Yesterday, we shared a piece with you by a woman who converted to Islam—two months after the Islam-inspired atrocities of 9/11. She assured us that she condemned those acts, indeed all acts, of terrorism, bigotry, intolerance, and dishonor committed by “a few” that besmirched her newly-adopted faith.
I said then, and repeat now, that a person’s faith is of no concern to me. Just don’t pi** on my head and tell me it’s holy water.
The Lahore High Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy four years ago, as her lawyers vowed to appeal.
Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about Islam’s Prophet during an argument with a Muslim woman. “A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Aasia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” said her lawyer Shakir Chaudhry.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 percent of the population is Muslim and unproven claims regularly lead to mob violence.
Two high-profile politicians—then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti—were murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi’s trial as flawed.
Blasphemy, injustice, mob violence, assassinations—are we to blame these acts of intolerance on the 3% who are not Muslim? They are certainly only “a few”.
Over a dozen religious clerics, including Qari Saleem who brought forward the initial complaint against Bibi, were present at the court Thursday. “We will soon distribute sweets among our Muslim brothers for today’s verdict, it’s a victory of Islam,” said Saleem from outside the courtroom as the clerics congratulated each other and chanted religious slogans.
It’s Halloween in Lahore! Candy for all in this “victory of Islam”!
In a last effort to understand, what was the original charge?
I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I’m a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers.
That day, June 14, 2009, is imprinted on my memory. I can still see every detail.
That morning I got up earlier than usual, to take part in the big falsa-berry harvest. I’d been told about it by Farah, our lovely local shopkeeper. “Why don’t you go falsa picking tomorrow in that field just outside the village? You know the one; it belongs to the Nadeems, the rich family who live in Lahore. The pay is 250 rupees.”
Because it was Sunday, my husband Ashiq wasn’t working in the brickworks. While I was getting ready to go to work he was still fast asleep in the big family bed with two of our daughters, who were also worn out after a long week at school. I looked at them with love before I left the room, and thanked God for giving me such a wonderful family.
When I got to the field, around 15 women were already at work, picking away, their backs hidden by the tall bushes. It was going to be a physically exhausting day in such heat, but I needed those 250 rupees.
Some of the women greeted me with a smile. I recognized my neighbor, Musarat, who was the seamstress in my village. I gave her a little wave, but she turned back to the bushes again at once. Musarat wasn’t really an agricultural worker and I didn’t often see her in the fields, so I realized times must be hard for her family. In the end, it was just our lot to be poor, all of us.
A hard-faced woman dressed in clothes that had been mended many times came over to me with an old yellow bowl.
“If you fill the bowl you get 250 rupees,” she said without really looking at me.
I looked at the huge bowl and thought I would never finish before sunset. Looking at the other women’s bowls, I also realized mine was much bigger. They were reminding me that I’m a Christian.
The sun was beating down, and by midday it was like working in an oven. I was dripping with sweat and I could hardly think or move for the suffocating heat. In my mind, I could see the river beside my village. If only I could have jumped into that cool water!
But since the river was nowhere near, I freed myself from my bushes and walked over to the nearby well. Already I could sense the coolness rising up from the depths.
I pull up a bucketful of water and dip in the old metal cup resting on the side of the well. The cool water is all I can think of. I gulp it down and I feel better; I pull myself together.
Then I start to hear muttering. I pay no attention and fill the cup again, this time holding it out to a woman next to me who looks like she’s in pain. She smiles and reaches out . . . At exactly the moment Musarat pokes her ferrety nose out from the bush, her eyes full of hate:
“Don’t drink that water, it’s haram!”
Musarat addresses all the pickers, who have suddenly stopped work at the sound of the word “haram,” the Islamic term for anything forbidden by God.
“Listen, all of you, this Christian has dirtied the water in the well by drinking from our cup and dipping it back several times. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!”
It’s so unfair that for once I decide to defend myself and stand up to the old witch.
“I think Jesus would see if differently from Mohammed.”
Musarat is furious. “How dare you think for the Prophet, you filthy animal!”
Three other women start shouting even louder.
“That’s right, you’re just a filthy Christian! You’ve contaminated our water and now you dare speak for the Prophet! Stupid bitch, your Jesus didn’t even have a proper father, he was a bastard, don’t you know that.”
Musarat comes over as though she’s going to hit me and yells: “You should convert to Islam to redeem yourself for your filthy religion.”
I feel a pain deep inside. We Christians have always stayed silent: We’ve been taught since we were babies never to say anything, to keep quiet because we’re a minority. But I’m stubborn too and now I want to react, I want to defend my faith. I take a deep breath and fill my lungs with courage.
“I’m not going to convert. I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
Ohhh!! Why didn’t you say so? Now I understand. Tolerance and justice practically waft off the page. But to be serious for a moment, all it takes is the bigotry of “a few” for the “honor” of Islam to be sullied.
PS: I’ll keep tabs on this theme.