“I forgive my persecutors, those who have falsely accused me…I await their forgiveness,” La Stampa newspaper quotes. She was sentenced to death in 2010 under Pakistan blasphemy laws.
Many people have heard the name of Asia Bibi, a young Christian mother of five who has spent years on death row because of a false allegation of blasphemy. Sentenced to death in 2010 under section 295-C of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, Asia has since been awaiting her appeal while rotting away in a prison cell.
Despite this, Asia Bibi was recently quoted by her family as saying,
Christmas is the celebration of God’s mercy. I forgive my persecutors, those who have falsely accused me, and I await their forgiveness. . . . Jesus made this happy day for me and has accepted my prayers. . . . But, although I have been in prison for seven years, I do not hate those who did me wrong. . . . I pray that Jesus Christ will grant peace to the whole world.
Asia Bibi is living out the forgiving message of Christ in spite of her circumstances. Despite being accused of blasphemy, Asia also gave a respectful message to Muslims, recognizing this time as the birth of Muhammed, and hoping that in the spirit of this festive season, wisdom and peace would abound throughout the Muslim world.
Asia is currently waiting for the Supreme Court of Pakistan to hear her appeal. She has undergone a plethora of challenges in the past six years; and yet, she chose to look past the problems of this world and keep her eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of her faith, Jesus Christ.
In a recent article, Yasser Latif Hamdani, a Pakistani lawyer, argued that the blasphemy law (section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code) is contrary to the Islamic principles of justice because it does not follow Islamic evidentiary standards of proof. Under Sharia, there are two types of offenses: hudood (plural of hadd) and tazir offenses. Both require different punishments and evidentiary standards of proof. Hadd offences are crimes against the rights of God and their punishments are fixed by the Quran. Because they carry strict punishments, they also have stricter standard of proof. Tazir offenses, on the other hand, are all other offenses that do not require a higher standard of proof. For these offenses, it is within the judge’s or the state’s discretion to determine the punishment.
Hamdani argued that if the blasphemy law is considered as an Islamic law subject to hadd, the evidence against the accused must meet the requirement of tazkiyah-al-shahood, i.e., witnesses must be credible, unimpeachable Muslims who abstain from major sins and are not inclined to indulge in minor sins under Islamic law. Additionally, he argued, the state would have to provide equal punishment to the false accuser who is unable to prove the allegation under the requirement of tazkiyah-al-shahood.
Yet, while prescribing the strictest punishment of death, Pakistani law does not classify blasphemy as an hadd offense and does not require the stricter Islamic evidentiary standard of proof.
The argument that the witnesses in blasphemy cases must meet a higher standard of evidentiary proof in Islamic law is not new. In 2002, Mr. Abid Hasan Minto, a prominent Supreme Court lawyer in Pakistan, argued this point in Ayub Masih v. The State. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, however, decided Ayub’s case on other grounds and left that question open.
Citing to Ayub Masih, Asia Bibi’s former attorney argued the same point before the Lahore High Court. The High Court did not decide that question either and dismissed Asia’s appeal, upholding her conviction. However, the court noted that there was an utmost necessity for such an evidentiary law where the only sentence provided is death. The court ordered that a copy of the judgment be sent to the government of Pakistan to take necessary steps to enact an amendment requiring strict evidentiary proof.
While Asia has forgiven her accusers, Pakistan’s government has yet to enact procedural safeguards that would limit false allegations of blasphemy and would potentially save hundreds of innocent lives.
While we continue aggressively advocating around the world to save Asia Bibi, we must also continue praying for her and her family, in addition to praying that we will take a lesson from Asia Bibi’s Christlikeness in extending forgiveness to her accusers in spite of the wrong done to her that could lead to her execution.