This news is a bit old, but I’m still catching up, and more details are emerging. Last Tuesday, a Pakistani Christian couple, Sajjad Maseeh, his wife Shama Bibi, aged 24 respectively, were brutally beaten and then burned alive in an industrial kiln. Shama was four months pregnant at the time. Here they are, and their four children are now orphans:
Apparently the murders resulted from a rumor that the couple had burned a Qur’an in the kiln. This was untrue (there is one story that Sham unknowingly burnt some Qur’anic verses left behind by her recently deceased father.) The real story appears to be that the couple were indentured laborers and had failed to pay the factory owner, who then spread the rumor about the Qur’an-burning, knowing what would happen.
As NBC News reports:
Accompanied by a dozen people, factory owner Yousaf Gujjar allegedly went to the couple’s home last weekend and locked them in an office so they couldn’t leave. By Tuesday, loudspeaker announcements from local mosques were branding Sajjad and Shama as “blasphemous” and saying they should be “wajib-ul-qatal,” which translates as “necessarily murdered,” according to the family’s account.
Unable to break down the office door, the swelling crowd ripped open the building’s thatched roof. “They first threw bricks at them,” said Javed Maseeh, who is Sajjad’s cousin. “Then they dragged them out” and burned them.
The crowd is now estimated to have included 1200 people. And the murder was horribly brutal:
Sajjad Maseeh, 27, and his wife Shama Bibi, 24, were set upon by at least 1,200 people after rumors circulated that they had burned verses from the Quran, family spokesman Javed Maseeh told NBC News via telephone late Thursday. Their legs were also broken so they couldn’t run away.
“They picked them up by their arms and legs and held them over the brick furnace until their clothes caught fire,” he said. “And then they threw them inside the furnace.”
Bibi, a mother of four who was four months pregnant, was wearing an outfit that initially didn’t burn, according to Javed Maseeh. The mob removed her from over the kiln and wrapped her up in cotton to make sure the garments would be set alight.
Pakistani Christians have protested, and the Pakistani government has arrested four, promising a thorough investigation, and will book 50 more people for the murder. But that’s not going to bring the couple back or give solace to their children. And Pakistan’s blasphemy law still criminalizes the dissing of Islam or any religion (read: “Islam”), and can carry the death penalty. Wikipedia gives the salient provisions:
§ 298 states:
- Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
§ 298-A prohibits the use of any derogatory remark or representation in respect of Muslim holy personages. § 298-B and § 298-C prohibit the Ahmadiyya from behaving as Muslims behave, calling themselves Muslims, proselytising, or “in any manner whatsoever” outraging the religious feelings of Muslims. Violation of any part of § 298 makes the violator liable to imprisonment for up to three years and liable also to a fine.
In the decade before between 2006 and 2010, 1247 people were prosecuted under this law, half of them non-Muslims, which comprise only 3% of the population. While there have been no judicial executions, 20 of these people were killed by vigilantes.
In the meantime, Pakistan and other Muslim states continue to press the United Nations to pass an anti-“defamation” provisions. It’s already passed as a “non-binding provision,” and, fortunately, the U.S. and other countries have opposed its passage. Below is a CNN video from 2009 reporting the initiative, which is still in the works. The late Christopher Hitchens appears at 4:18, eloquently decrying such laws. Oh, I miss that man!
Pakistan is supposedly an advanced nation, but remains mired in medieval barbarism. The government deserves mockery and contempt for this law. In the meantime, two more lives were lost needlessly, and four children orphaned, for the supposed incineration of some pieces of paper.
Tell us, Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan, and Robert Pape, are you going to impute this violence to “colonialism”? Give me a break. Some day people will realize that religious people, and especially extremist Muslims, often really do believe what they say they believe. Apologists may ascribe what happened to this couple to other issues (people disaffected by poverty, etc.), but I can’t imagine that this would happen without religion, or without Islam’s ridiculous strictures against blasphemy.