A Christian woman from north east Pakistan has died from her injuries after being set on fire by a Muslim man. The tragedy took place after an argument about which of them should convert if they were to marry. But the story illustrates both the religious conflicts which plague Pakistan today, and the oppression which forces so many Christians girls and women into impossible choices.
Asma Yaqoob, 24, was an illiterate domestic servant who worked at a house a few streets away from her home in Bogra village. Somehow – and no-one seems to know how – she formed a relationship with a Muslim man called Muhammad Rizwan Gujar.
“Gujur was pressuring her to convert to Islam and marry him,” said Asma’s father, Yaqoob Masih.
“They were in a relationship and were struggling over the issue of marriage,” said the investigating officer, Sub-Inspector Shahid Mehmood. “Gujur said that Asma wanted him to convert to Christianity but he wanted her to convert to Islam.”
Things came to a head on Tuesday 17 April, 2018.
“Both of them were unwilling to abandon their religions,” said Shahid Mehmood. “So Asma wanted to make a final decision about the matter that night.”
At 11pm Gujur went to the house where Asma was working. Unbeknownst to her, he had visited a petrol station on the way.
“There was a knock on the gate,” her father later told the Police. “Asma went to answer. A little later her cries were heard and everyone rushed outside and saw her on fire.”
Asma suffered 80 per cent burns. She died five days later.
’THE SUSPECT WILL BE GIVEN A WAY TO GET OUT OF THIS’
What happened? Masih said that initially he thought his daughter had been the victim of an acid attack. But it soon became clear that she had been set on fire using petrol – petrol that Gujur had purchased and brought to the house.
According to BBC Urdu the opinion of the police is that Gujur merely intended to threaten Asma, and that the fire was an accident. “Gujur told investigators that he bought petrol that night, poured some on the ground and said that if none of us can convert then let’s die together,” said Sub-Inspector Mehmood “He said that he lit the match only to threaten her but the match fell, she caught fire and he fled from the scene.”
Mehmood added that Gujur was not mentally stable as a result of the suicide of his mother ten years ago.
For her family and other Christians, though, the police are simply giving the suspect a way out.
Mumtaz Mughal, Provincial Head of the Aurat Foundation, a national women’s rights organisation, told World Watch Monitor, “The statement from the police shows that the suspect will be given a way to get out of this by describing it as an accident, and saying that Gujur is not mentally stable.”
Gujur has been charged under Section 336 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with grievous bodily harm, and is being tried in an anti-terrorism court.
“Women and minorities are vulnerable sections of society and a woman from a minority is further vulnerable,” said Mumtaz Mughal. “So, in such cases, the government must become the complainant – otherwise there will be huge pressure on the family to withdraw the case.”
WE CAN HELP
The fact is this: a young woman has died because a man didn’t want her to be a Christian. It is one more story from a world where Christians – especially vulnerable Christian women – can be abused, beaten and even killed simply because they refuse to deny their faith. Pakistan ranks no.5 in the WORLD WATCH LIST.
We may get angry about that. But we can also do something about it.
Open Doors partners in Pakistan are supporting thousands of isolated, vulnerable Christians. In cooperation with local churches and other partnering ministries, Open Doors supports the church in Pakistan through training, emergency aid to victims of violent persecution and counselling and trauma therapy. In particular, Open Doors partners work extensively with women and girls, supporting them with literacy classes and other life skills to give them more independence and self-determination.
- Victims like Asma’s family will be comforted.
- Churches in Pakistan be strong in Christ and fully equipped to be witness for Him in their community.
- That the government in Pakistan will do more to protect the rights of minorities, and women.
Open Doors’ goal is to “strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2).