Niqab, blasphemy and the life of an 8th grader

Published: September 26, 2011

In the past few years, Pakistan has witnessed horrific incidents of violence and discrimination against its minorities. PHOTO: EXPRESS

A shocking example of the severity of ignorance within our society is the blasphemy case against an eighth grade Christian girl, based on something as trivial as a spelling error.

Faryal Bhatti, a student at the Sir Syed Girls High School in Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) colony in Havelian, accidently misspelt ‘naat’ as ‘laanat’ in an Urdu exam while answering a question on a poem written in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

While the blasphemy law and its affect on minority rights – who ironically it was meant to protect – has been part a controversy whirlwind this past year, the fact is that evidence in this law is apparently ‘not necessary’. It seems those accused of blasphemy cannot be proven innocent and are therefore inherently guilty. So while there is written ‘proof’ in Faryal’s case, what makes it worse is that many people including supposedly educated teachers are still willing to accuse a minor of a criminal charge that carries the death penalty in Pakistan.

Recently, a report citing Pakistan among  10 countries “failing to sufficiently protect religious rights”, garnered very polarised opinions, with some commenting on the government’s failure, yet again, to protect minorities in the country and others calling the report a concoction of the ‘US-backed media’.

But what stood out, more because of its absurdity than legitimacy, was something along the lines of: if Pakistan is among the 10, France must be on the top – referring to the country’s recent, controversial ban on wearing a niqab in public.

Islam calls for dressing modestly and does not require covering the face. So comments like these, far from being modest, reek of hypocrisy and arrogance. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first of such comments and certainly not the last.

Interestingly, Turkey and Tunisia are Muslim countries that have banned headscarves in public places. Until the recent uprising, there was a ban on the niqab in universities in Syria. Are these countries  failing to protect the rights of their Muslim majority population too?

The truth is that the niqab ban in these countries is, more so, a question of culture rather than faith. While at the most, the ban could be termed xenophobic, it begs the question: who are we to talk? Would Pakistanis be okay with women wearing anything on the streets? Probably not.

In the past few years, Pakistan has witnessed horrific incidents of violence and discrimination against its minorities — Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus — and even Muslims. These have ranged from attacks on places of worships, arson against a community and assassination of the minorities minister, to discrimination in the workplace and not being allowed to marry or even name one’s children without restraint under the ‘law’. And these are just a few cases in the sea of increasing persecution against minorities in Pakistan — almost all of which, unfortunately, have failed to receive any kind of justice.

For argument’s sake, even if France’s niqab ban is a compromise on religious freedom, one cannot compare a fine over a piece of cloth to blood on one’s hands.

And if we continue to disregard that, Pakistan, not France, will reach the top of the list.


Shayan Naveed

A subeditor for the national pages of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abdullah

    How do you misspell naat as laanat? Two different words.

    Anyhow this is because of the failure of the Pakistani government who has completely failed to protect the life, honour and property of citizens in every sphere of governance. Whether it is sovereignty issue, economics, woman rights, minorities the use of failed secular system is creating chaos in Muslim country where we should be giving rights to everyone according to the hukam of the Creator.

    Islam is a complete way of life and if its systems are implemented in totality it will give justice to all.Recommend

  • TM

    You are not welcome in the civilized world.Recommend

  • Altaf

    @abdullah just go and write naat in “URDU” !!! and be careful while you are doing that,, a dot here and there can cost you your life. WELCOME TO ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN !!Recommend

  • Hasan Naqvi

    STOP writing “Christian Girl” all the time – this is the third blog on this issue – the issue is in the court of law & btw are you over with all the severe crisis goin on in the country???? get a life ET…I am sick & tired of your “job” …

  • Shaheer

    Naat and lanaat may be 2 different in english, but in urdu its only a difference of a DOT! Go write “naat” in urdu as fast as you can, as if you were in an exam, a lot of times you will not put the dot EXACTLY where it shud be. Recommend

  • Wrong

    Actually Turkey OVERTURNED its ban on headscarves which was instituted by the secular generals and did not reflect the Islamic values of Turkish citizens.Recommend

  • faraz


    Laanat – لعنت

    Naat – نعت

    Did you see the resemblance? Come out of the state of denial.Recommend

  • Liaqat Ali

    What happened to the ‘hukam’ of Allah subhanatallah that I alone am the Judge. Since when have our so-called religious leaders been give the rights that Allah has kept for himself. Ignorant and mis-informed the people of our country have been manipulated for nefarious purposes by the elite driving around in air conditioned cars on well tarmac ed roads while the poor in this country are starving and their children are dying. The state is failing the people and those ignorant idiots who think that mistreating His creation (Christians, Hindus, Shiites, Ahmadis and other minorities) is somehow Islamic need to come to their senses for they will have to face HIS wrath. Let us stop trying to protect the name and dignity of HIS Chosen One for by so doing we are guilty of thinking that HE is incapable of protecting HIS beloved and concern ourselves with being humane and protecting HIS creation. Stop destroying HIS creation and HE will protect you. I am sick of hearing these pontificating hypocritical religious pundits. Look to perfect yourself and HE will take care of the world.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    Why christian girl have to right Naat i dont get it is not there they dont have to islamiat
    i still did not get it?????Recommend

  • The Forbidden Fruit

    The problem with people is that, they cannot separate themselves from God. They think, like God, they know Best! They know who should be prosecuted, killed, how and when. Playing God is the biggest blasphemy!Recommend

  • Mj

    “Islam is a complete way of life and if its systems are implemented in totality it will give justice to all.”

    Ah yes, the old ‘Islam will make everything rosy’ argument. Last time I checked, things were far from ideal when taliban implemented Islam in its totality. Now you are just going to claim that they’re not really muslims etc.., i.e. “no true Scotsman”.

    I guess Islam really is ideal and just when applied in its totality. That is why minorities have to pay the humiliating tax termed ‘jizya’ just to survive. Where they cannot even build new places of worship and repair the broken ones. Where a woman’s testimony is considered half that of a man and gets only half the inheritance. A system of law in which a wife cannot legally stop the advances of his god-fearing husband, and can be beaten with scriptural backing. Not to forget that adulterers, homosexuals and apostates have to be stoned to death. I can go on but I hope you get the idea.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I think you have done a great job on this subject.
    If one goes back to the root of the problem we realise that the government and powers that control things are really not interested in correcting religious intolerance. Now the sickness is so entrenched that it has to correct itself or self destruct.Recommend

  • SilentObserver

    @ Abdullah look closely at both word written in URDU and you will see a major difference.
    @ Hassan So do you think protecting the minorities is not an issue?

    In all the western countries there is equal right to build mosque,temple or synagogues and here in Pakistan you are not even allowed to use the utensils that are dedicated for muslims……Hypocrite Society Recommend

  • faraz

    Actually the only mistake the kid made was to put the dot between ع and ت instead of over ن Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    It bears repeating… WHY religion in a subject like Urdu? When Islamiat is a mandatory subject for all Muslim students anyway, why then must any religious text be brought into other subject materials? Children are children, and they are very likely to innocently drop/stamp on/rip/scribble in/hit their friends/maybe even get sick on their school books at some point or the other.And, since some of those books contain religious texts, that would then be considered blasphemous?

    And, a lot of kids suck at spelling, or worse can NEVER remember to dot their letters, in English AND Urdu. Big deal! More than half the adults in this country are illiterate. And, from ALL the things about education we can find wrong, we pick on something like THIS? Let’s start with why we call these ignorant women (and men) who are so full of hatred, self loathing violence, probably not even inter pass, and supporting a sentence of DEATH for a CHILD, TEACHERS.

    Apologists should wash their eyes out with bleach, then take another look at this madness!Recommend

  • http://India Feroz

    The teacher who caught the girls error should be conferred the best teacher award. Her Urdu was perfect. Recommend

  • Mubarik

    @Liaqat Ali:
    It does not matter whether God Almighty can defend HIS Beloved or not, the truth of the matter is that taking this authority into their hands mullahs get lots of power. Mullahs can have all the good things of this world without working for them by merely using their religious clout. Mullahs can intimidate any body and every body by using their beard power. The only way out is to put mullahs in their place and make them earn their livelyhood through blood and sweat like us ordinary mortals.Recommend

  • hamzad

    There are still amongst us the Ba Ba Blacksheep from english-mediums who spare no opportunity to berate Islam and Muslims. They somehow are still daydreaming about intyroducing westoxication into Pakistan with all its attendant evils.

    The West is morally , financially and spiritually bankrupt and the time is ripe to assisst its demise..instead of reforming Pakistan and Muslims these agents of the United Satans of America must be exposed and identified so that Pakistan is cleansed of this rot within.

    Angraiz chalaa gayaa..magar apni aulaad chhore gayaa.Recommend


    As you mentioned us( Ahmadis), just to inform you that one more ahmadi gunned down in karachi………..due to his religious beliefs……Can you imagine????? , we still ADORE our country…………God bless her.Recommend

  • islooboy

    every body cant be a faiz ahmed and many people in hazara division have accent problems and she is nabaligh so she will not be punushed or should not be punished lets hope another qadri doesnot pop upRecommend

  • DJ

    @Abdullah: I disagree with you that Islam is a complete code of life. Islam is a religion like any other religion. For every religion there is a religious book and religious laws, but with modern nation states we have to make religion neutral laws to make every citizen a part of society. Religious apartheid (like racial apartheid) has no place in civilized society. If any particular religion would indeed be perfect then all Muslim countries would be developed with the best human rights but its actually the reverse. So there must be a reason for that.
    To all: Blasphemy law in Pakistan is barbaric and inhumane. Its stifles free thought and expression. Threatens minorities and suppresses reason. Its used 99% for personal vendettas. Any one last thing, as the author said, Muslims are treated 1000 times better in non-Muslim countries than non-Muslims in Pakistan….think why?
    To author: Thanks for raising the voice of minorities and speaking for human rights and secular enlightenment.Recommend

  • Awais Khan

    Unfortunately, these incidents are manipulated and exploited by certain elements with vested interests to create rifts in the society.Recommend

  • Hasan

    There is no blasphemy law in Islam. That’s the end of it, no British no Islamic, it doesn’t exist in Islam at all.

    Perhaps this will enlighten you all Why blasphemy law is not IslamicRecommend

  • amlendu


    Wow! so you think that 13 year old girl is an agent of USA and should be killed. It’s right, “Aankhwale aandhe ko koi theek nahin kar sakta.”Recommend

  • Seher

    Religion is something personal and we should not let it interfere with stately affairs and the everyday life. The blasphemy law is a man-made law. There is no mention of such a law in the Qur’an. As citizens of this country we need to concentrate to other more important matters and not focus on such ridiculous theories. Recommend

  • Arshad Zubairi

    I am seconding Faraz,, he is write

    Laanat – لعنت

    Naat – نعت

    There is no resemblance in both the words. If the story is true then it should be an intentional act, but I believe that Naat means to appreciate some one and it is not come under any blasphemy lawRecommend

  • Asad

    in my perception onward religious books should be taught in “English” in order to avoid dot mistakes.. because its so fatal that it can even cost your lifeRecommend

  • malik


    sorry hasan, i think you have been reading a wrong translation – i think you got yourself a highly sanitised, feel-good version to satisfy to quell all your guilty feelings.

    The fact is; there are enough suras and hadiths available where the disbelievers and ‘mockers’ get their just desserts. So, don’t mislead people into thinking that blasphemy is a man-made law. It is very much in the Qu’ran and in Hadiths. Either take it in toto or discard in toto. Don’t beat around the bush saying this has been misunderstood and other rhubarb rhubarbRecommend

  • Seher

    She is a thirteen year old girl studying in the 8th grade! She made a mistake. GET OVER IT and move on! Recommend

  • amlendu

    “there are enough suras and hadiths available where the disbelievers and ‘mockers’ get their just desserts”. So what is the “just desert” for disbelievers, should they be killed by a mob of believers? Will that make believers better in eyes of Allah? What about societies where Muslims are disbelievers according to the majority, should they also get their “just desert” there?


  • varun

    Hi Sayan..
    good article…i pity for the people like Abudulah..its seems Pakistan eats,drinks,sleeps Islam…all the best Islamic Republic of PakistanRecommend

  • chawal mari hai

    Laanat – لعنت
    Naat – نعت
    They don’t have any resemblance when you type them with your key board.but who types an exams paper in 8th now just quickly write it down with your pen and that in panic as if you were sitting in the exam..and put the dot just after ain (the urdu alphabet) or put it anywhere after laam (urdu alphabet)see what comes out…so yes it has a resemblance..and secondly what is praising our Holy Prophet peace be upon Him doing in her course…i know the paper is made for the majority so we cant overrule it so she is bound to write.they dont believe in our prophet(i think) but we do believe in Hazrat Esa (PBUH) so we cant say anything bad about Him. but how many of you havent made fun of hinduism…that must be blasphemous to them. just because we think its a false religion doesnt make it not a religion. so to those who just stand up and start defending their Islam( and yes i wrote “their” because these days everyone has their own,sunni,barelvi, devbandi.etc etc ) first ponder over what you have done to protect Islam. If she apologized for the mistake she made i think she should be thats that Recommend

  • hamzad

    GEt rid of western influences and english language as a CULTURE and official language…the anti-Islam forces are dominant and influential ( despite a miniscule minority) only because of the ba Ba Blacksheep and Monkey-Donkey “education”….

    Once this westoxication isexorcised from Pak sar zameen all will become LOCAL and none will act uppity as “faariner” in own land…and that includes these karantaas as well.Recommend

  • Shakeel

    I only hope that the sharia is implemented in totality in Pakistan. Afghanistan indeed was heaven when Taliban was in powerRecommend

  • Seher

    @ Shakeel. Were you in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power? Perhaps you should move there.Recommend

  • hamzad

    Westoxication has to and MUST be eradicated from Pakistan …Iran is a great example for all nations, not only muslims, to follow…..Every sliver and shred of Colonialism and Imperialism MUST be combed out and people must return to the days before there baboons and Langoors weighed anchor to loot and plunder grand civilizations of Islam, China , Mexico, India & so many others…..Europe and USA must be brought under control of Civilized nations.Recommend

  • sars

    Im sorry but reading your biased and vitriolic comments must make people reading this blog wonder whether islam wants us to all be small and petty minded.

    Westoxication is not the reason why a young girl is being punished for a probably harmless mistake.I dont see anyone getting this sort of treatment in the west.

    ALL our problems are not the fault of anyone else but ourseleves and this sort of attitude will never let us rectify any mistakes if we dont identify themRecommend

  • imran

    why you are puppet of BBC and GEO TV? who always show negative image of islam?
    did u ever go to afghanistan in taliban days?Recommend

  • Seher

    I do not need to go to Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency in Sawat showed us enough and was definitely not heaven. I am not a puppet of anyone or anything. Is that the best argument you have? All i am saying is religion is personal.Recommend

  • Rafique

    I read this article and these comments with sadness. I left Pakistan 6 years ago due to intolerable corruption and now live in the land of the Kafir (US). Maybe @Hamzad some “westoxication” is what Pakistan needs. It certainly needs something to right itself from the path it is on. I came with my family and like you was expecting the worst. My parents were horrified at my decision. I’m still here and never going back as I would rather deal with the Kafir than those back there who beat their chest proudly calling themselves “true Muslims” when a second later they are trying their best to do some kind of evil to me. Nobody does that here and this makes me even more angry at the disgraceful path Pakistan has gone down.

    Now people waste time taking this Urdu spelling mistake to such a level when there are so many other issues that need to come to prominence. Recommend

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    Even tons of love cannot wipe out this ingrained hate. But it cannot stop the Newtonian Law of equal and opposite reaction to our actions. It is interesting to observe that just now while typing, I was wanting to type ‘our’ but because the keys of ‘r’ and ‘t’ are close, I happened to press ‘t’. This completely changes the meaning of ‘our’ to ‘out’. But an astute reader will extrapolate it, as to what is being conveyed by mental substitution.

    Nothing can be more blasphemous to preach hate in the name of any religion. That is why, I have been repeatedly crying out that the religion today has become a “Corporatised Shop” run clandstinely by few top notch intelligentias all over the world. There is tacit hidden covenant between the rulers and the religious heads to befool the common person for their ephemeral pleasures. Perhaps the fundamentalist Wahabi/Salafi Islamic practices have blasphemised its own people and topped above others. It has brought them to spot on. An average person who is beneficiary of that illogical society becomes far more dangerous perpetrator of that radicalised crime irrespectvely.

    Talk of ‘peace and love’ is blasphemously advanced till a majority is built to raise an army of foot soldiers to attack. All earlier “Peace and Love” slogans get transformed into most barbaric brute and inhuman treachery against the civilised host society. The whole history of the religion and its spread in different parts of the world tells us this naked truth. This is a part of conversion agandas also by all foul and fair means. If we do not like it, why force on others.

    I am sorry but I see no signs of any emancipation because a legalised system is involved now in this power game all over. When the civilised world is also practicing uncivilised methods, who
    can protect its subjects. Todai in the era of globalised society, it has become more relevant than ever before. Because any escalation of violence in this “Nuclear Age” will be catastrophically disastrous. Think over again and again.Recommend

  • kamran

    which one the Saudi in which the Christians cannot build a church, the eygptian one in which Chrisitans need permision for chirch repairs and are killed without remorse or the Iranian one in which Bahai’s, Chrisitians and Jews continue to immigrate for religious reasons. give me an iterpretation which i can iterpret. secularism promisies more than any system in the world and i am its proponent. Recommend

  • csmann

    @hamzad: The West is morally , financially and spiritually bankrupt and the time is ripe to assisst its demise..instead of reforming Pakistan and Muslims these agents of the United Satans of America

    look who is talking;the above will all right if you replace west with pakistan;usa doesn’t need agents,you people are doing good enough job on poor pakistanRecommend

  • Raja Islam

    Language has nothing to do with religion. Since Urdu was the language of Indians, the majority of whom are Hindus, then should be stop speaking Urdu because it makes us Hindu or non Islamic?Recommend

  • Hyder Abbas

    @Abdullah: She wrote Urdu my bro…they are 98% same words if you write then in Urdu…Islam teaches to find reasons and arguments, not follow a jaahil mullah, thats a blind faith..!!Recommend

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    @ Raja Islam,

    It is interesting to know that Urdu is a Hindu language. This certainly is not quite true. A few Hindus who lived in Muslim ruled states had to learn it under duress for their livelihood. I think your contention must be verified. Urdu has its base in Arabic language while Hindi is more of an
    Indo-Sanskritic origin. This however must not prompt hate among each other.

    Now that a question of Hinduism has been raised (I was trying to avoid); it might be pertinent to raise and ask, “Had this girl been a Hindu girl, I am more than certain that she would have been beheaded by now”? Because of her Christian credentials, one can see the international outcry from Christian world in favour of her. Even a lot of Muslims are also busy in condemning this incidence as Islamic Apologists. But this does define the intolerance and the social polarisation of Pakistani society. Her Christian credentials have saved her life so far.Recommend

  • Liaqat Ali

    @Dr. O. P. Sudrania: Islamic apologist ? So should we consider someone of Hindu faith to be a Hindu apologist if they are willing to admit that the Gujarat massacre of Muslims or the Kashmiri occupation by Indian Armed forces may be questioned. You have your RSS and we have the Taliban. The Christians in the West had/have their Ku Klux Klan/neo-Nazis it is the tyranny of the majority. Your comment that had it been a Hindu girl she would have been beheaded by now I challenge you to bring forth one case of a Hindu being beheaded in Pakistan.
    Having said that are the minorities in Pakistan treated fairly and the answer would be an unequivocal “NO”. Is this a result of Islam and the answer is again an unequivocal NO. This is a simple case of majority run tyranny and a weak government.Just as I would not blame Hinduism for the Christian or Muslim oppression in India I would forbear you from blaming Islam for the sins of the Pakistani society.Recommend

  • csmann

    @Liaqat Ali:

    it is people like you that drag in quraan shareef and the apostle into every wrong that you want to perpetrate;that is why islam is looked suspiciously in the rest of the world; stop bringing the religion into everything , and this discrimination with islam will disappearRecommend

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    @ Liaqat Ali,

    I think you are well informed and ready to write your Book yourself. Thank you for your responsse.Recommend

  • I fight for the right 101

    what are some open ended questiond in this articleRecommend

  • I fight for the right 101

    do ya’ll think she should be expelled for this spelling errorRecommend

  • mahin

    As it is mentioned in islam that whoever commits the sins or what so ever he or she does is responsible of the act and no one colud be punished on other’s matter, if she or she is even the parent.We should come out of this debate.
    By the way she is a little girl, a young innocent girls, i think the issue is only that she is non-muslim?
    So get up guyz in Islam the thing which is matter only “piety”, and humanity.
    “aik insan ka qatal puri insaniyat ka qatal hy”? It isn’t mention that if the non-muslim does he or she should be punished, Islam teaches us equality, A religion for all at equal.
    Our Holy ProphetHazrat Muhammad Sallah hu Wasslam forgave the people after fath-e-Makkah even the murderers.
    We should settle examples for all, teaches them effectively mistakes are there when it not not being taught perfectly.If we talk about her pattern “naat” or “laanat”Why the teacher didn’t clear the point?
    Only girl can be guilty?
    who taught her not corrected her mistake before or didn’t tell them the difference…………….
    Isn’t she is also guilty…………………..reply, i want to knowRecommend