Muslim judges set a Christian woman free 4

This is very good news.

A death sentence hung over Aasiya Noreen – called “Asia Bibi”, meaning “Asia Woman”, by Muslims and the international press – for blasphemy against Muhammad. But today (October 31, 2018) an appeal court in Pakistan set her free.

She has not gone unpunished. She has been in solitary confinement in a dark prison cell for eight years.

We posted her story recently here.

And here is our Facebook summary of the Channel NewsAsia report of the court ruling and its immediate consequences:

Pakistan’s Supreme Court today freed a Christian woman from a death sentence for blasphemy against Islam and overturned her conviction, sparking angry protests and death threats from an ultra-religious party and cheers from human rights advocates. Asia Bibi, a mother of four, had been living on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after Muslim co-workers objected to her drinking water from the same cup as they drank from because she was not Muslim. The case has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Asia Bibi were assassinated. Supporters of the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), which was founded to support blasphemy laws, immediately condemned the ruling and blocked roads in major cities, pelting police with stones in the eastern city of Lahore. The TLP’s leadership called for the death of Chief Justice Saqib Nasir and two other judges on the panel. Street protests and blockades of major roads were spreading by mid-afternoon, paralyzing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities.

Chief Justice Saqib Nasir and the other two judges are brave men. Their lives are now in jeopardy.

Posted under Christianity, Islam, Law, Muslims, Pakistan by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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Aasiya Noreen, blasphemy, and the quality of mercy 1

As the word “humane” means to be merciful, it implies that human beings are by nature merciful beings.

Is human nature innately merciful, kind, compassionate? We know it is not. People are not only commonly unmoved by suffering; people deliberately hurt other people.

Perhaps the fact that cruelty often requires an excuse – a claim that the cruel act was committed to serve a higher virtue – suggests an intuitive recognition that it is wrong to be cruel?

What are such higher virtues?

They lie in those fantasies of fulfilled desires: religions.

To do this or that for a god, on the command of a god, in the name of a god; to help realize the great promises a god has made for all mankind – to abolish all suffering forever, to put an end to death, to lay a path to eternal bliss … that is the higher calling, such ends are the higher ends, the goodness that serves those purposes of that god, is the higher – the highest – virtue, says religion.

But don’t religions teach that to be good to other people is the highest service their acolytes can render to divinity?

No. Very few teach “humaneness” as a principle.

One religion that does not, is the religion with the second-largest following in the world: Islam.

Oh, it implies that “mercy” is highly valued by calling Allah, its god, “the Merciful” (“Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim” – “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”.) But it commands Muslims to be merciless to non-Muslims. A multitude of surahs in the Koran order Muslims to do violence against “unbelievers”. (“Fight those of the unbelievers who are near you and let them find ruthlessness in you.” 9:1123. “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah and those with him are ruthless against the unbelievers and merciful among themselves.” 48:29. “Enmity and hate shall reign between us until you believe in Allah alone.” 60:4.)

Islam is plainly a great horror afflicting the human race. But it was a late-comer among the world’s religions. It lit its flame from Christianity and Judaism, both of which did actually order that kindness be shown to both neighbor and stranger as a principle, but prescribed mercilessly cruel punishments for disobediance of their laws. Judaism commanded stoning to death for blasphemy; and blasphemy was an unforgivable sin in Christianity, punishable by an eternity in Hell. (“And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.” Leviticus 24: 6. “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” Mark 3:29.)

Believers must fear the criticism they call blasphemy. Criticism threatens the very existence of their religion.

The Enlightenment woke the West out of the nightmare of religion, and led slowly to the abolition, in the 20th century, of blasphemy as a crime in most Western countries. Notable exceptions still being, in 2017: Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany, Canada, and Ireland (which is holding a referendum this month, October 2018, on whether its blasphemy laws should be repealed).

No one in any of those countries or anywhere in Western Europe has been put to death by the state for blasphemy since 1765, when – to quote RealClear Politics:

A young man named François-Jean de la Barre … became the last person executed for blasphemy in Europe. … For a long time, this tragic tale was a distant chapter in the story of Western civilization’s road to a secular, pluralistic society; the issues it raised had long been settled in favor of freedom of speech. … [But] twelve people — artists and journalists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — [were] killed in the heart of Paris for perceived blasphemy against Islam [on January 7, 2015].

Islam, yes. In Islamic states blasphemers can still be sentenced to death.

In our post Thirst: a story of religious injustice, May 10, 2016, we told the story of Aasiya Noreen, brought to trial in Pakistan for blasphemy.

We tell it here again, with some changes and additions to bring the story up to date:

Aasiya Noreen is called “Asia Bibi” in the court and the press. That means “Asia Woman” – the common way women are named and titled in the Islamic culture which systematically demeans women.

Aasiya Noreen (aka “Asia Bibi”)

She was a poor, illiterate woman who worked in the fields to help support her family of five children, two of them her own and three of them her husband’s from a former marriage.

She was a Christian. A Catholic. Her  family were the only Christians in the small village where she lived some thirty miles outside Lahore, the capital of the Punjab in the Islamic state of Pakistan. The Christians of the region were an underclass, traditionally assigned to menial jobs.

One hot summer’s day in June, 2009, Aasiya was harvesting berries along with some Muslim women. They all became thirsty. The Muslim women sent Aasiya to fetch water from a well. Aasiya found a battered tin cup abandoned near the well, and had a drink from it  before refilling it and carrying it to her fellow workers. One of them accused her of drinking from the cup and so making it unclean. Christian lips should not contaminate a cup that Muslims drink from. All the Muslim women agreed on that.  

A dispute arose. Which was the one true religion? The Muslim women knew that Islam was the truth. Aasiya knew that Christianity was the truth. She dared to say (according to her own account), “Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammed ever do to save mankind?”

The Muslim women were deeply offended. They went to their imam and told him that the Christian woman Aasiya Noreen had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

The imam took action. He gathered together a number of good Muslims willing to defend the Prophet and the true faith of Islam, and led them to the house where Aasiya and her family lived. They set upon her and her husband and her children with righteous blows. The police arrived in time to save the Christian family from being beaten to death. The avenging mob agreed to spare them on condition that the police laid a charge of blasphemy against the woman. The police duly arrested her and put her in jail, where she waited until November, 2012 to be brought to trial.

Aasiya told the court that the woman who accused her of blasphemy had a grudge against her, resulting from an old quarrel, and the accusation was made out of a desire for revenge. The judge did not accept her story as a defense. He also chose to overlook inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses against her. He decided that she was guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to death.

The description in Pakistani law of the crime she was fund guilty of, is: “Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, … defiles the name of Muhammad 1986.” The prescribed penalty is: “Mandatory Death and fine (Feb. 1990).” And the law stipulates that the judge must be a Muslim.

She was to be hanged for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad. 

She was the first woman ever to be condemned to death in Pakistan for blasphemy – her crime being considered so heinous that even death was not sufficient punishment. She was also to pay a fine equivalent to $1,100. She and her family had never in all their lives possessed a sum approaching $1,100. Nor did they know of any way they could raise it.

When the verdict was pronounced, the crowd in the court rose to its feet, applauding and shouting “Yes, kill her! Kill her! Allahu Akbar!”. And yet more enthusiasts for justice, more celebrants of the glory of God, broke down the doors to swarm into the court, their furious, triumphant shouts swelling the chorus of “Allahu Akbar!”  The greatness of their merciful God could hardly have been more passionately attested.

Aasiya’s husband, Ashiq Masih, appealed the verdict. He and Aasiya hoped that the High Court would at least suspend the sentence.

There were humane men in authority; men who felt compassion, cared about justice, and wanted mercy for Aasiya Noreen.

There was a man in a high position who was deeply moved by the fate of Aasiya and determined to do all he could for her. He was Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab. He persuaded the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, to come to her rescue. In December 2012, Taseer publicly announced that if the High Court did not suspend her sentence, the president would pardon her. And Zardari would have done so, but the Lahore High Court hastened to issue a stay order against a presidential pardon.

So Aasiya remained in prison in Lahore, in solitary confinement in an 8 by 10 foot dark windowless cell, for another six years.

At first the governor would visit her, with his wife and daughter. But then the court ruled that only her husband and lawyer (not her children) could see her.

On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by one Mumtaz Qadri who resented the governor’s concern for the blasphemer. (He was hanged for the crime in February 2016.) 

The Minister of Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti – himself a Christian, and the only Christian member of the cabinet – was so disturbed by the case that he set about doing all he could to get the laws of blasphemy changed. He announced that he was prepared to die fighting for Aasiya Noreen’s release. He received many death threats, and on March 2, 2011, he was shot dead in his car near his home.

Many times Aasiya’s appeal was postponed. In October 2014, the High Court finally heard her case – and upheld her death sentence. Her husband then appealed to the President. But he was restrained from issuing a pardon, so her lawyers appealed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. In July, 2015, the Supreme Court suspended her death sentence “for the duration of the appeals process”.

On Monday October 8 this year, 2018, the Supreme Court, after long delay, heard her last appeal and said it had reached a judgment, but has not yet announced what it is.

The judges have reason to fear for their lives if they do not sentence her to death. Will that fact ensure her execution?

And after men in high places have been killed for sympathizing with her, what chance would she herself have of surviving the killers’ indignation if she were to be acquitted? Her family have gone into hiding, and they fear for her safety and survival if she were to be released.

Hundreds of Pakistanis have publicly protested against her being still alive. An imam offered $10,000 reward to anyone who would kill her, and apparently some 10 million citizens declared themselves ready and willing to do the noble deed. 

And, Reuters reports:

The ultra-religious Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which makes punishing blasphemy its main campaign rallying cry and lionizes the bodyguard who killed Taseer, warned the court against any “concession or softness” for Bibi.

“If there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences,” TLP said in a statement.

Are Christians doing anything to help save Aasiya Noreen?

The British Pakistan Christian Association reported on the eve of the appeal hearing: 

BPCA Outreach Officer Leighton Medley, who is in Pakistan on his 6 monthly mission has told us that many churches in Lahore, particularly in Bahar Colony, have declared a day of fasting and prayer as Christian communities seek justice for Asia Bibi. He tells us that many were praying throughout the churches, asking for the final release of this innocent woman and the end of this sordid chapter in Pakistan’s history. … Leighton spends time encouraging Christians to respond peacefully, and take to take in acting in a peaceful way, proclaiming non-violence the way that Jesus Christ did. [He says:]

We must have faith that God can intervene in this situation and this mountain will be removed. It is very much like going into the lion’s den.

For nine years, prayers for Aasiya Noreen have been prayed: by herself, by her family, by quite a lot of fellow Christians, for her acquittal and release. The praying has not resulted in her acquittal and release. So why not go on doing it?

One way or another, this long-suffering woman, Aasiya Noreen, is most likely to be killed soon.

She is under sentence of death for taking a drink of water from a cup that was afterwards used to quench the thirst of other working women on a hot day, and for saying something she had been taught to believe to the other women who had been taught that it was something that should not be believed and should not be said.

Because of fantastic rumors about a man called “Jesus” and a man called “Muhammad”, who lived (if at all) many hundreds of years ago; because of religion, lives are ruined, lives are lost. Cruelty and injustice reign. Again. 

A Tale of Two Faiths 11

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.

Bringing sharia to judgment 2

Foreseeing the possibility that the cruel law of Islam, the system of oppression called sharia, might creep into Oklahoma, the state passed a state constitutional amendment to prevent it. It was supported by 70% of voters.

Up pops the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – whose aim is to spread sharia over the whole of the United States and ultimately to have it supplant US federal and state law and obliterate the Constitution – with a suit against Oklahoma.

The activist, “progressive”, Clinton-appointed federal judge, Vicki Miles-LeGrange, ruled in CAIR’s favor, granting a temporary restraining order.

Investor’s Business Daily points out that, by bringing the suit, CAIR is bringing sharia – and the Muslim plan to impose it on the whole country – into the bright light of Supreme Court judgment, and so before the bar of public opinion: an exposure that could, and should, put an end to it in America.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations may wish it never sued to overturn an Oklahoma ban on Shariah law. Now the entire nation will get to see it and other Islamists’ true anti-American colors. …

CAIR has ignited a legal firestorm that will likely rage all the way to the Supreme Court. Thanks to CAIR’s latest bit of lawfare, Americans will get to hear a long overdue debate not just about the constitutionality of such bans on Shariah law but about the constitutionality of Shariah law itself.

This is not a debate CAIR wants to have, since it ultimately will have to defend the indefensible. …

It’s a medieval legal code that administers cruel and unusual punishments such as stonings, amputations and honor killings. …

Shariah can be seen in action this week with Pakistan’s death sentence on a Christian woman for blasphemy. …

Read a report on this case at Creeping Sharia. The woman, Asia Bibi, has been convicted on a trumped-up charge. Her conviction is a lurid illustration of the viciousness of sharia.

CAIR, which thinks free speech is a one-way street, is working with the Organization of the Islamic Conference on an international blasphemy law that would criminalize “Islamophobia” …

CAIR says it’s just a “civil rights advocacy group.” But the Justice Department says it’s a front group for Hamas and its parent, the radical Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide jihadist movement that has a secret plan to impose Shariah law on the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors in 2007 named CAIR an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal scheme led by the Holy Land Foundation to funnel millions to Hamas suicide bombers and their families.

Federal courts found “ample evidence” linking CAIR to the conspiracy and are expected to unseal the dossier in coming weeks.

Finally to indict the nefarious organization? We hope so.