Christian Widow and Muslim colleague face blasphemy charge

A Christian cleaner, Mussarat Bibi, is in custody in Pakistan along with her Muslim colleague, Muhammad Sarmad, after being accused of deliberately setting fire to pages of the Koran.

Bibi and Sarmad, workers at a girls’ school in Arifwala, Punjab, are unable to read and write.

Bibi is widowed and has three daughters. Her job is to clean the government girls’ school in Arifwala where her late husband was employed as a teacher.

On April 19 she and Sarmad (18), the school gardener, were clearing out a storeroom at the school. Faced with a mountain of trash, the two decided to set fire to the wastepaper. They were not aware that there were pages from the Koran among the pile of paper.

Desecrating pages of the Muslim holy book falls under the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Bibi and Sarmad were arrested after being reported to the police.

Riot averted

When CSI partner Anjum Paul learned of the incident, he immediately traveled to Arifwala. There he met with influential Muslims in the town. In the local mosques there was already talk of “Koran burning and blasphemy.” The situation could easily have escalated and led to a mob attack on the Christians in the village.

Anjum Paul explained to the leaders of the village that the Koran pages had been burned by mistake. He asked them not to make areligious issue out of the incident.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. During police questioning, Muhammad Sarmad admitted to setting fire to the garbage. Mussarat Bibi is accused of inciting him to do so. The two are in custody.

Without money and unable to read and write, the accused are unable to defend themselves. CSI is supporting them andcovering their legal fees.

Rolf Höneisen