A young Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy chose not to flee from her home, so that her Christian neighbors wouldn’t be targeted in her absence. The accusations against Sonia Gill, 23, were eventually withdrawn, but not before she had bravely refused to leave Christian Town, a settlement near Gujrat. Dozens of Pakistanis have been murdered and Christian settlements attacked after blasphemy accusations. In all recent instances, Christians have fled their homes in the wake of the accusations, but Gill refused to do so, despite angry protests outside her home. “If I flee, what would happen to my Christian neighbors and their houses?” she said.
In the second blasphemy accusation incident in the area in a month, an angry mob of about 70 people gathered outside Gill’s house on May 17, led by Muslim cleric Khubaib Jalali. At least 150 Christian families live in Christian Town, which is also home to three churches. As the events unfolded, it was revealed that Sonia Gill’s neighbor, Sharjila Komal (known as Poma) accused her of using an advertising banner bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad as a floor covering. Gill countered that the banners bore only the names of politicians and that her neighbor had another motive for the accusation.
“About three years ago, Poma’s sister-in-law eloped with my cousin, Khalid,” Sonia said. “A police case was registered against Khalid, but the matter was settled after the woman returned. But that is why Poma has had a grudge against us. Poma stitches clothes and lives next door to us. That morning, she came to our home to say that my niece’s uniform had been stitched and could be picked up from her at any time. She saw an advertising banner spread on the floor with pictures of politicians and their names. My brother, Shaukat, has a keen interest in politics. These banners were used in November of last year, during local elections, and now they were of no use, so we were using them to cover the floor.”
“At about 8pm,” Shaukat went on to explain, “about 70 people reached our home and demanded that the banner ‘bearing sacred Islamic names’ be handed over to them. I invited the prominent persons – who were about 18 in number – to come in and inspect the banners they believed bore the sacred name of the Prophet. “Even after seeing the banners, the angry protestors said that they were not satisfied and that they would consult further among themselves in the nearby mosque.”
As the mob left to discuss the matter at a Muslim place of worship Gulzar-e-Habib, Shaukat called the police. “I suspected that the mob would return and may attack us,” said Shaukat, who works as a driver in Gujrat. “The police arrived in a short while and brought the situation under control. In the presence of the police, banners were once again shown for examination, but nothing blasphemous was found.”
In spite of the evidence, Jalali filed a complaint against the Gills at the local police station and asked for a case to be registered under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The situation remained tense the following morning. “Christian girls who returned from school told us that they heard in the street that a protest would again be taken out,” Sonia explained. “Poma said that she would go to any extent to teach me a lesson. I told her that nothing could take place without the will of my God. Several Christians and Muslims suggested that I should flee the place,” Sonia continued, “but I said that if I did, angry protestors would harm other Christians and their property. Whatever they want to do, they should do it to me and not to others.” Once the accusation was withdrawn, Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported that Sonia Gill had “begged pardon,” even though the police said she was innocent.
“My friends Mushtaq Butt and Allah Rakha Sahotra tirelessly worked with various communities in the city,” said Shaukat. “Although we were still very much worried, we believed that God would do a miracle. The next day after the incident, Butt told me that the matter had been resolved.” Butt related that he had been asked to swear on the Qur’an that the Gills had not committed blasphemy and would never do so. After Butt stated this oath, all accusations were dropped.
The local cleric officially withdrew his complaint, writing, “It is submitted that I, [the speaker] in the Gulzar-e-Madina a Muslim place of worship, had earlier submitted an application against Shaukat Gill and others regarding committing blasphemy against the Prophet. I have investigated the matter. No occurrence of blasphemy could be verified. As for now, I don’t seek any legal action on my application.” Local policeman Ghulam Abbas Dogar reported that “the situation of law and order is under control and the family is peacefully in their home.”
Punjab parliamentarian Mary Gill told World Watch Monitor that after hearing about the incident, she traveled to meet the Gills and other local Christians. She then reported the case to the district police. “The police have played a very crucial role in restoring law and order in both instances of blasphemy accusations in Mandi Bahauddin and Gujrat,” she said. “It is very encouraging that at least in this instance Sonia did not have to flee the situation. As the second blasphemy accusation in less than a month surfaced in the same area, I directly informed the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, about the situation and then went to ensure the safety of the Christians.” On the instructions of the Chief Minister, the matter was discussed in a high-powered cabinet meeting on May 19. “I suggested establishing a minorities’ protection cell, where quick information about such incidents could be provided and law-enforcement agencies could be mobilized to deal with such situations. I am happy that the cabinet meeting decided on establishing a cell that could deal with such untoward situations.”
Thank You for the faith of Sonia and Shaukat Gill as they navigated through the false accusations and charges against them. Thank You for protecting them from the severe consequences that could have transpired. We praise You for empowering the civil authorities to restore law and order in the midst of the chaos and for the mobilization of “protection cells” for minorities, including Christians. Cause Your Holy Spirit to move across the nation of Pakistan in great revival that many would turn to faith in Christ and rise up to praise Your name! It is in the name of Jesus, who has heard the cries of their hearts and answered, that we pray. Amen.