Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old girl, was arrested on blasphemy charges; her accusers said that she had desecrated the Quran. Arrests under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are nothing new, but this particular case has attracted widespread attention because Rimsha is reported to have Down syndrome.
Rimsha was jailed on Friday, Aug. 19, after hundreds of neighbors gathered outside her house and demanded that police take action. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the crowd had heard rumors she had allegedly burned a Qaida, a learning guide to the Quran which includes excerpts of the Islamic scriptures. “On Friday I got reports that in a village on the outskirts of Islamabad, some 1,000 men had gathered after the Friday prayers sermons where the local cleric had asked for the massacre of Christians in the neighborhood over blasphemy by a Christian girl. But due to timely action by the police, we were able to calm the crowd,” says Dr. Paul Bhatti, adviser to the prime minister for National Harmony.
According to Dr. Bhatti, in an effort to protect Rimsha, her family, and other Christians in the area from vigilantes, a case had to be registered against her. “If the girl was free and not in jail, it would have been impossible to protect her,” he says. Rimsha is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 25, according to the police officials investigating the case. The charges against her would likely be dropped once the medical report is completed.
Under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, the desecration of Islamic scriptures is punishable by death. Pakistan has struggled to handle blasphemy charges but in this case, according to The Christian Science Monitor, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has stepped in early, saying he is taking “notice” of the issue and directed officials to investigate. “The case … demonstrates the growing bigotry in the society where people cannot even spare a mentally challenged child,” says Raza Rumi, a noted columnist. “However the intervention by the president is a healthy sign indicating that the moderate coalition parties in the government may take up the issue of reforming the blasphemy law again.”
Attempts in recent years to alter the blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been unsuccessful. The current government is not strong enough to make any changes says Dr. Bhatti, who is Shahbaz’s brother. “Even if the law changes, who will change the mindset of the people? It is very important that we first create interfaith harmony in Pakistan, without which such discrimination against non-Muslims will continue,” he says. National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a Christian human rights organization, estimates that each year more than 100 people are accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, a figure that is rising; however, the group says most of them are not genuine and occur due to personal enmity or discrimination against religious minorities.
The situation in Pakistan remains fragile this week leading up to her court date. Since her arrest, locals from the slum outside Islamabad where Rimsha lived say the case has sparked tensions between Christians and Muslims. Peter Jacob, a human rights activist, who heads the NCJP, says around 250 to 300 families have fled seeking shelter outside of the area.
Source: The Christian Science Monitor
Jesus, we pray for Your protection over Rimsha Masih. How fearful she must be right now; show her Your presence, give her a tangible sense of Your strong arms holding her tight in comfort and safety. Help her know just how much You cherish her. We pray for justice to be accomplished in the courts, but also that Your Spirit would soften the hearts of the people that Christians and Muslims alike might live together in peace. We pray for Rimsha’s family and other Christians from her area of the city, many of whom have fled, that they would be safe. But we pray as well that the testimonies of their faith would be a powerful witness to the community and that, in the end, many might even come to faith in Christ. In the name of Jesus our peace, Amen.