To be published in Pakistan Post.
As the hangman’s noose is being readied for Aasia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, Pakistanis at home and abroad should realize that a part of them is being executed as well. Aasia Bibi has brought the attention of the world on Pakistan’s legal system, due to the sheer barbarity of executing a mother for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The discrimination being carried out on this woman is by the same people who feel that Pakistan is victimized by the world at large, epitomized by the War on Terror. It is even more ironic that the many of the same politicians defending the blasphemy law complain about the discrimination their children face living abroad in the U.S. and Europe. But the most tragic part of Aasia Bibi’s inevitable murder is that even if she had blasphemed, she did so because of the inhuman and un-Islamic treatment she received from people in community, who are themselves guilty of violating the ideas of the Prophet (PBUH). Indeed, the plight of Aasia Bibi and Pakistan are intertwined.
If one were to imagine a time when the U.S. and Europe passed blasphemy laws requiring citizens to follow the tenants of Christianity, or face persecution and degradation by their community, there would be massive objection by Pakistanis. The desperate situation described above has been the stark reality for groups in Pakistan like Ahmedis, whose supposed inferiority is a constitutional mandate, and Christians, who are often-times treated as subhuman.
The irony of a discriminatory ideology in Pakistan is apparent if one notes the violent protests sparked across the nation in reaction to prohibitions on the Muslim veil in nations like France and Denmark. One should not confuse these protests as calls for equality for all minorities everywhere. Rather, this fervor is merely by individuals who would like to be able to travel abroad and be treated with the same respect and dignity that they are not willing to afford to their own minorities, whether Christian, Ahmedi, or Hindu. If more Western nations resembled Pakistan and the fate of Aasia Bibi were to begin playing out on Pakistanis abroad, there would be inevitable calls for reform, perhaps accompanied by terrorist attacks on those nations.
Indeed, the imminent execution of Aasia Bibi is a symbol of Pakistan as described by anti-Americans and moderates alike, who claim that nations like the U.S. have sentenced Pakistan to death. Islamist-nationalists who support concepts the Blasphemy laws and reject the U.S. as an evil force paint the following narrative: Pakistan has always been a fiercely independent nuclear Muslim citadel, which threatens the U.S. For this reason, the U.S. wishes to suppress Pakistan, whether by deploying alleged death squads of Blackwater operatives, drone attacks, or fostering terrorism. Thus, they argue, that Pakistan faces a death sentence based on its inherent characteristics. This sounds far more like the actual treatment of the Christian woman sentenced to death based on her religious beliefs than any reality as to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Finally, while the details are quite limited, it is significant to realize exactly what event triggered the execution of a mother and wife. The scene was that Aasia Bibi was working as a helper in the fields and Muslim women demanded her to fetch them water. She followed the custom of generations of abuse and brought the water. When she did so, the women derided her and called the water “napack” or unclean, because a Christian touched it. Thereafter, it is debatable what Aasia Bibi actually said due to the lack of credibility for the witnesses involved, but let’s suppose she had blasphemed the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The greatest parable from the Koran that I remember hearing as a child was the story of the garbage thrower. During the time of the Prophet (PBUH), there was a woman who lived nearby that hated Islam and wanted to assault the Prophet (PBUH). For days she would collect the trash from her home and dump it on the Prophet (PBUH) from her rooftop, to which she never received a satisfactory angered response from him. One day she was too sick to assault the Prophet (PBUH), he became worried, inquired about her and took care of her during her illness. Thereafter, the woman became a true follower of Islam. This parable serves as an ultimate example that Muslims across the globe should be following. If one were to follow this story, it would be obvious that the Prophet (PBUH) would never have authorized the killing of a woman who derided his name out of frustration to the inhuman treatment she felt by his followers.
Indeed, blasphemy is an offense that should impact the heart of every Muslim, IF the individual blaspheming is actually cursing the Prophet (PBUH). However, Aasia Bibi was not cursing the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH), but was in fact reacting to the un-Islamic treatment she was facing at the hands of her bigoted community. The true Islamic principles of egalitarianism and equality, which prohibited bigotry based on castes and creeds, have been directly violated by the actions of the Muslims in this story. Their actions do not represent the message brought by Islam, and thereby Aasia Bibi’s reaction cannot be judged without realizing the un-Islamic treatment she received.
The blood running through the veins of Aasia Bibi’s is Pakistan’s. The fact that it will inevitably be spilt should continue to remind us of lessons learned beyond the wait for her appeal and the mourning of her death. The punishment being levied against this woman simply for being who she is, resembles the rhetoric of anti-Western Islamists who believe Pakistan faces a death sentence from the West due to its inherently independent qualities. Her death can then foreshadow Pakistan’s death. The discrimination that Pakistani expatriates complain of in Europe and the U.S. is nothing in comparison to the ultimate fate of Aasia Bibi, and Christians like her. Her discrimination is Pakistan’s discrimination. Finally, any anger expressed by Aasia Bibi was in reaction to being considered inferior by her community, and doesn’t reflect on the Prophet (PBUH) who prohibited such discrimination through his teachings. She is being killed for cursing un-Islamic mortals, not the faith of Islam or its Prophet (PBUH).
Aasia Bibi’s three children, holding up her picture.