Christians esteem the biblical progression of covenants—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic—finalized by Jesus as he ushered in the New.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday announced the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy in a case that has roiled the country.
In the courtroom, it took less a minute for the chief justice, Saqib Nisar, to upturn a series of legal rulings that had kept Bibi on death row for eight years.
In terse remarks to the hushed, packed courtroom, he said that Bibi’s conviction and sentence had been voided.
In a 56-page verdict issued after the ruling, the three-judge bench appeared to side with Bibi’s advocates. They have maintained that the case against the 51-year-old illiterate farmhand was built around a grievance by her fellow Muslim workers, who appeared angry that she might drink from the same vessel as them. She was ordered by a local landlord to bring water to the women on a day while they were picking berries.
The judges cited the Quran, Islamic scholars and Shakespeare in their impassioned verdict, arguing that blasphemy allegations had led to vigilante killings. In Bibi’s case, they wrote, her accusers had not conclusively proved her guilt.
By Haroon Nasir
Where do you think Muslims and Christians celebrate Christ’s birth together? One of the answers is: where it is least expected, in Pakistan.
In last December, the Gulshan Centre for the Study of Islam and Christianity in Mansehra partnered with local Islamic scholars to hold a well-attended carol service with local Christians and Muslims celebrating the birth of Christ – together. And during Ramadan, the two use to organize aniftar dinner, where Christians and Muslims are breaking the fast together. The center, which was established by Pakistani Christians in 2009, serves as a platform for Christians and Muslims to discuss both theological issues and everyday ones.
As a Muslim-majority country, Pakistan is often criticized for not caring enough about minority rights or ensuring minorities’ equal participation in political and social processes. There have even been incidents of discrimination, violence and hate against them.
But this is not the only reality in Pakistan. There have always been people and organizations from many religious communities working for communal harmony and interfaith understanding. Christians might be less than two per cent of the total population of Pakistan, for example, but they have undertaken many initiatives to promote interfaith dialogue in the country, especially between themselves and the majority Muslim population.
The Jan. 28 ruling by a trial court in Punjab province surprised defendant Barkat Masih, his attorney and religious-rights advocates. It came two months after a different judge threw out similar charges against a teen-aged girl that drew worldwide criticism of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
“I didn’t think God would rescue me from such an impossible situation,” Masih told World Watch Monitor, “but my miraculous rescue has strengthened my faith in Him.”
Masih, a 56-year-old high school custodian and a Hindu convert to Christianity, said his trouble started in September 2011. He was passing the time in an old Hindu shrine in his native village of Khairpur Tamewali, on two acres of land he said has been in his family for generations. The shrine pre-dates the 1947 partition of Pakistan from India, he said.
“Many people, belonging to all communities, gather there every Thursday to listen to Qawwalis (Islamic hymns) and to socialize. We have been caretakers of the shrine for three generations,” Masih told World Watch Monitor from Bahawalpur, a district in the heart of Punjab province known as a breeding ground for radical and jihadi outfits.
Two frequent visitors to the shrine, whom Masih identified as Muhammad Saleem and Muhammad Shoaib, arrived.
“They deliberately started an altercation with me, alleging that I had spoken ill of the Muslim prophet during a conversation with them,” he said. “I couldn’t make out what they were saying. They accused me of indulging in black magic even though they knew I couldn’t read or write. The other people present there intervened in the situation and forced the two men to leave.”
The ruling was the final chapter in a case that caused an international outcry over Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which are very popular in the country and are primarily used against supposed offenses to Islam.
In August, the young Christian girl was arrested in Islamabad after a Muslim cleric accused her of desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Quran. The cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence against the girl, whose mental capacity was subsequently questioned.
Attorney Abdul Hameed said the court on Tuesday exonerated his client for lack of evidence and dismissed all charges against her, concluding they were based on heresy and incriminated material that was planted in the girl’s possession.
“I am happy that the poor girl’s ordeal is now over,” he told The Associated Press after hearing the court ruling in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.