The story of a Pakistani Christian and mother of five, Asia Bibi, who received the death penalty for blasphemy back in November 2010, made international headlines late last year due to her acquittal on October 31, 2018.
In 2009, Bibi, a farm laborer, was working in the field in the hot of the day. She drank from a cup also used by Muslim ladies, who accused her of defiling the cup. According to them, Bibi’s use of it made the cup and the water inside unclean due to her Christian faith. A Muslim woman proceeded to attack Bibi’s faith by insulting Jesus and insisting that Bibi convert to Islam. According to a French journalist who interviewed Bibi, Bibi boldly responded, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?”
The woman and bystanders were furious. A Muslim imam and a mob accused Bibi of blaspheming their prophet. She was beaten, put in prison, and sentenced to death by hanging as a result of her refusal to turn to Islam and admit to a crime she didn’t commit.
After eight years on death row, Bibi was found not guilty due to a lack of evidence that she had in some way blasphemed the prophet Muhammad by speaking about him with disrespect. Shortly after three Muslim judges concluded that Bibi had not violated the blasphemy law, lawyers filed an appeal to send Bibi’s case back to court. Bibi was released from prison and now lives in an undisclosed safe house due to the death threats from Muslims who still believe she’s guilty of blasphemy. Her acquittal was upheld on January 29, 2019.
What Is Our Response?
Christians everywhere are a part of one family—brothers and sisters in Christ—so persecution toward one of our own, like Bibi, feels a little bit personal. It can make us angry and defensive. The temptation often swells to lash out with vindictive words and sweeping generalizations against the persecutors.
But I believe God has a different role for us in the battle of persecution: fervent prayer warriors. God makes his name great through prayers during times of persecution, he assists the persecuted, and he redeems the persecutors (Acts 4:23–31; 12:1–10; 16:16–34).
To that end, let’s take a look at the circumstances that affected Bibi’s case and pray for her, her persecutors, and for the systems in place that led to this situation, for the glory of God.
Pray for Governments
Islam is both a religion and a political ideology. Islamic countries, such as Pakistan, are governed by sharia, the laws of Islam. The government’s role is to maintain Islamic control of society, suppressing other faiths or political views that threaten Muslim influence.
Pray for the leaders of Muslim governments, that they withhold the prosecution and persecution of those who do not hold to the same beliefs. We can use Paul’s instructions to Timothy: “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1–2 CSB).
Pray for People with Questions
The majority of Muslims in the world teach that blasphemy of Allah, the Qur’an, or Muhammad merits punishment, execution, or imprisonment. They come to this conclusion because their traditions—the Hadith—teach this, and the majority of Muslim leaders around the world interpret parts of the Qur’an to add additional support for their view. This leads to loss of freedom for Muslims who want to question their beliefs because even voicing such doubts can lead to blasphemy accusations.
Pray for Muslims who have questions about the gospel but are afraid to pursue answers. Ask the Lord to give them boldness and protection in their quest and that, by God’s grace, it will lead to salvation through Christ.
Pray for the Persecutors
Bibi maintains that the woman who first accused her of blasphemy held a grudge toward her over a property dispute, thus using the quarrel over the unclean water cup as an excuse to take revenge. Bibi’s case has highlighted the issue that blasphemy laws open the door for allegations to be made against non-Muslims as a way of exacting revenge on those with whom they disagree or hold a personal grudge.
Whatever the motive of Bibi’s accuser, let’s pray that she may hear the gospel and be given an opportunity to place faith in Christ. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soften her heart so she can see the reality of her sin and the love of Jesus, who stands even now offering her forgiveness and eternal life in him.
Pray for Those on the Fence
Bibi’s case illuminates the fact that while the overwhelming majority of Pakistani Muslims favor extreme punishment for blasphemy, not all Muslims agree upon the extent to which Muslims should go to exact such punishment. There is, however, an extremely small minority of Pakistani Muslims, such as the judges who freed Bibi, who desire to seek fair treatment for those from other faiths.
Not all Muslims living in Muslim countries believe blasphemy should merit such strong punishment. Let us pray that they can open doors for the gospel to be heard, believed, and spread.
Suffering and persecution have always been and will continue to be a mark of the church as it carries out the task of the Great Commission. Therefore, the church should be unified in its task to love those who persecute it. To do otherwise is the exact opposite of Christ’s command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44 CSB).
Furthermore, apart from Christ, our separation from God was just as damning as it is currently for those hostile toward him. Therefore, let’s approach God on their behalf with the humility that should come from a people completely incapable of saving themselves.
Rather than being unified in opposing its enemies, the church must follow the words and example of Christ in hopes of being his ambassadors to those very enemies and seeing them come to belief, repentance, and saving faith in Christ.
Ralph Adair serves with his wife, son, and three daughters in South Asia. Their heart is that all South Asian peoples come to saving faith in Jesus. Ralph has an MDiv and a PhD in missions from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.