In June 2009 a Pakistani mother of five, Asia Bibi, was out picking fruit in the fields. At midday she went to the nearest well, picked up a cup, and took a drink of cool water, and then offered it to another woman. Suddenly, one of her fellow workers cried out that the water belonged to Muslim women and that Bibi—who is Christian—had contaminated it. “Blasphemy!” someone shouted, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan. In that instant, with one word, Bibi’s fate was sealed. First attacked by a mob, Bibi was then thrown into prison and sentenced to be hanged.
Since that day, Asia Bibi has been held in appalling conditions, her family members have had to flee their village under threat from vengeful extremists, and the two brave public figures who came to Bibi’s defense—the Muslim governor of the Punjab and Pakistan’s Christian Minister for Minorities—have been brutally murdered. In Blasphemy, Asia Bibi, who has become a symbol for everyone concerned with ending an unjust law that allows people to settle personal scores and that kills Christians and Muslims alike indiscriminately, bravely tells her shocking and inspiring story and makes a last cry for help from her prison cell.The following is an excerpt of a book by Asia Bibi, who remains on death row in Pakistan having been accused of defaming Islam, the majority religion of the South Asian country.
More and more people join the crowd as they push me towards the home of the village headman. I recognize the house — it’s the only one that has a garden with grass growing in it. They throw me to the ground. The village imam speaks to me: “I’ve been told you’ve insulted our Prophet. You know what happens to anyone who attacks the holy Prophet Mohammed. You can redeem yourself only by conversion or death.”
“I haven’t done anything! Please! I beg you! I’ve done nothing wrong!”
The qari with his long, well-combed beard, turns to Musarat and the three women who were there on the day of the falsa harvest.
“Did she speak ill of Muslims and our holy Prophet Mohammed?”
“Yes, she insulted them,” replies Musarat, and the others join in:
“It’s true, she insulted our religion.”
“If you don’t want to die,” says the young mullah, “you must convert to Islam. Are you willing to redeem yourself by becoming a good Muslim?”
Sobbing, I reply:
“No, I don’t want to change my religion. But please believe me, I didn’t do what these women say, I didn’t insult your religion. Please have mercy on me.”
I put my hands together and plead with him. But he is unmoved.
“You’re lying! Everyone says you committed this blasphemy and that’s proof enough. Christians must comply with the law of Pakistan, which forbids any derogatory remarks about the holy Prophet. Since you won’t convert and the Prophet cannot defend himself, we shall avenge him.”
He turns on his heel and the angry crowd falls on me. I’m beaten with sticks and spat at. I think I’m going to die. Then they ask me again:
“Will you convert to a religion worthy of the name?”
“No, please, I’m a Christian, but I beg you . . . ”
And they go on beating me with the same fury as before.
I was barely conscious and could hardly feel the pain of my wounds by the time the police arrived. Two policemen threw me in their van, to cheers from the angry crowd, and a few minutes later I was in the police station in Nankana Sahib.
(Asia Bibi on right in happier times)
In the police chief’s office they sat me down on a bench. I asked for water and compresses for the wounds on my legs, which were streaming with blood. A young policeman threw me an old dishcloth and spat out at me:
“Here, and don’t get it everywhere.”
One of my arms really hurt and I thought it might be broken. Just then I saw the qari come in with Musarat and her gang. With me sitting there they told the police chief that I insulted the Prophet Mohammed. From outside the police station I could hear shouts:
“Death to the Christian!”
After writing up the report the policeman turned and called to me in a nasty voice:
“So what have you got to say for yourself?”
“I’m innocent! It’s not true! I didn’t insult the Prophet!”
Immediately after I’d protested my innocence I was manhandled into the police van and driven away. During the journey I passed out from pain and only came back to myself as we were arriving at Sheikhupura prison, where I was thrown into a cell.
Since that day I haven’t left prison.
Excerpted from “Blasphemy: A Memoir: Sentenced to Death over a Cup of Water” by Asia Bibi as told to Anne-Isabelle Tollet, published by Chicago Review Press and available at Amazon.