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The Haramness Of The Way Asia Bibi Was Treated In The Name of Islam

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News of the dismissal of Asia Noreen Bibi’s case (a Christian woman accused of blasphemy and imprisoned for almost a decade) in Pakistan has erupted on TV screens and social media feeds. The more I read about the case and watch the hysteria unfolding in the name of preserving the sanctity of the Prophet, the more embarrassed I feel and frustrated with the misuse of Islamic doctrine. Obviously, this is not the first time nor the last when actions are being done in the name of Islam, but these actions have nothing to do with Islam.

Asia Noreen Bibi is a Christian woman, who lived in a small village in Pakistan; she was from one of the only three Christian families in the village. One day she accompanied her co-workers to a nearby farm for extra work.  As she fetched berries under the scorching sun, she wanted nothing more than a few sips of cold water. She walked up to the well in the farm, and as she drank some water in a metal-glass, another woman, Musarat, angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drink and that some of the co-workers considered her to be unclean because she was a Christian.

Even though a lot of Asia Noreen’s story is “he said – she said”, I do believe this part of the story because I’ve heard this notion many times before. Muslims in Pakistan have asked me if they were allowed to share utensils with non-Muslims. This question often arises among the laborers, and most often amongst the affluent families who have Christian housemaids. 

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I was once visiting my in-laws in Lahore when a lady who offered on-call beauty salon services came over. She was Christian. While she was doing my pedicure, I started talking to her about her life as a minority in Pakistan. I could relate to some of the emotions and incidents she shared, because I grew up as a minority in the U.S. At the same time, there were some incidents she recalled that were completely ridiculous and I thanked God that I never had to go through them, like some “well-educated” women refusing to eat or drink from utensils that this woman had touched, because she didn’t share the same faith.

There’s a misconstrued belief among some people in Muslim majority countries that people of other faiths are “impure”, so much so that their touch can impurify our food and drink. This belief is obviously wrong.1 Much of this is class related discrimination, as the same people would have no issue serving dignitaries and CEOs (who are Christian) in their prized gold-plated crockery, in fact, it would be a matter of pride. They would also have no issues visiting non-Muslim countries and eating at restaurants and hotels. 

Going back to Asia Noreen’s story, an argument broke out among the working women in the field. Again, the story has a lot “he said – she said” but one thing is clear that it was the Muslim woman who raised the issue of Asia contaminating the water by drinking from it simply because she was a “filthy Christian.”

The argument was prolonged when Asia also insulted her co-worker Musarat’s faith which happens to be my faith too. However, I find my sentiments more sympathetic and align with Asia than Musarat and her co. Is it strange that I applaud Asia for speaking up and defending herself?

Although I don’t agree with Asia’s statement at all, the more important question right now is, was her “reaction” wrong? Was she to be blamed for becoming angry and insulting Islam or the Prophet in response to the Muslim women insulting her faith and her Prophet?

I’ve tried to evaluate the situation by putting myself in her shoe. What if I was in the U.S surrounded by a group of Christians and I was criticized for taking a few sips of water in a scorching hot day and was called a “filthy Muslim”?

Had I have not known any better, I might have insulted Jesus too in “reaction”. But those Muslims who actually study the simple basics of Islam, know that we are not allowed to insult anyone else’s religion, no matter what.

What About Musarat’s Blasphemy: Isn’t Esa Our Prophet too?

In the case of Asia, it just happens so that her Prophet Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), is my beloved Prophet too. So as I type this article, I’m wondering why isn’t Musarat on trial for insulting our Prophet Jesus (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him)?

This whole situation is wrong on so many levels. First of all, non-Muslims do not contaminate our water or food by touching it. Second, we are not allowed to put down other people’s religious beliefs. Third, a man was rewarded with Paradise for giving water to a thirsty dog– whose saliva can actually contaminate our utensils– and these women were more concerned about the religious beliefs of a thirsty woman– who was their coworker, and a neighbor– than her state of thirst on a hot summer day.

And most importantly, this Blasphemy Law of Pakistan is far from actual Islamic Law. Our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), never punished anyone for insulting him neither did he ever instruct any of his companions to punish anyone who’d insulted our Prophet. This was not only the case when Muslims were the minority and were being persecuted, but it continued to be the case even after Muslims became stronger and gained political power.

In fact, in our religion, there is more emphasis on respect being earned than forcing it out of people. Non-Muslims, even the ones who opposed Prophet’s message, respected him for his good moral qualities. Islam emphasizes character building, earning respect through love and kindness rather than forcing it upon others through fear and authority. The woman who threw trash on Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to irritate him, later converted to Islam because of his kindness towards her when he went to visit her after she got sick.

If the love of Prophet truly resides in our hearts, then it would show more in following into his footsteps and carrying on his legacy by showing kindness to a thirsty woman rather than declaring the water “haram” because of her touching the utensils.

Truth be told, the Blasphemy Law is a misrepresentation of Islam because we are taught to leave those people alone who mock or insult our Creator or His Verses in Qur’an, hence insulting the Prophet would fall in the same lines.

“And when you (Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)) see those who engage in false conversation about Our Verses (of Qur’an) by mocking at them, stay away from them till they turn to another topic…” (6:68)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is instructing the Prophet to walk away from people who are insulting Allah or the verses from Qur’an, not punish them by any means. In fact, he’s being told to join them back after they’ve changed the topic.

So where does the blasphemy law come into the picture?

According to the story, Asia supposedly insulted our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) after Musarat insulted Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Aren’t we told not to insult other people’s religion or religious deities for the exact same reason, i.e. so as not to provoke the reaction from them!

“And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge…” (6:108)

I am not an apologist but today I apologize from the bottom of my heart to Asia, her husband, her daughters and her family, and all the religious minorities living in “Muslim” countries on behalf of all the Muslims who are Muslims because they were born in Muslim families and have yet to learn their religion in its proper format. What Islam truly is and what it has become in the hands of Muslims can be two very opposing things at times.

Do I find it surprising that in some news outlets it has been reported that Musarat had some property disputes with Asia’s family in the past!

My religion has been long used and abused by people for their self-interest, be it political gain, power gain or personal gain. When nothing else works, then they use Islam to mobilize people’s sentiments to advocate their agenda and win the situation in their favor, whether its extremists using Islam for their political gain, or MBS calling Jamal Khashoggi an Islamic extremist to justify his brutal killing, or Musarat claiming to defend our Prophet by accusing Asia of insulting our Prophet.

It is also said that Musarat and other Muslim women asked Asia to convert to Islam to redeem herself. My sincere advice to Musarat and all those Pakistanis who are protesting against Asia being acquitted that they should be more worried about redeeming their own souls, and they should learn the basics of Islam and build Islamic character for their own salvation first.

 

1 Report from Abu Dawood (3839): “We live next to some of the People of the Book who cook pork in their vessels and drink wine in their vessels.” The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “If you can find anything else, eat from them and drink from them, but if you cannot find anything else, then wash them with water and eat and drink.” Saheeh Abi Dawood.

The Prophet subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was invited to eat some barley bread and other food by a Jewish boy.  Narrated by Ahmad, in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel, 1/71.

The Prophet subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and his companions did wudoo’ from the leather water skin of a mushrik woman. Narrated by al-Bukhari, 337; Muslim, 682.

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Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance." Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Umm

    November 10, 2018 at 5:21 AM

    I totally share the same sentiments on this issue. Racial discrimination in our communities is so common, we need to educate ourselves the basics of our faith, before reviling other faiths.

  2. A.Ahmed

    November 10, 2018 at 3:43 PM

    Do not state that Blasphemy laws are wrong all together, Islamic scholars have based them on strong sources of hadith. It is a part of Islamic law.

    Narrated Jabir bin `Abdullah:

    The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Who is ready to kill Ka`b bin Al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Do you like me to kill him?” He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka`b) and said, “This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity.” Ka`b replied, “By Allah, you will get tired of him.” Muhammad said to him, “We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair.” Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him.

    Reference : Sahih al-Bukhari 3031
    In-book reference : Book 56, Hadith 238
    USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 4, Book 52, Hadith 270
    (deprecated numbering scheme)

  3. AFJ

    November 10, 2018 at 9:38 PM

    I was speaking to a group of Muslim children here in the United States one day, and in the course of our conversation, I told them about a group of Christians being persecuted and driven from their majority Muslim homeland. I told the children that a number of these Christians had been killed.

    One of the Muslim children began cheering when I said that Christians were being killed.

    I was shocked, but he was oblivious.

    Please do not pretend that animosity towards Christians is not part of the Islamic faith and is not taught in your mosques. I know differently.

    Asia Bibi is simply the most famous case of persecution against Christians in Pakistan. From everything I’ve heard, it is absolutely an endemic attitude of that entire society and is based on Muslim teaching. Ditto Egypt. Ditto Iraq. Ditto Saudi Arabia.

  4. Shahla

    November 10, 2018 at 9:49 PM

    Indian/Pakistani Muslims have still not gotten over their Hindu heritage. Christians in that region are converts from ‘untouchable’ classes of Hindus or Dalits. Ironically, they chose Christianity over Islam because Christian missionaries treated them as humans. If our Muslim ancestors did not practice untouchability, they would have been Muslims.
    Blasphemy laws of Pakistan are the gift of military dictator Zia ul Haq. These laws were imposed on Pakistanis without their consent and are now used by all kinds of mafia to consolidate power and wealth unlawfully.

    • Ahmad

      December 11, 2019 at 9:47 AM

      Assalamu alaikum, whilst the article is well written there are a few points I’d strongly disagree.
      1) Whilst it is true the issue of using vessels used by Christians may be due to the fact many Christians were previously low caste Hindus. But also there is a concern that as they can drink alcohol eat swine they pass on impurities. Now this isn’t correct but should provide a context to the objection
      2) The majority of scholars do deem there is a punishment for those who insult the prophet (saw). This goes back to the schools of thought. Here is mufti taqi usmani discussing the issue (I assume based on your article you speak Urdu. https://youtu.be/x-dmufBMMno
      Mufti taqi is internationally recognised as one of the leading scholars of our age

  5. Ahmad

    November 10, 2018 at 10:33 PM

    So you are sympathetic to a woman who insulted our prophet (pbuh), there is no case where a muslim can feel sympathy to a person who insults our prophet even a little I don’t know if this kafira is innocent or guilty but there is no excuse for the insult to our prophet pbuh I suggest you study islam and make your views based on islam, not liberalism disguised as islam.

    • Hamayoun

      November 11, 2018 at 10:25 PM

      To the user calling himself Ahmad: what Abdullah Bin Ubay did was much worse than what this woman did, but the Prophet did not have him killed. I guess that was based on liberalism too?

  6. Spirituality

    November 12, 2018 at 1:45 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    We should always, always, feel upset when the Prophet (s) is insulted. If not, there is something is wrong with our hearts. We need to examine our hearts and check ourselves.

    On the other hand, we should remember that some of the Sahabah insulted the Prophet (s), or worse – they fought against him, threw him out of his house and city, killed Muslims and mutilated them- before they became Muslim! And as Sahabah, their station with Allah is much, much higher than ours.

    “And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” Surah Fussilat: 34.

  7. hussein

    November 14, 2018 at 5:02 AM

    Ahmad, did you even read the article? did you even read the Ayats she quoted in the article? One letter writer says even some Shahaba that hold exalted status in in Islam insulted the Prophet (pbuh). And you use the word Kafira? Are you even a Muslim? its people like you thta give Islam a bad name!

  8. Ahmad

    November 15, 2018 at 4:44 AM

    Hussein did you even read my comment, of course I would call her a kafir she is a christian or are we not to call christians kafirs no more no friend it’s people like you who give islam a bad name people who are scared of the west that you change the religion to better fit in , learn the religion first from scholars don’t read the quran and interpret in your liberal western views, people who insult must be punished

    • David

      November 15, 2018 at 9:12 PM

      “that you change the religion to better fit in”; you DO know that places you contrary to the civil law of many western countries, what do you think will result from that?

    • hussein

      November 16, 2018 at 12:51 PM

      you have no right whatever to call anyone kafir….if you are going to take such liberties than point your finger at saudi royal family and isis….you ask if if i read your comment i ask you did you read this column at all..? its wahabis liek you with the wrong interpretation of Islam who give our religion a bad name….

  9. Kristy

    November 18, 2018 at 12:46 AM

    How sad is it that in 2018, 1408 years after the revelation of the Quran, the discussion between muslims is not what muslims can do to help poor, uneducated minorities in their theocratic countries become productive members of Islamic-majority societies, but whether or not one-sided blasphemy laws should exist and are adequate.

    To create one-sided blasphemy laws, to copyright and limit the use of “Allah” to be the exclusive right of muslims-only, and to intentionally make the lives of any minority hell-on-earth is to commit the following sins:
    – hatred
    – anger
    – bigotry
    – controlling others belief and faith in “Allah” through man-made schemes replaces this exclusive role of Allah
    – lying about others committing blasphemy is enticing if you desire to have what is theirs which you do not have
    – attempting to thwart the Will of Allah as to who belongs where they have been put by his Will.
    – looking down on others as being inferior and lesser than yourself is practicing arrogance, deceit of yourself, and pride which puts you on the pedestal of your own self-worship.

    I’m sure there are other sins which could be included on this list.
    But suffice it to say that if these are not sins against your deity as well as against your minorities, then what exactly is the deity you are worshipping?

  10. hussein

    November 26, 2018 at 2:20 AM

    So MM deleted my comments!

    • Aly Balagamwala

      April 10, 2019 at 3:42 AM

      Dear Hussein

      WHile MM reserves the right to remove of edit any comments to make them conform to our Comment Policy, I see several comments by you on this article. If any have been deleted it is possibly there was some reason identified by a member of our team. In any case feel free to resubmit the comment.

      Best Regards
      Aly
      Comments Team Lead

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