Pakistani Christians Worry About 'the Next Rimsha'

Open Doors News | Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pakistani Christians Worry About 'the Next Rimsha'

LAHORE, Pakistan, Sept. 3 (Open Doors News) -- Nabil was out pretending to wash his father’s car, as an evening breeze cut through Pakistan’s monsoon humidity. Together with his father and a Christian neighbor, they had made their way out of the house late last week on this everyday pretext. In reality, they were trying to prevent their Muslim neighbors and the women in their families from overhearing or worrying over their conversation.

As he wiped the car, Nabil spoke in hushed tones to their friend from two blocks away and his father, a pastor in Lahore. Nabil had come home to spend the summer with his family. Naturally, the topic was Rimsha Masih, the young Islamabad Christian girl arrested Aug. 16 after Muslim neighbors told police she was carrying burned pages of Quranic texts.

Because of the vulnerability of Christians in Pakistan, especially when questioning the country's blasphemy law, Open Doors News is not publishing his real name.

"I live and work in the Middle East, so I am able to send my children to school here in Pakistan," Nabil said. "But I am seriously thinking of coming back now. What happens if my little Zari becomes the next Rimsha, or my wife the next Aasiya [Bibi, the first woman sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy law]? What good is school, if she will only graduate into prison?”

Nabil’s conversation echoed questions being raised across Pakistan. He said there is little that will change in terms of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

"God’s word has told us that there will be trials and tribulations, and that there will be persecution for Christians,” he told the neighbor, who questioned how Pakistani Christians could have any hope for a future.

"That is our future before we go to heaven. Either we accept that difficulty will come, or we pretend we have the right to something outside of the Word of God. Let us just seek His grace and hope.”

The conversation continued in low tones. All three were afraid their voices might carry to the neighbors. Nabil’s family lives on the second floor of a home that belongs to a Muslim landlord who lives directly below them. He is always concerned that his children will say something to cause them to be falsely accused of blaspheming against the prophet Mohammad, the Quran or Islam.

The story of Rimsha has shaken Christian families across Pakistan, and has re-ignited national debate on the blasphemy law. Immediately after Rimsha's arrest, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned against misuse of the law. The Sept. 2 arrest of a Muslim cleric on suspicion of placing the religious texts into the girl's possession has elevated tensions to a high pitch.

"President Zardari has finally spoken! Thank goodness someone came to the rescue, although it seems a meager and useless attempt,” the neighbor said with some skepticism, because Rimsha’s ordeal follows three particularly devastating cases.

After being falsely accused and arrested in June 2009, Aasiya Bibi became the first woman in Pakistan sentenced to death under the blasphemy law. She has been languishing in a Pakistani prison and solitary confinement ever since. Her controversial case prompted criticism of the blasphemy law from Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who were subsequently assassinated. Threats also have been leveled at Sherry Rehman, the Pakistan Ambassador to the United States.

c. 2012 Open Doors News. Used with permission.

Publication date: September 4, 2012

Pakistani Christians Worry About 'the Next Rimsha'