Christian couple, parents of four, burned alive for accusations that they torched a Qur’an

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:


From NBC news site, undcredited

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.


  1. GBJames
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink


      • Diane G.
        Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Truly the religion of peace and love, amiright?

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Every time Greenwald and Aslan defend Islam, they tacitly accept crimes like these ones. Who stands up for these people when liberals like Greenwald stand up for their murderers?

    • rickflick
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      But, if you asked them about a specific case like this one, they would certainly say they condemn it. Unfortunately, they also would say that in spite of that, religion itself is sacrosanct and should not be blamed. They would put the emphasis, I think, on the mob mentality stirred up by the factory owner. Just a nasty part of human nature, don’t you see. No, not religion, just some dispute between people, they would say. They could just have easily have used the excuse of the couple burning the Pakistani constitution. They are so set on the worth of Islam they wouldn’t mind putting reason aside to make the point.

      • Sastra
        Posted November 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        If a mob could be incited to burn people alive because someone ‘desecrated’ a political document or flag, we would see all sorts of hand-wringing about the dangers of patriotism and nationalism run amok — as well we should. Laws protecting regimes from criticism wouldn’t be viewed as necessary for the Little People to maintain their sensitive identities and deeply-held beliefs. But faith in supernatural realms? Sacrosanct.

        Makes me want to set fire to a Quran. Hell, I needn’t even go that far. I can write the word ‘Quran’ on a piece of paper and scratch at it with my fingernail. I made a face at the word on the screen, just now. A bad face.

        Burn me.

        • alex
          Posted November 9, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Lmao. Id like to see you say that while surrounded by a mob likewise. Hows that internet wall of disrespect behind which you hide? Im not espousing these actions; au contraire, im decrying such attitudes as unhelpful. Yours and the mobs’

          • Pali
            Posted November 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            Yes, your safely anonymous Internet post regurgitating the “you wouldn’t say that in person” meme is far more helpful. And braver. And has better punctuation.

            • Posted November 9, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

              Naturally, there’s some sort of equivalence between posting on the Internet and ripping off roofs and burning people alive. Pomo equivalency…

              • pali
                Posted November 10, 2014 at 2:02 am | Permalink

                Hey, I can’t see much difference at all. Writing out one’s desire to support freedom of expression and brutally murdering people for exercising freedom of expression are almost the same thing, really.

          • Posted November 9, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

            What the bloody hell are you talking about?

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

              First time I’ve seen CC use such strong language. But merited, I think.

              I *think* alex is trying to say it’s easy to condemn something when protected by Internet anonymity. Which is true. Far more credit to those who bravely say it in person. BUT that doesn’t mean the rest of us should just shut up when we see something as blatantly evil as this.

              Yes I want to burn a Koran too. And machine-gun the mob. Probably not helpful, but I loathe the witch-hunt scapegoat mentality. Sastra’s response below is much more helpful.

          • Sastra
            Posted November 9, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

            No, expressing a desire to defy blasphemy laws is not “unhelpful” — nor can it be considered and/or compared to an act of violence. Would I personally have the courage to desecrate a “sacred” object while surrounded by a mob sworn to tear me apart if I did so? No — I would be prudent.

            But prudence doesn’t cancel out what courage is. Or what is right. And voices expressing sentiments like mine — on and off the internet — are an important part of the process of fighting against the idea that “respect” towards the religious entails treating them like small, not very bright children — or animals.

            I think you need to think this through. Pandering is not helpful.

            • pali
              Posted November 10, 2014 at 2:08 am | Permalink

              A far better response to alex’s inanity than mine. Kudos.

            • Posted November 10, 2014 at 3:48 am | Permalink

              Yes, I’d like alex to explain himself. I guess we have to shut up about anything we couldn’t protest if we were on the spot, which means all behavior of Islam in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

              I agree with Sastra and others here; it’s our duty to decry that behavior. Alex is the one whose words are unhelpful

  4. SharynS
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    This tragedy makes me question the power of decensitization. After finding the story posted numerous times over the past few days – each time I do, makes me sicker than the last. It’s simply unfathomable to imagine what these beautiful, innocent People endured to their death and even more unfathomable to think there are still human animals capable of inflicting the kind torture.

    • darrelle
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Yeah. That’s pretty well said. And people that actively take part in such atrocities are usually fucked up for good, too, in cases where they weren’t already a severe impediment to achieving a civilized society.

  5. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    As Christopher says in his book – God is Not Great, Religion poisons everything.

  6. merilee
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    sick Sick SICK! (and not in the way the Yoof of today use sick…)

  7. jaxkayaker
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    This was definitely not caused by religion, let’s keep that in mind at all times.

    • Fred M
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      I couldn’t agree more. It was obviously Richard Dawkins’s fault, as will be explained in an article soon to be published in the Guardian.

    • Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Clearly the factory owner has learned his attitudes of how to run a business from the western imperialist tradition. If it weren’t for British and American meddling, the entire region would be enlightened, just like it was during the Fatimid era (909–1171 AD).

      OK, I’ll stop now.

  8. Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    My religious feelings are deeply and profoundly wounded by this horrific crime.


    • Posted November 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      Well, what we need to do now is figure out who needs to be burned.

  9. Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Sure enough, the comments on this story have people already claiming this has nothing to do with religion and is about wealth inequality. Asking them what criteria is sufficient to establish that an act in driven primarily by religion is useless; because, of course, the answer is nothing.

  10. Posted November 9, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Another great demonstration of the blessings of religion !

  11. Mike Paps
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Where was the overwhelming majority of peace loving Muslims I hear tell of coming to the defense of these people while this escalated over the course of several days?

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Plotting to tear the roof off the house, I suppose.

  12. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    indentured laborers and had failed to pay the factory owner

    In other words, slave labourers. I’m sure that the factory owner is glad that no human beings were hurt, just kuffirs.

    • Jeffery
      Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

      He probably refused to pay a “bribe” to the factory owner to be allowed to work there, or he was owed back wages and made the mistake of complaining about it.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 10, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Sounds likely.
        Slavery – Capitalism with the velvet glove taken off to reveal the naked iron fist underneath.

  13. Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Somewhere in the U.S., someone just downloaded a PDF copy the Koran in Arabic, printed the first 16 pages, took it outside and burned it. The sooner every person on earth who has a shred of humanity does the same, the sooner even the benighted will realize that a copy of their “holy” book is nothing but paper with ink on it. Announce that from minarets in Pakistan.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 10, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      It’s not worth the carbon to do it on actual paper! If I download the Koran, then (on a Mac) dump it and empty the Trash, it makes a satisfactory crackling noise as it ‘burns’.

  14. Sastra
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Horrible. The people who did this were ordinary people, not inmates from an asylum for the criminally insane.

    This is an example of what Steven Pinker describes as “forward panic,’ a sudden escalation of violence in a group. Once it starts its virtually impossible to stop, and people who are ordinarily peaceful will find themselves doing all sorts of ghastly things. Rampages like this can be set off by many factors, sure — but isn’t religion — especially religion wrapped in and binding up an “honor culture” — a good one? This was a planned forward panic. Think how much you love God and act accordingly.

    People who blame stuff like this on everything and anything but religion can’t really explain why religious rationales are just so damn good at inciting violence.

    • Anonymous Ali
      Posted November 10, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      I am, unfortunately, a Pakistani. This is my first comment here.

      There is no doubt that this lunacy is Islam-inspired. Consider, for example, my mother: the most incredibly kind (even pathologically empathic) person I’ve known. But even she believes that, after “due process of law” (!), it is permissible to put a blasphemer to death!

      When you talk to her, you can see that she clearly does not want to believe this, and admits that she believes this only when pressed really hard on the matter, trying to dodge even a direct question as best as she can. She believes this vile nonsense solely because of a deeply ingrained fear of committing some kind of a grave sin by contradicting the injunctions of the Ahadith about the appropriate punishment for a blasphemer.

      I encounter such Islam-stricken, unwilling apologists for barbarism on a daily basis. How will Reza Aslan and co. explain that away?

      • rickflick
        Posted November 10, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        Thank you for your confirmation of what we all feared was true. Your comment is an important data point.

        • Anonymous Ali
          Posted November 10, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

          Btw, I believe that this murderous attitude towards blasphemy and apostasy is there for a reason.

          Imagine what havoc even a small community of indigenous atheists can wreak on our faithful countrymen’s delusions, if we are allowed to express our views without fear of being slaughtered.

          We are equipped, after all, with some very persuasive arguments 🙂 (such as the ones that have to do with the quality of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s ‘noble’ character).

      • Sastra
        Posted November 10, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Your reply reminds me of something Mark Twain wrote about his mother. As Steven Weinberg put it:

        Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God’s will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

  15. Posted November 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I have posted the Danish cartoons on my Twitter account, which can be, and has been, accessed by people in Pakistan. Therefore I could be charged with blasphemy under their laws.

    There are Muslim countries, which are opposed to DAESH (ISIL), but which have a law banning the burning of their flag because the word Allah is on it.

    While there are still religions that teach death is an appropriate punishment for “crimes” like apostasy and heresy, there will be people prepared to carry them out. The religious leaders have a responsibility here.

    Like Merilee, this literally makes me feel ill.

  16. Posted November 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to see how the Aslan gang will try to weasel out of your reasoned analysis. I do predict, however, that only Aslan will try a serious weaseling maneuver. Like the Deepakety, he loves jumpin’ in the box.

  17. Sean
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    They did it because of the British colonizing the sub continet 400 years ago. Clearly this is the fault of western meddling and support for Zia ul-haq.

    What else could cause religious mob to murder someone, of another religion for burning a piece of paper?

  18. Jeffery
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    I don’t consider Pakistan to be an “advanced” nation by any stretch of the imagination, unless you count having nuclear weapons as a qualifier- there’s large areas of the country that the government does not even control. Mired in the usual corruption and ignorance, they have played, for decades,the dangerous game of placating religious fanatics while at the same time masquerading as a “moderating” influence in the region to keep getting U.S. military aid. We “befriended” them years ago as a counter to India’s cozy relationship with the Communist world (the enemy of my enemy is my friend). Were it not for the military keeping the few wealthy families that control the place in power, it would have been taken over by the Islamists a long time ago.

  19. Sean
    Posted November 10, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    And half way around the world today:

    POTISKUM, Nigeria (AP) — A suicide bomber disguised in a school uniform detonated explosives at a high school assembly in the northeastern Nigerian city of Potiskum on Monday, killing at least 48 students, according to survivors and a morgue attendant.

    Obviously caused by british colonialism and rich oil companies… Religion had nothing to do with this at all.

  20. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 10, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    As Mr. Hitchens so correctly stated in his book, No group of nonreligious people threatening and practicing violence would be granted such an easy victory or had their excuses made for them.

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