1st November 2018 Summary- Asia Bibi in Pakistan
The case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan was in the newspapers- Pakistan’s Supreme Court had overturned her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy, arguing that the evidence presented was inconsistent, and her “confession” was secured under pressure. Some Islamic scholars also argue non-Muslims are not liable to the death penalty for insulting the Prophet, kufr (denying Mohammed as God’s Prophet) or shirk (worship of other gods). Although there have been more than 50 extra-judicial murders for “blasphemy”, Asia was the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in a court.
Aasiyah Noreen (“Bibi” is a term of respect, given to many women) lives in Ittan Wali, Punjab, with her family, the only Christian family in the village. Reports say that the argument broke out in 2009 among women collecting fruit, when Asia was asked to bring water. She drank first herself, which neighbours (who had already been involved in a dispute with her family), said she as a Christian should not have done from the cup which Muslims would use. When they demanded that she convert to Islam, she retorted that she believed in “Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”
Cases such as hers are often cited to suggest that there is a permanent conflict between Christians and Muslims in the world today. Islam emerged when Christianity had been the “established” religion of the Roman Empire for three hundred years, at a time when Middle Eastern churches were in a bitter dispute with the Greek church over the precise definition of Christ’s humanity. Based on the Qur’an, held to be the direct Word of God to Mohammed, and on the Hadith, records of the Prophet’s deeds and sayings, written by those who knew him, Islam was interpreted and applied in subsequent centuries by four main schools of Islamic philosophy. In Arabia in the 18th century, however, a reform led by Al Wahhab argued for a return to the original authorities. This has developed today into Salafism (the word ‘salaf’ refers to the first three generations of followers after Mohammed), and has become linked with the need to resist the long domination of Western (Christian?) colonialism in Muslim regions.
Pakistan was established in 1947 by Muslims led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah who refused to become a religious minority in an independent India they feared would be dominated by Hinduism. There was otherwise little to unite the disparate peoples of modern Pakistan- hence some Presidents have relied heavily on promoting Pakistan’s religious identity to preserve its unity, which has led to serious disputes about the relation of Islamic (Sharia) law to the nation state. Religious minorities (including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims) have come under threat because of this. And local, family or clan resentments can acquire a power they do not deserve by being dressed up in theological language. Asia Bibi has become a victim of this weakness in Pakistani politics.
Such “religious” conflicts are often claimed as the reason many people turn away from any consideration of faith. But in fact what is happening, and not only in Muslim countries, is that disputes that are primarily political are given “religious” labels, as a way of justifying what would otherwise be clearly seen as straightforward rivalry and competition for resources.