The Mother Behind Bars

Name | Asia Bibi, Pakistan

Pausing from her work in the fields under the hot sun, Asia took a refreshing drink from the same spigot as the Muslim women. That’s when her persecution began.

“Now it is contaminated, you infidel thief,” someone blurted out. “Your prophet was born without a father.”

“Our Christ sacrificed his life on the cross for our sins,” Asia replied. “What has your prophet done for you?

Our Christ is alive; your prophet is dead. Our Christ is the true prophet of God, and yours is not true.”

Such verbal exchanges ultimately led Asia’s coworkers to report her “blasphemous” words to the village’s religious leaders, who imprisoned her. At the prison, the authorities told Asia that she could be released: All she had to do was convert to Islam. She refused.

“You can kill me, but I will never leave Jesus,” she declared.

Although a group of Christians came to her defense, she was convicted of violating subsection C of Pakistan’s 295 blasphemy laws—blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad—and was sentenced to death. Asia’s case has drawn international attention calling for abolishment of such laws. Meanwhile, years after Pakistani authorities removed Asia from the field and jailed her, Isha and Isham—her two daughters—wait fortheir mother to come home.

Two years after the incident, her daughters talked about their mother being taken away because of her stand for Jesus. Still distraught, they shared how much they missed her.

“Mama loves us,” said Isham. “She would take us to the bazaar, and I would help her with daily work like cleaning or other simple work that I could do. She would help us prepare for school before she went to her job. And sometimes on no-school days we would follow her to the fields after Papa went to his job as a bricklayer.”

After Asia was imprisoned, her husband, Ashiq, seldom took the girls with him when he visited her. But because their hearts ached for her, he relented a few months later.

“Oh, my daughters are growing up,” Asia said when she saw them.

The two girls longed for a hug, but that could not happen because of the bars between them. So Asia stretched her fingers through the bars in order to feel the fingers of the little girls she had given birth to, prayed for, and for whom she had dreamed big dreams.

“You must leave now,” a guard commanded Ashiq.

Isham looked at the guard, then back at her mother. “Come home soon, Mama,” she said.

Asia’s imprisonment did not stop the persecution of her family and those who supported her. Muslims harassed Ashiq and the children so much that they had to move five times in seventeen months. An imam (Muslim teacher) at a mosque in northwestern Pakistan even issued a fatwa against Asia, offering a six- thousand-dollar reward to anyone who would kill her. The reward was a sizable sum of money for people who lived on just a few dollars a day. Her family worried that a prison guard would try to kill her or that a kitchen worker might poison her food.

Two Pakistani politicians—Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti—spoke out publicly in support of Asia. Bhatti recorded a video in which he stated that he would not be deterred by those who “want to impose their radical philosophy on Pakistan.… I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross.… And I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.”

Soon afterward, he did. So did Taseer. Assassins murdered both of them.

Bhatti’s favorite verses were Matthew 5:10–11: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

As much as we might try to cling to the things of this world, the faithful lives of these brothers and sisters in Christ remind us that Jesus followers are not of this world. Yet just because our ultimate destination is not of this world doesn’t mean we have no responsibilities here on earth. God still calls all of his people to be faithful while on earth—to pray, to know and apply his Word, to be salt and light wherever we live, and to love one another.

Asia, Ashiq, Isha, Isham, the family of Shahbaz Bhatti—and other brothers and sisters in Christ—are being persecuted and incarcerated and are suffering even worse fates for the cause of Christ. They continue to glorify God, knowing and demonstrating to the world that our true hope lies in heaven, in eternity with Jesus. They know that God is faithful and always uses his obedient people to further his work on earth—and that includes bringing good out of their own horrible circumstances. Unified with the global family of Jesus followers around the world, they treasure our prayers for strength and the will to sacrifice everything for Jesus. May they find strength from their brothers and sisters in faith.

© 2016 Voice of the Martyrs. I Am N is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved. 

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