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Misspelling ‘Muhammad’ puts girl in danger
Baptist Press
October 06, 2011
7 MIN READ TIME

Misspelling ‘Muhammad’ puts girl in danger

Misspelling ‘Muhammad’ puts girl in danger
Baptist Press
October 06, 2011

LAHORE, Pakistan – An eighth-grade student in Pakistan has

been expelled from school and her family forced to relocate after the Christian

girl misspelled “Muhammad,” leading to accusations of blasphemy, sources told

Compass Direct News.

In Abbottabad, 13-year-old Faryal Bhatti, a student at the Sir Syed Girls High

School in Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) Colony Havelian, misspelled a word

on an Urdu exam Sept. 22 while answering a question on a poem in praise of the

Muslim prophet Muhammad, according to area Christians. Urdu is a language.

Faryal wrote laanat, the transliteration of the Urdu word for “curse,” instead

of naat, which means a poem written in praise of Islam’s prophet, they said.

The school administration and local Islamists declared that the error was

serious enough to violate Pakistan’s widely condemned laws against blaspheming

Muhammad and Islam.

Conviction under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy law for derogatory

comments about Muhammad is punishable by death, though life imprisonment also

is possible.

Faryal’s Urdu teacher was collecting the answer sheets from her students when

she noticed the word on Faryal’s paper. The teacher, identified only as

Fareeda, summoned the Christian girl, scolded her and beat her, area sources

told Compass by telephone.

Fareeda then notified the principal, who in turn informed school officials as

news of the error spread throughout the colony. The next day, male students at

the school as well as some Muslim representatives staged a demonstration,

demanding registration of a criminal case against the eighth-grader and her

eviction from the area, sources said.

Prayer leaders within the Muslim community also condemned the incident in their

Friday sermons, asking the colony’s administration to take action against

Faryal as well as her family, sources said.

POF Colony Havelian Managing Director Asif Siddiki called a meeting of clerics

and school teachers to discuss the conflict, according to reports, at which the

girl and her mother were ordered to appear; they explained that it was a mere

error caused by a resemblance between the two words.

The girl and her mother immediately apologized, contending that Faryal had no

malicious intentions, but in a move apparently designed to pacify Muslim cries

for punishment, the POF administration expelled her from the school Sept. 24.

School administrator Junaid Sarfraz said Faryal had confessed that she had

inadvertently made the mistake and the school administration, after consulting

local clerics, decided to expel her. Sarfraz claimed that Faryal’s teacher was

certain that she had made the mistake intentionally and that the matter was

referred to clerics because Faryal had previously aroused similar suspicions of

blasphemy.

Maulana Alla Dita, head of the area’s prominent mosque, reportedly said the

school administration had made the right decision in expelling Faryal from

school. Dita claimed that he had met with Faryal, who had apologized for the

mistaken use of the word. Dita said he wasn’t clear about Faryal’s intentions,

but that “the word she had used was sacrilegious,” according to press reports.

Faryal’s mother, Sarafeen Bhatti, a staff nurse at the POF Hospital Havelian for

several years, immediately was transferred to POF Wah Cantonment Hospital.

Abbottabad District Commissioner Syed Imtiaz Hussain Shah said the 13-year-old

had been expelled for using “derogatory words” and her mother had consequently

been “moved to another place.”

A Christian lawyer in Havelian who was among the community members making

efforts to defuse area tensions told Compass by phone that the military had

acted swiftly to save the lives of Faryal and her mother.

“The military swung into action soon after protests broke out calling for a

blasphemy case against the teenager,” the attorney said on condition of

anonymity. “They bundled the family in an ambulance and took them away before

the situation could turn violent.”

A text message campaign also started Sept. 24, calling for action against the

family, he said.

“Some Christian families living in the area panicked, but the situation has

been under control so far,” he said.

An area Christian told Compass there were 13 or 14 Christian families in the

colony who now have fears about security. He said Faryal’s family had little

contact with other Christians living in the area. The resident also praised the

army for acting in a timely manner, “or else the mullahs would have punished

all of us for the little girl’s error.”

The incident has instilled fear in Christian parents that an unintentional

mistake by their children could cause them personal disaster. Shazia Imran,

mother to three schoolchildren, told Compass that Faryal’s episode had left her

distressed.

“Ever since I came to know about the young girl’s story, I have been unable to

sleep properly,” she said. “We have been continuously telling our children not

to discuss their faith with anyone in school and to avoid getting into

religious discussions with their Muslim class fellows, but this was beyond my

imagination.”

She added that she and her husband were now “very disturbed and fearful” about

their children’s future in Pakistan.

Azra George, a Christian mother to a college student, said the incident had

shocked her and the congregation at her Presbyterian church.

“Everyone at church was discussing this sorry incident on Sunday,” she said. “Parents

of school-going children were particularly perturbed. This blasphemy thing will

always remain hanging on our heads like a sword, and there’s nothing anyone can

do about it.”

Compass’s repeated attempts to reach the Bhatti family were unsuccessful as

they had moved to an undisclosed location because of security concerns.

Asif Aqeel, executive director of the Community Development Initiative, an

affiliate of the European Centre for Law and Justice, said the incident showed

how Pakistani society was getting sensitized over the issue of blasphemy.

“Only a small number of people are formally accused of blasphemy. We do not

know the number of people who, like Faryal and her family, are harassed without

a legal charge,” he said. “Members of Pakistan’s minority communities are

afraid of moving around and expressing themselves freely due to the fear of

being accused of blasphemy.”

Christians make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more

than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Aqeel said a Christian

boy recently was implicated in a criminal case of harassment by the family of a

Muslim girl who was in love with him. Aqeel said the boy’s family urged the

police investigating officer to free the boy, whose name was withheld for

security reasons, as the charges were baseless.

“The family was taken aback when the police official told them that their son

had mocked the Sunnah (sayings and teachings) of prophet Muhammad by keeping a

French beard,” Aqeel said. Thus, although the harassment case had nothing to do

with the blasphemy law, the mere mention of the law forced the family to keep

silent, he said.

Similarly, Christian teachers avoid lessons that mention Islamic history or

anything related to the religion out of fear that any misstep could bring

criminal charges. Likewise, Urdu language and social studies textbooks include

several lessons on Islamic religious thought, so Christian teachers avoid

nearly half of these books to avoid being charged with blasphemy, he said.

Napolean Qayyum, a leader of the Minorities Wing of the ruling Pakistan People’s

Party, condemned the incident, saying it was unfortunate that a 13-year-old had

to suffer this ordeal over a miniscule error.

“The army’s timely intervention saved the Christians’ lives, but most people

are not so fortunate,” he said, adding that the incident showed how intolerance

towards minorities was taking root in Pakistani society.

“Would the teacher have highlighted the same mistake if it was made by a Muslim

student?” he said. “I would guess not.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Written by Compass Direct News, a California-based news

service focusing on the persecuted church. Used by permission.)