shut down.
The tragedy of Asia Bibi is one incident among many that tell about the blasphemy laws, supported by the segment that accused her of drinking water from the cup they also used. They approached their clerics who issued a fatwa against Asia Bibi. The incident happened on 14th of June in 2009, roughly ten years back. She says she was asked to convert to Islam to escape the blasphemy charges.
This tragedy has several precedents. One is of Javad Anjum, a Christian student of 18 years, who as per AsiaNews.it of 05/10/2004 was seized by a teacher and students of Jamia Hassan bin Almurtaza Madrassa on april 17 when he sipped water from a tap of Toba Tek Singh. After torturing Javad Anjum for 5 days he was handed to police on the charges that he was stealing a water pump. After keeping him under custody for two days police took him to a hospital. He died on May 2nd of renal failure. He suffered from broken ribs and the loss of eye sight.
This tragic incident of Asia Bibi has a plethora of other kinds of precedents also. Among the selected few one is of Naimat Ahmar, a Christian school teacher and a progressive award-winning writer. In 1992, Farooq Ahmed, a twenty-year old student of science, stabbed Naimat Ahmar seventeen times at about 9:30 in the morning of January 6 in front of students and teachers because of a few words of blasphemous nature which Farooq had heard. The police officer who came to arrest Farooq Ahmad first hugged him for doing his duty. In jail, he received special treatment because of his passion for the Prophet Mohammed. The killer was visited daily by people who garlanded and gifted him for his courage. Clerics and Muslim organizations issued statements in his favour, calling him a hero. A lawyer offered his services free, knowing that Farooq Ahmad was a killer. This incident appeared in The Washington Post of October 21st.
it is a sign of danger for Christian and Hindu families to have young daughters. From a number of tragedies from just Christian families one is of Asyia Parveen who was 13 years old when raped on October 12, 1996. The rapist family filed for some 300.00 dollars for damages and the Asyia Parveen was charged for having sex outside marriage. Moreover, the victim and his family had to live in hiding because of retaliation for taking the rapists to court. 14-year old Nasreen Daniel Neno claimed she was abducted and raped many times. After a month she was forced to marry her abductor and the following day she was publicly made to embrace Islam at a ceremony in a mosque. Another case is of Razia Iqbal. She had to survive the shock of abduction, forced conversion to Islam and the criminal charge according to the Islamic Law of sex outside marriage. Then there is the case of two sisters, Veronica and Salonica, from Shiekhupura who were allegedly abducted while coming home from college in 1996. The abductors were police constables. They were produced before the High Court after six months with the help of Human Rights Commission. They said they have married their abductors and have become Muslims. Another case is of fourteen years old Shahida Mughal from Faisalabad. A Muslim wanted her custody on the ground she became a Muslim though she denied it. The principal of the school took her signatures on a blank paper. Among the thousands of victims, one can include also the tragedies of Shakeela Siddique, sixteen years old Christian girl from Fatewala Village, and fifteen years old Samina Bibi. The list of teen-age girls who were abducted, raped and forced to accept the religion of their rapists can go on and on. The Hadd punishments (fornication) of Pakistan blasphemy laws do not differentiate between an adult and a girl of 12 years who has reached puberty. Legally, she is an adult and therefore can be stoned to death. The victims who accept Islam cannot come back to their previous religion because it is apostasy and the punishment for apostates is death.
in July 1994 Amnesty International reported about blasphemy prisoners in Pakistan jails:
“The available evidence in all these cases suggests that charges were brought as a measure to intimidate and punish members of minority religious communities or non-conforming members of the majority community; hostility towards a religious minority groups appeared in many cases to be compounded by personal enmity, professional or economic rivalry or a desire to gain political advantage.”
In April 20, 1997 Christian Voice from Karachi, Pakistan, goes further to state the truth in some cases. The truth is given by Bishop John Joseph who later committed suicide to protest against the blasphemy laws:
“All over Pakistan we find people who are motivated on religious grounds to accuse non-Muslims or even Muslims of a different sect, of having said, written or behaved against Islam or The Quran. There have been cases where a server (khadim) in a mosque is caught red-handed burning copies of The Quran. When asked why he did it, his answer: I was told to do it for the greater glory of Islam because some Kafir (infidel, blasphemer) will be accused, punished and eliminated through this act.”
The terror that Bishop John Joseph mentions to warn the democracies of the world has been reported by India Today of September 7, 1998 on page 50. It is a long fearsome report by Manoj Joshi and Ramesh Vinayak under the caption “The Fire Next Time” with pictures of the terrorists or extremists who combine their prayers with guns. They talk of traditional schools or madrassas funded by Arabs and Punjabi businessmen. They say most of their students are unemployed youth who “are easy prey for the ulema who advocate the practice of what they call pure Islam and urge Jehad to extirpate all
It is a miracle to get out of the country in which extremists have a strange way of taking revenge for anything that happens to Muslims anywhere in the world. The Christians of Pakistan become the victims of their wrath even if the happening has nothing to do with them. The fanatics attacked churches in Karachi and a Christian school in Multan when they protested against the Satanic Verses by Rushdie, though Christians have nothing to do with Rushdie or his book Satanic Verses. A non-Christian writes a book; another non-Christian sets a price on the head of the writer. Rushdie does not exalt Christianity in his book. To take revenge on the Christians of Pakistan does not make any sense.
Another act of violence which does not make any sense took place when the Hindus destroyed the Babari Masjid in Ayodhya, India. The student wing of a political party of Muslims in Peshawar, Pakistan, held a demonstration against the destruction in India by the Hindus on the 10th of November of 1990. The student wing of a religio-political party took revenge on the Christians of Pakistan for an action that had absolutely nothing to do with Christians. Protestors attacked St. John's Church and The Sacred Heart Church in Keamari in Karachi, India. Fr. Bruno Sequeira was brutally beaten. The mob tried to throw him in a fire made from the pews.
During the Arab-Israeli War, the Muslim students damaged the properties of Christian schools in Pakistan. During the Persian Gulf War protests in Pakistan in early 1991, a few Christian localities were threatened and attacked. The Christians were accused of siding with America. The memories of the attacks by fanatics with the help of about 300 police officers on Shantinagar, a village of around 25 thousand Christians and on the city of Khanewal, are still fresh.
Asia Bibi who lived in a solitary confinement for around 3000 days for 24 hours in a dehumanizing atmosphere of fear is enough to break any will to live. It may induce psychiatric disorders, including obsessive thinking, paranoia, anger, hallucinations and nightmares. Asia Bibi must have hallucinations of any Farooq Ahmed to slit her throat for a quick visa to immigrate to paradise.
Asia Bibi belongs to the culture of a minority of 3 per cent, which is based on Christ’s teachings mentioned also in Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew in 25: 35. This culture is about the unconditional love that is alive when manifested in action. Asia Bibi though technically free has not been freed in the real sense. Even her lawyer and the Supreme Court judges who declared her innocence are not free. Her children and siblings are not free either. Canada has given her asylum to settle, whereas countries including the United Kingdom refused to offer her asylum because of the fear that their embassies and diplomats could be targeted.
It will take a considerable time for Asia Bibi to rehabilitate. At the same time she shall be under the danger of being killed for the rest of her life for a crime she never committed. Her whereabouts in Canada shall remain in secrecy.
Asia Bibi deserves to be encouraged and honored for her higher courage to gather strength to face the wrath of the dominant segment of Pakistan that wants to hang her publicly for drinking a cup of water in the hellish heat of the month of June.
About Stephen Gill:
Self-exiled Stephen Gill, a multiple- award winning Indo/Canadian poet, fiction writer and essayist, has authored more than thirty books, including novels, literary criticism, and collections of poems. The focus of his writing is love and peace, based on his ideology of live and let live. Stephen Gill was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistan, and grew in India. The “silent wrenching pains” of his early life has kept Stephen Gill as a prisoner of fear even when he came abroad.