A Pakistani mother of five, 47-year-old Asia Bibi, will soon learn whether she is to hanged for blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed. She has been in jail for nine years and all of her appeals been rejected. Her only hope is a reprieve from Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Her crime? There are conflicting reports of what actually happened to this simple woman from Punjab. But the worst that she might have done is this. She, her husband and her children were the only Roman Catholics in her village. In 2009 she was working in the fields on a sweltering day and went to the village well for a drink of water. A Muslim woman screamed at her to stop as she was defiling the well by drinking from it. In exasperation Asia Bibi retorted, “What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”
This led to riots, physical violence against her, and a threat: conversion or death. She was arrested and sentenced to death under Section 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. In 2011 the Muslim governor of Punjab and a Catholic minister in the national cabinet (the only Christian) were assassinated for speaking up in Asia Bibi’s defence and criticising the country’s blasphemy laws.
Most of MercatorNet's readers live in countries where convictions are seldom challenged and never punished. But it takes courage to be a Christian in Pakistan. Below is a first-person account of a young woman who braved ever-present danger to become a Catholic. She is speaking to a Catholic NGO, Aid to the Church in Need.
This is the story of Kainut, a brave 20-year-old girl who grew up a Muslim, with a Christian mother and a Muslim father, but she chose to become a Catholic. As a result, she and her family are suffering harassment, discrimination and worse. According to Islamic law, if someone leaves Islam, that person can be killed with impunity. Kainut, who is studying medicine, speaks to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need about her life and the momentous choice she made:
“This is what happened to my mother: as a student, she was kidnapped by Muslims who forced her to accept Islam and compelled her to marry my father. It is a very common practice in my province to forcefully convert Hindu and Christian girls to Islam. My mother admitted my father as her husband and started living a normal life with him. They had four children—there are two younger brothers and a sister. I am the eldest.
“However, my mother secretly went to church and I often went with her. She read the Bible in the home; it was clear that she didn’t embrace Islam; in her heart, she was still a Christian. I also started reading the Bible and going to church regularly with my mother. Once I was in church and people were standing in line for taking Holy Communion; I joined the line, but someone told me I was not allowed to take Communion because I was not a Christian. That incident made me cry.
“I told my mother that I wanted to get Holy Communion—that the Lord Jesus Christ was also my saviour. But somehow my father came to know about this and he forbade us to go to church; for a year we did not go. Then my father died. My grandparents forced my mother to marry a cousin of my father’s, which is also common practice, as Muslims say women need the protection of men. My mom resisted, but there was no way out and she married him. I was 14 at the time.
“This man was also very strict, but I started reading the Bible on daily basis in at home; though my stepfather often tried to stop me, my mother supported me. When I had finished reading the whole Bible, I told my mother that I wanted to become a Christian. My mother was very worried that my grandparents or other relatives might kill us.
“Still, I went to church with my mother and asked a priest to baptize me; but he was not sure: ‘This is very risky; sorry, I am not in a position to baptize you,’ he said; the priest was afraid that my relatives and other Muslim fanatics would kill us if they found out he baptized me; and he did not want to create a problem for his parishioners either. I told him: ‘Father, I am ready to die for Christ …
“Then came a summer vacation and we went to another province to visit my aunt, my mother’s sister; we went to church with her and, again, I met with a priest and told him of my wish to embrace Christianity. He was very nice and gave me some books for study. We spent three months at my aunt’s house, going to church every day. And one Sunday after Mass, the priest asked me: ‘Child, are you ready for baptism?’ I was very happy and said yes. Finally, in 2013, my two brothers, my sister and I all received the Sacrament of Baptism. It was easier in that church as we were far from home.
“When we returned to our hometown, my stepfather somehow found out that we had converted and he offered my mom a divorce, which she accepted with an eager heart. My mother got a job and rented an apartment; everything was going fine, we attended church and my spiritual director contacted the priest who had baptized me so I was cleared to receive Holy Communion; everything was perfect!
“Then, one evening in 2016, my ex-stepfather and his relatives stormed into our home; he told my mother they came to take me, that they wouldn’t let me marry a Christian boy, and instead they wanted me to marry a 54-year-old Muslim man—I was just 18. My mother put up a fight, called our priest as well as the police; when the police came they left us.
“I told my spiritual director about the incident; he then put me up in a hostel run by sisters, where I prepared for my entrance exams for medical school. I want to become a doctor and serve humanity.”
“Yet, our problems aren’t over yet. In October of 2017, my Muslim relatives shot one of my brothers; the bullet wounded his lungs and ribs and he is still in the hospital, struggling for life. My family is facing threats to our lives and I don’t know what is going to happen with us in the future—but our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. This article from Aid to the Church in Need has been republished with permission.