by Declan Walsh
Aasia Bibi isn’t at home. Children play at the blue gate of her modest home in Itanwali, a sleepy Punjabi village. Bibi, the woman at the heart of Pakistan‘s blasphemy furore – which triggered the murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer last week – is in jail, desperately praying that she won’t be executed. Her neighbours are hoping she will be.
“Why hasn’t she been killed yet?” said Maafia Bibi , a 20-year-old woman standing at the gate of the house next door. Her eyes glitter behind a scarf that covered her face. “You journalists keep coming here asking questions but the issue is resolved. Why has she not been hanged?”
Maafia was one of a group of about four women who accused Bibi, also known as Aasia Noreen, who is Christian, of insulting the prophet Muhammad during a row in a field 18 months ago. But she will not specify what Bibi actually said, because to repeat the words would itself be blasphemy. And so Bibi was sentenced to hang on mere hearsay – a Kafkaesque twist that seems to bother few in Itanwali, a village 30 miles outside Lahore.
A few streets away Maulvi Muhammad Saalim is preparing for Friday prayers. The 31-year-old mullah, a curly-bearded man with darting, kohl-rimmed eyes and woolly waistcoat, played a central role in marshalling the blasphemy charge. When a court sentenced Bibi to death last November – the first woman in Pakistan’s history – he “wept with joy”, he says. “We had been worried the court would award a lesser sentence. So the entire village celebrated.” …