04 September 2012
The Sad Story of Rimsha Masih - What Can We Do?
I have been taken today with the news of Rimsha Masih in impoverished Mehr Jaffer, Pakistan. Rimsha is somewhere between 11 and 16 and a seemingly illiterate Christian girl with Down Syndrome and learning difficulties. She was arrested last month after a neighbour accused her of burning pages containing texts from the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an. She was arrested on a charge of blasphemy with two shopping bags with ashes and pages of the burnt Qur’an. It is not uncommon for poor Pakistanis to burn scrap paper for cooking – this shows how poor her family is. Supporters deny that she was burning the Qur’an and also argue that she can’t read anyway and so should be released. Rimsha’s family have now gone into hiding with threats of violence and the destruction of their homes. Her lawyers after her first hearing had to race into cars and dash away. 300 families fled as a result of Islamic anger at the time.
This is only one example of false accusations against Christians through Pakistans tough laws against blasphemy carrying severe punishments and even the death penalty. Last year the government official Salman Taseer criticized these law. He was subsequently killed by his security guard whose death sentence was then suspended. Two months later, the minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was killed by the Taliban for demanding changes to the law. Christians make up 4% of the 180m Pakistanis (7m). Violence against Christians from extremist Muslims is common. For example, in 2009, 40 houses and a church were burnt down in Gorjra, and seven Christians burnt to death due to supposed desecration of the Qur’an.
In a new twist, news reports today say that an Imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, due to brave Muslims from his mosque, has been charged for planting the pages of the Qur’an in Rimsha’s bags. Sadly, he himself is now on a charge of blasphemy. However, he has strong support, with one 74 old man on the steps of the mosque at Mehr Jaffer saying, ""pour petrol and burn these Christians."" If he gets charged, and Rimsha released, this will only intensify the danger for herself, her family and other Christians in the village.
So what we can we do? This reminds me of the suffering the writer of Hebrews refers to in 10:32-35. He calls his readers to recall earlier days “when you endured a great conflict full of suffering… you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison...” We can stand alongside our brothers and sisters in nations such as Pakistan. First, we can stand with these Christians and pray for Rimsha, her family, and Christians in Pakistan, asking for justice and mercy. We can pray that they can stand this fiery ordeal and not turn to violent retribution, but non-violent resistance and forgiveness. We can pray for people in poverty around the world, and act to bring God’s good news to the poor materially and spiritually. Second, we can pray for those who persecute Christians, asking God to cause them to turn from their violence, seek forgiveness and live out of justice, mercy and peace. We can pray for the Imam that he will find God’s forgiveness and mercy. Thirdly, we can join the chorus of people crying out against this injustice. There is a website where we can sign a petition organised by Rimsha’s father for her release, http://www.avaaz.org/en/pakistan_save_my_daughter/?tsbqWbb. We can also send an email pressuring the Pakistani government to see her released, http://www.opendoors.org.za/eng/take_action/be_a_voice_for_rimsha/. Finally, we can look at our own attitudes to others who disagree with our perspective on faith, and ensure that we are treating them with mercy and grace. If you know of anything else we can do, please add your voice to this thread.