In the town of Itan Wali, Pakistan, located in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, a large area of land that straddles northwestern India, imprisoned 45-year old Asia Bibi; wife, mother and a person of Christian faith, anxiously awaits a Pakistani higher court to rule on an appeal made by her legal team. Bibi and her lawyers are challenging a Pakistani lower court’s decision to sentence her to death on charges that claim Bibi insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. A sentence that demands execution by hanging.
Prosecutors argue when Bibi insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, she violated Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law. A crime that is legally punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.
During her trial, witnesses alleged that in June 2009, Bibi, a field laborer, was picking fruit in a rural village two hours west of where she lived. Prosecutors say during a lunch break Bibi dipped her personal cup into a barrel of drinking water. Co-workers complained that because Bibi was a non-Muslim, the drinking water had been contaminated when Bibi and her cup touched the water. Court records reveal that because of the incident, Bibi and her female co-workers became involved in a heated argument.
Co-worker Mafia Satar said she was present during the women’s argument and personally heard Bibi’ insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
According to Satar’s testimony Bibi shouted before the angry Muslim women that “Your Muhammad had worms in his mouth before he died,” implying that Muhammad was not a Prophet of God and was just a simple man.
Outraged by the allegation of blasphemy, the town cleric, Qari Muhammad Salim, immediately informed the local police who then arrested Bibi. After spending nearly 15 months in prison Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.
“When I heard the decision my heart ached,” Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih told reporters.
Masih adamantly denies his wife ever committed blasphemy by insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He claims that death threats have forced him and his daughters, to flee their village.
Interestingly, the Koran does not call for the execution of blasphemers, however, over the last 80 years plus, Islamic legal scholars and jurists have incorporated the death sentence into laws which strictly protect the sanctity / honor of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Over the last 20 years, human rights organizations have blamed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for persecution and violence against religious minorities. Human rights activists claim the Pakistani government is reluctant to change the blasphemy laws in fear of instigating anger in the Muslim community, an anger that can explode in violence and terrorism.
There is no evidence that Pakistan has ever executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, however residents from Bibi’s village overwhelmingly support her death sentence.
“Yes, she should be hanged,” a group of villagers cried out.
Qari Salim, the town cleric, who made the initial complaint against Bibi, called her death sentence one of the happiest moments of his life.
“Tears of joy poured from my eyes,” he told the media, when asked of how he felt about the court’s decision.
The fate of Bibi now rests in the hands of men who must wrestle with a decision to apply what the majority of fellow Muslims are calling a fair and just sentence, or grant leniency and spare her life, a decision which could improve Pakistan’s image as the country lunges forward in the 21st century.
As always Louisianans the New Orleans Examiner is interested in what you think. If indeed Bibi made the alleged statement that insulted her Muslim co-workers and given the fact that she knew the laws against blasphemy, is the punishment fair? Are women and religious minorities in Muslim countries unfairly treated? Inquiring minds want to know. Sound off.
Until next time Louisianans, Good Day, God Bless and Good Fishing.