May 15, 2023

Christian widow and Muslim colleague accused of blasphemy in Pakistan

Mussarat Bibi and Muhammad Sarmad, who worked at a girls’ school in the Pakistani town of Arifwala, were detained on April 19 and released on bail on May 15. The illiterate workers are accused of intentionally burning pages of the Koran.

CSI partner Anjum Paul (3rd from right) on a visit to Arifwala. Mussarat Bibi's brother is at the far left. csi

CSI partner Anjum Paul (3rd from right) on a visit to Arifwala. Mussarat Bibi’s brother is at the far left. csi


Bibi, a Christian, is widowed and has three daughters. Through her late husband, who was a teacher at the government girls’ school in Arifwala in Pakpattan district of Punjab province, she found a job as a cleaner.

On April 19 she and Sarmad (18) were clearing out a storeroom at the school. Faced with a mountain of trash, the two decided to set fire to the wastepaper. Not being able to read, they were not aware that there were pages from the Koran among the pile of paper.

However, the person who informed the police must have known that burning pages of the Muslim holy book falls under the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Bibi and Sarmad were arrested.

Riot averted

When CSI partner Anjum Paul learned of the incident, he immediately traveled to Arifwala where he met with influential Muslims. In the local mosques there was already talk of “Koran burning and blasphemy.” The situation could easily have escalated and resulted in a mob attack on the Christians in the village.

Anjum Paul was able to explain to the leaders of the village that the Koran pages had been burned by mistake. He asked them not to allow the incident to be blown up and made into a religious issue.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. During police questioning, Muhammad Sarmad admitted to setting fire to the garbage. Mussarat Bibi is accused of inciting him to do so. The two are in custody.

Without money and unable to read and write, the accused are unable to defend themselves. CSI is providing financial support and covering their legal fees.

Thanks to the help of our local partner, Bibi and Sarmad were released on bail on May 15. However, the charges against them have not been dropped.

Rolf Höneisen

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