A Tale of Two Faiths 281

Here is a real-life drama, of the tragic type, illustrating how the greatest impediment to moral behavior is religion.

Act One:

In November 2010, a Christian woman in Pakistan, Asia Bibi (also called Asiya Noreen in some reports), was sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy.

She is 45 years old and has five children according to some news sources, three according to others. Whatever its size, hers is the only Christian family in the village of Ittan Wala. She was working in the fields on a hot summer’s day in 2009 when she was asked by the other women working with her to fetch water, which she did. But when she brought it some of the women refused to accept it on the grounds that she was a Christian, so by carrying the water to them with her infidel hands, she polluted it.

A few days later she was attacked by a mob, beaten and gang-raped. The police were called, and they took her, at first, into protective custody. Then, pressed by her accusers who said she had “insulted the Prophet Muhammad”, they charged her with blasphemy. She and  her defenders, who included Shahbaz Bhatti, the minorities minister, denied the charge.

She was kept in isolation for more than a year. Finally brought to trial, she was sentenced to be hanged.

Act Two:

On January 4, 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards because he had spoken in defense of Asia Bibi, visited her in prison, and advocated reform of the blasphemy laws.

Taseer had openly supported Sherry Rehman, a politician who’d sought to effect such reform. The mere attempt had brought tens of thousands of protestors on to the streets of Pakistan’s cities in December, 2010. The crowds were incited both by  the “fundamentalist” Deoband movement and the “tolerant” Barelvi sect.

The government wilted before the religious frenzy of the mob. Babar Awan, the justice minister, hurriedly promised that there would be no reform of the sacred laws of blasphemy  – for which cowardice Salman Taseer bravely criticized him and the government as a whole.

A few days later Taseer was murdered.

The bodyguard-assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, declared on being arrested that Taseer was a blasphemer and the punishment for blasphemy was death. Far from being a criminal in his own eyes, he had virtuously carried out what his religion and the law of the land required him to do. Pakistan’s law is based constitutionally on sharia, and prescribes death for blasphemers.

Qadri instantly became a hero. Islamic scholars defend him. He has thousands of followers on Facebook.

Chances are this killer will live a long life, honored and esteemed by his compatriots and his co-religionists.

Chances are Asia Bibi, the bearer of water to the thirsty, will be hanged. Her husband tried to shelter her two youngest children from knowledge of the verdict. They will know it soon if they don’t already, and their religion will tell them to condone the injustice.