“She misspelled Muhammad’s name in class: Let’s kill her!”

Mauro Pianta Turin 09/27/2011

The mind boggling affair of a Pakistani Christian girl who made one grammar mistake which led to her being accused of blasphemy, expelled from school and forced to flee.

You learn through your mistakes, the saying goes. Unless you happen to be a student in a school in Pakistan that is. In the village of Havelian, near Abbottabad (province of Khyber Pakhtukhwa, in North West Pakistan), a mistake made by one thirteen year old Christian girl led to her and her family being accused of blasphemy. Faryal Bhatti, a nurse’s daughter, was expelled from school, threatened with death and forced to flee together with her loved ones. Her “sin” was that of having misspelled Muhammad’s name by mistake, during a class exercise.

According to reports by missionary agency AsiaNews, on 22 September, Faryal, a student at the POF Havelian Colony High School, made a mistake when writing an Urdu term during an exam. This resulted in the word referring to the prophet Muhammad, being changed from “poetry of praise” (naat) to a “curse” (lanaat). The Urdu teacher gave the girl a severe telling off in front of the whole class. Faryal’s tears did not stop the “case” being brought before the school headmaster. Within the space of a few minutes, the news about the alleged insult against the Prophet had gone round the entire school: teachers and the school head accused the girl of blasphemy.

The school authorities informed religious authorities, who together with the colony’s inhabitants staged a demonstration asking the police to press charges against the girl. The crowd started shouting out slogans against them and Christians. During Friday’s sermons, local religious leaders condemned the affair as “a conspiracy against Islam.”

The explanations given and tears shed by the girl and her mother who were called to account by teachers and religious representatives, were all in vain. Maulana Syed Ejaz Ali, a religious figure from the Jamia Masjid mosque saw the “incriminating” sheet of paper and spoke to Faryal and her mother, concluding that: “I am not sure what to make of Faryal’s intentions. Her tears are testament to her innocence, but the mistake she made transformed the word in question into an insult and this offers a valid enough basis for punishment; she must never ever think ill of Islam.”

To please religious leaders, the school’s administration expelled Faryal from the school; Islamic religious men pressured the Colony administration into ensuring the mother got fired immediately and moved away from her home. Mother and daughter were moved to Wah Cantonment by the hospital administration. The Masihi Foundation (the organisation that looks after the rights of Christians in Pakistan), asked the two Islamic religious men from Islamabad, Maulana Mehfooz Ali Khan and Hussain Ahmed Malik, what their opinion was on the matter. They said: “It was a mistake made by an innocent girl. Many Muslim students in the madaris make mistakes when pronouncing Arabic words, changing their sense. It is not right to punish a child for a mistake it has committed unwillingly. The girl will be traumatised by this. Faryal Bhatti only had to go through all this because she is a Christian, I protest against the decision to expel the girl and make the mother move.”

The Roman Catholic bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Rufin Anthony said the following in a statement to AsiaNews: “I condemn the incident. Now even Christian students are victimised and accused of blasphemy. Society is becoming so intolerant that a minor mistake is blown out of proportion. The Ulamas have decided to punish the girl when she does not even know what she has done. They should have explained the mistake she made to her, if it can be called a mistake, winning her trust and thus doing a service to religion. But what happened was the exact opposite.”

Some time ago, the Washigton Post wrote that “belonging to a minority in Pakistan is like being burdened by a scarlet letter that forces you to live a lesser life”. This very letter was the one that Faryal got wrong.

Tags: , ,