‘We don’t share our plates with Christians’


“We don’t share our plates with Christians,” says Aasma. She sits on a charpoy, next to her sister Aafia. Their old mother is with them. Together they are waiting for the local cleric who is to meet them in their small home in the village.
The two, in their twenties, are the women who accused Aasia Bibi of making blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), when a group of women was out in the fields picking purple falsa berries for the season. Visually the atmosphere of Ittanwali appears unperturbed by the incident. Young girls and boys, stroll along muddy lanes, tending to their cattle. Turbaned men others walk leisurely towards the crop fields, getting ready for the fruit or vegetable picking for the day.
The village may have received unprecedented attention from the outside, but on the whole, it appears unmoved by what is happening. Down a mud path, almost hidden from main view, is a small house where Aasma and her family lives. The family which was at one time merely one of the many who lived in Ittanwali, are now perhaps the most well known ones there, since the fateful day of June 19, 2009. Today while Aasia languishes in prison, this family seems to be proud of the steps they have taken to ‘preserve their religion’.
Preserving their religion: “Did we do wrong to defend our Prophet if a non Muslim is making such remarks?” she asks rhetorically, and smiles to herself reflecting on her actions, her eyes flashing with self pride…one could say she even showed a flicker of superiority.
While her sister rushes along to make tea for the cleric, Qari Saalim, who filed the FIR in the police station, Aasma begins to remember the incident and their relationship to Aasia before the event. “We were quite nice to Aasia,” says Aasma.
“We had never fought with her or pressured her to convert.” This statement was uncalled for, and realising that Aamsa tries to explain, “We always believed that if she wanted to convert it would be good, but if she didn’t that was her business, not ours.
We had never asked her to leave her religion.” She says Aasia was the kind of woman who would come several times to ask for food such as milk or sugar, and they had never refused. “But what she did that day can never be forgiven,” she says.
‘She drank water from the same glass’: According to Aasma’s story, they were picking berries in the field, when the supervisor’s wife, asked for some water. When Aasia got the water she also drank it from the same glass. The problem started, Aasma says, when they started to leave the field. They packed all but one glass which they said they would carry separately, as Aasia had touched it and it was ‘unclean’.
“We don’t drink or eat from utensils used by Christians, because they are unclean,” says Aasma, her expression growing serious. “They haven’t said the kalma so we cannot accept them.” She says that when Aasia saw this she became enraged and started abusing them and the Holy Prophet.
“We told her to shut up when she started saying things about the Prophet, but she wouldn’t and then the supervisor’s wife came in to see what happened.” According to Aasma, the comments that Aasia made pertained to falsifying Islam as a religion, and the Quran as a devine book, while making certain derogatory remarks about the Prophet, remarks that Aasma herself, ironically, does not refrain from repeating candidly. “Idrees’s wife told us she shall sort Aasia out, so we left the field,” says Aasma. At this point her mother interjects.
“I never even believed my daughters when they came home to tell me about the incident,” she says. Meanwhile, Aafia, says that they complained to the Qari about it but that he did not believe it either. As if called for, the Qari enters the room where the family is sitting and everyone covers their heads and rises to greet him.
He is a thin man in his thirties, with a thick black beard, a white lawn shalwar kameez and a typical Arab, checkered scarf draped upon one shoulder.
He sits down and joins in the conversation. “I was in a state of disbelief when I heard it from the girls, so I first questioned the other women, who had witnessed it and even after that I questioned Idrees the supervisor, and only after that was I convinced.
It was after that I asked them to grab Aasia and bring her …” here he stops and correcting his words says he says he ‘requested for Aasia to come in front of him so he could ask her.
He does not mention why questioning Aasia was the last priority. Instead he stresses that he ensured there were several ‘witnesses’ who could say they had heard Aasia blaspheme.
‘We never beat her up’: “We never beat her up,” he says, making another independent and uncalled for statement. He creates the visualization of several villagers going together to find her and then bring her. Aasma had previously told Pakistan Today that the group had gone to find her at several places, first at her house, then at another spot and finally finding her at the fields.
Qari Saalim says they had two boys on motorcycles, and Aasia was made to sit on one of them, ‘with a child’ in between, and brought over to the village head’s house. A certain amount of discrepancy and contradiction is seen in these statements til now.
Aasma and her sister Aafia mention that there were women around the tree where they were sitting when Aasia made the remarks. They however are vague and confused to actually mention how many there were in number. “There were many women in the field,” Aasma says at one time. “There were about 300 women,” says Aafia at another point in the conversation.
“We can’t give a number of the women around, but of course there weren’t so many women around the tree,” says Aasma. At another point they say that only Idrees’s wife was there, and they were there who were actually fighting, and that no one else had interceded.
Regarding the same issue, Qari Saalim is more careful and says that ‘several women were undoubtedly around who knew that Aasia had uttered something blasphemous’ but they were not ‘mentally present to know what it exactly was that had been said’.
There is also the issue of exerting force upon Aasia, which is conveniently evaded by the accusers.
In the numberdaars’ home: The Qari conveniently dodges the issue of Aasia being alone at that time, simply mentioning it to be a fact and nothing of importance that no man from her family was there to defend her. He also lightly skims over the part where he describes an angry village mob, which had gone on his orders to bring her to an unofficial interrogation. Only later does he mention that one or two men within the mob had been ready to kill Aasia on their own, but ‘he had stopped them’. Once in the ‘numberdaar’s (village chief) house, he told Pakistan Today that Aasia was made to sit on a chair, ‘even’ given a glass of water, while the two accusers (Aasma and Aafia) were made to stand. “There was just us in the room. We had locked the door…there was a mob outside the house ready to kill her,” he says.
Previously the sisters said that Aasia was brazen enough to openly admit that she had abused and sworn at the Prophet, and had even fought with her own family about it. This time, two days after the reported incident, she was scared and had asked for forgiveness from their mother who had refused to call her own daughter a liar concerning the issue. They then said that at this moment Aasia flew into temper again saying she shall ‘shoot them all down’.
The Qari however does not mention Aasia being scared. He says that at Tufail’s house, when they questioned her, she admitted it but did not ask for forgiveness. He says she kept admitting it even when she reached the police station which is why he filed the FIR. ‘I was witness to the confession and did not need to be witness to the crime itself,’ the Qari said. ‘The Prophet did not forgive’: “In Islam, there are several incidents where the Prophet himself did not forgive people who had abused him, and that death was the apt punishment for them” says Qari Saalim. “Even if Aasia is pardoned, which is wrong because the President cannot pardon a religious offense, she will be killed by someone or the other because this is now a national story and she is wajib-ul-qatal.” ‘There is no room for forgiveness in Islam for this offense,’ he says. This story may even appear to be different from the well known Islamic anecdote of the Prophet Muhammad forgiving the infamous woman who threw trash and abused him everyday. When put it front of the Qari he says it does not connect to this case.