Blasphemy, by Asia Bibi, is the memoir of a Catholic woman who was sentenced to death over a cup of water. It tells the story of a simple, illiterate farmer’s daughter who was accused of blaspheming against Mohammed and the religion of Islam. This book records what led up to her imprisonment, the first two years of her terrible treatment, and attempts to free her.
On a blazing hot day in June 2009, Mrs. Bibi took part in the big falsa-berry harvest where she hoped to earn 250 rupees for her family. It was hard work. Asia took care to do it well, and by midday, it felt like she was working in an oven. She was dripping in sweat, and could hardly think or move due to the suffocating heat. She went to a well, pulled up a bucketful of water, and drank from it. She began to feel better.
She filled the cup again, and offered it to a woman who looked to be in pain. The woman reached out for it, but at that point, another woman screamed, “Don’t drink that water, it’s haram!” She was saying that it was forbidden to drink the water because the filthy Christian had dirtied it and made it unclean (pg. 20). A violent argument ensues, Jesus is blasphemed by the Muslim woman, and Asia stands her ground. In the days that follow, Mrs. Bibi faces a trial with the village imam, is given the opportunity to convert to Islam, and is beaten when she refuses (pgs. 36-37). She is soon thrown in jail.
She refers to her jail cell as a dungeon. She cannot see the stars or the moon. She cannot see the daylight, sun, trees, or birds (pg. 33). She has a miserable existence. She talks about insects that she misses when they are gone. She describes the coldness of her walls, the darkness, and the disgusting smell of human waste that is almost always around her. These descriptions are regular and common throughout the work. She also speaks of her loneliness, and how she spends hours in her dungeon. This sense of isolation really became pronounced about halfway through the book, and is something that has stuck with me after finishing it. The despair and loneliness in this memoir would be almost too much if it weren’t for the moments of hope that are littered throughout it. Asia regularly flips between being incredibly depressed to being encouraged.
There are two main sources for this encouragement. One is her faith in God. She often thinks of Him, and prays through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although I don’t agree with praying to God through a saint, I am glad that it helps her survive her horrible situation. When she thinks about God, and reflects on her life, I am impressed by her ability to persevere through the suffering. These reflections and prayers are points of light in the darkness. Her second source of encouragement comes from the nearly weekly visits by her husband, Ashiq. Sometimes others come with him, and when certain things happen, her new-found hope bounces off the page. As I read the book, I had to keep reminding myself that the things she was describing really happened. They were not fiction. Asia’s courage to not give up, and to not convert to Islam, was inspiring.
As I reflect on her story, the last thing that has stayed with me is just how terrible Muslims treat people in it. I have already mentioned some of the author’s suffering. She is not alone. One woman has half of her face eaten away by acid. Her husband threw it on her while she slept (pg. 16). In another case, an old Muslim man was sentenced to jail for 15 years for throwing away a Koran (pg. 59). It didn’t matter that the man was blind. There is also a woman named Zarmina and her husband. She was a Muslim. While traveling by motorcycle, they crash into a monument dedicated to Muhammad. Both of them were accused of blasphemy and thrown into prison (pg. 83). There are other examples that could be shared, but I will spare you.
This book is a strong example of a truth that came to mind as I finished it. What we read and believe makes a massive impact on how we conduct our lives. The Muslims in this book do horrible things in the name of their supposed religion of peace, and in accordance with Muhammad. On the other hand, Asia Bibi hangs on to her life in a dungeon according to her beliefs. It was an impressive and inspiring book. I recommend it.
Remarkably, as of January 29, 2019, Asia Bibi is out of her dungeon and is at an undisclosed location. I hope that this is true, and I am thankful to God for it.
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Ruined Jail Cell by Taken from Pixabay.