I have long become numb to case stories of Christian persecution worldwide – instances of beatings, rape, torture, murder and the use of the Blasphemy Law. Whilst the ordeal of the Persecuted Church is always painful to hear about, one soon becomes accustomed to it. Yet nobody has evoked such emotion within me than Pakistan’s Asayia Bibi. I have had five years to muse upon why the treatment of this particular woman strikes at a raw nerve in comparison to the hundreds upon hundreds of Christian testimonies I’ve seen, heard and read about in my lifetime.
I see no difference between Asayia Bibi and my own mother, who is also born and raised in Punjab, Pakistan. Perhaps I may be reading too much into the ordeal of Bibi but I see no reason for why my own mother couldn’t fare the same as Asayia, had she offended a group of Muslim women by drinking from the same water source as them.
By now Bibi has become an international symbol of Christian persecution, something that should have been used as a catalyst to reboot the indifference towards such global suffering five years ago. Five years later and she remains languishing in a prison cell. Her story in itself is not unique and instead echoes thousands of told and untold experiences: an accusation made by Muslim clerics, communities or individuals against a Christian minority that have ‘blasphemed against the Prophet’ or Islam and years of violence, culminating in detention follows. In most of these cases, families of those accused are at risk of death themselves and so years on the run or in hiding is quintessentially the norm. However, Asayia Bibi’s situation remains unique as she stands to be Pakistan’s first woman to be sentenced to death via its Penal Blasphemy Law Code.
I first came to read about Bibi when I was 15 years old and her name and face has been etched within me ever since. Most people by now have come across enough instances of Blasphemy to not pay attention to the fine print but the details of her plight need to be carefully adhered to. Asayia Bibi was initially accused of blasphemy in 2009, when she sparked outrage among the group of Muslim women she would harvest berries with. The women were offended that Bibi dared to drink with the same water cup as them, since Christians in Pakistan are regarded as inferior and unclean beings.
This accusation of Blasphemy soon led to an official declaration of a death sentence in November 2010 by Lahore High Court, a decision they have refused to reverse and instead have upheld on October 16 2014. The international community may be occasionally speaking out against the treatment of this woman but since they continue to pour billions of aid into Pakistan throughout the years she has been detained, one cannot help but question just how genuinely concerned they are.
I believe Asayia Bibi’s fate could potentially be an already foregone conclusion: I understand the level of hatred and contempt held by too many Muslims against the Christians of Pakistan all too well. Fundamentally speaking, a cup of water has resulted in the beating, mistreatment and discrimination of Bibi and her family who have been in hiding ever since Asayia was initially arrested. A cup of water has led to five young children being deprived of their mother for years on end. A cup of water has resulted in the years of physical infliction and mental deprivation for a woman at risk of being killed by prison mates and prison guards.
Should Asayia Bibi ever be released her persecution will not end there, but instead provide Puritanical Muslims every reason to further call for her death or personally avenge their ‘grievances’ as by now she has become a global figure for the Persecuted Church and an international Christian symbol.
What the West needs to be doing is promoting the ordeal of Asayia Bibi and instilling pressure onto the Pakistani government, instead of distracting the world by parading the likes of Malala Yousafzai around on our television screens. The West in particular must wake up to the fact that a mere cup of water evoked the wrath of the Blasphemy Law and realize just how false this Penal Code actually is. The Blasphemy Law is in use daily, scavenging out minority Christian communities and manipulating it under the false pretence of insulting Islam to settle personal disputes or to impinge upon Christian territory.
The mention of Asayia Bibi makes me weary. Only God knows the suffering and trauma inflicted upon her and her loved ones. Asayia Bibi represents countless of Persecuted Christians worldwide and symbolizes everything that is wrong with not only the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and similar countries, but the conniving nature behind much its Islamic political agenda towards everything non-Islamic.
I’ve shed enough tears to fill a cup the size this woman innocently drunk out of. All in the name of water and the fate of Asayia Bibi is most likely a foregone conclusion. For she will always remain a hunted woman in the pernicious climate of Puritanical Pakistan.