One of LeaDev-Langham’s partners living, leading and ministering in Pakistan.
Asia Bibi, a Christian prisoner for death sentence for blasphemy charges (also mentioned as Asia Masih; Asia is the Arabic name of one of Pharaohs wife, Masih means Christ and Bibi means a woman/lady) has been freed from the jail on November 7, 2018, after about 9 years of mostly solitary confinement in the dreaded death cell. Her court case has caught world attention due to the nature of case and its history. The penal laws for hurting or desecrating someone’s religious places had been enacted in the 19th century by the British rule to keep the various religious communities as peace. This law was made more stringent and carried harsher penalties when the additional clauses were added in 1986 during the regime of General Zia Ul Haq (the name means, light of the truth). Now anyone who disrespects prophet (pbuh) of Islam will be given death penalty and anyone who desecrates the holy book of Islam will get life imprisonment.
It is unlikely that anyone, in sane mind, will dare to commit this crime because of severe punishment but there are cases registered under these offences. So far no death sentence is carried out, but scores of people, including Muslims and Christians have been killed extra judiciary as vigilante acts.
Pakistan was created in 1947 out of British Indian Empire as a separate homeland for Muslims. So its very creation gives a reason to be a religiously sensitive country. For the first thirty years the govt. did not use religion for its policy. But after the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet Union, a narrative was built to use religion to prepare holy warriors to fight Russians. It worked very well. But as a result the religious parties became stakeholders in the politics and wielded their influence in law making, providing a vote bank to main stream political parties.
The religious parties have a limited winning position in elections but they are able to arouse religious sentiments of the people using religious issues, instead of giving any credence to economic, education or health issues. They use of blasphemy laws as a slogan, and also as an issue which truly and deeply resonates with people sentiments. This has been successful so far.
While the Supreme Court decision to free Asia Bibi on the basis of insufficient and flawed evidence brought much relief to the Christian minority, the religious parties and a large part of Muslim public felt defeated. They demonstrated swiftly and strongly. The main highways were blocked and life came to a standstill in the country for three days. Schools and colleges were closed, students exams suspended, trains halted, flights delayed, cars, buses, trucks burnt on the roads. The govt. announced a tough stand but did not control the mobs. As a way out an agreement was drawn up after three days between the main religious group (This group took part in last election and won a few seats in the parliament). The agreement stated that Govt. will not oppose the review petition and Asia Bibi will not be allowed to leave the country till the decision of the review petition. Asia Bibi has been freed from jail on Nov. 7, 2018 and placed in an unknown safe place. The leadership of this group has called for the murder of three Judges who gave a decision for her release. The Muslim Lawyer who fought Asia’s case has already fled the country with family to save his life.
The hard fact is that the blasphemy law is going to stay in Pakistan and both Muslim majority and Christian minority have to learn to live with this reality. It has been proved that most of the time people accused others because of a land dispute or some other personal animosity.
My conversation with one of the retired Chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Naseem Hassan Shah (Late) was focused on how to make the procedures more stringent in order to control the misuse of this law. I suggested to him that both complainant and the accused be kept under judicial custody till one of them is given legal punishment. He listened with interest and now after two decades there are opinions in the media that if the complainant cannot prove his allegation, he should be given the same punishment. This opinion has been echoed in the parliament also. But for the last 3-4 decades this law has become the soul of a Muslim community and even to talk about the legitimacy of this law is considered as tantamount to blasphemy!
There is a tough job for the next generation to heal and mend the strained and complex relationship with the Muslim majority. The Word of God teaches us how we can change the society.
Suffering is a Call:
- Suffering is part of Christian life, not as a punishment but as a witness for God and righteousness. ( Philippians 1: 29)
- The suffering is also part of the Gospel ministry. It should be an honour to suffer for the Gospel.( Ephesians 3:13)
- The suffering is a occasion for joy, if caused for the sake of Jesus. ( Mathew 5: 12)
- The suffering should not be because of sinful acts. ( I Peter 4: 15)
- The suffering should not cause shame to a Christian. ( I Peter 4:16)
- There are chances that this law can be used for personal reasons. ( I Kings 21:1-16)
The Call to be law abiding citizens and witness for the Gospel:
- Christian should live a law abiding life in the country. ( Romans 13:1-3)
- Christian should live a life as a light for the society. ( Philippians 2:15)
- Christians should be ready to forgive those who persecute them. ( Luke 23:34)
- Christian should use peaceful means to demand their legal rights. ( Acts 16:37)
- Christian should draw strength from God and not be intimidated. (Philippians 1:28, I Peter 3:13-14)
- Christians should use respectful words while sharing the Gospel and avoid any negative or derogatory apologetics. (Acts 17: 22-34, Colossians 4: 6, I Peter 3:15-16)
- Christians should be thankful for the constitution of Pakistan and for the liberty for practising and propagating the Good News of Lord Jesus Christ. There is more religious freedom in Pakistan as compared with many Muslim and non-Muslim countries. The local Church in Pakistan should help a suffering family and pay for the lawyer’s fee. Financial aid from outside the country creates other problems for the Christians in Pakistan. (Acts 24: 10-21)
- Christian Diaspora should be living as ambassadors for Christ and Pakistan. ( II Corinthians 2:14-17)
- Christians in western countries should voice for all religious intolerance and help all suffering for their beliefs and not only Christians in Pakistan. (Galatians 6: 10)
- Christian should pray for the rulers, and government officers; for their safety and wisdom. (I Timothy 2:1-2)
Thank you for praying for Pakistan and for the church. Our Living God is able to do His work in all circumstances.
Note: The meaning of Asia, is mistakenly attributed in the supreme court judgement as “sinner” because of a Arabic word, spelled differently but with similar sound.