Margaret woke up, startled, and looked at the Clock, it was 06.15 AM. She had overslept! And the date was Monday November 22, 2010, the start of a hectic week. From the time Pastor Roderick Daniels, sent her an e-mail for an Urgent Prayer Request, Margaret was having disturbed nights.
The Urgent Prayer Request was for Mrs. Aasya Noreen, a poor Christian Pakistani woman,convicted and condemned to death after being accused of blaspheming Muhammad and defaming Islam.
The story unfolded on Sunday, June 14, 2009, at Nankana Sahib, a district about 75 kilometers from Lahore in Punjab Province. Mrs. Aasya Noreen, 45, mother of five, four girls and a boy, the eldest a girl of twenty, is a friendly, soft spoken woman. She was working alongside with other women in a field, and as it was mid afternoon, was asked by a wife of an Ittanwali elder, to fetch water. When she fetched the water, the others told the woman not to drink it. They called her "untouchable," "dirty", and that drinking water from a Christian, is sacrilegious,"
"Are we Christians, not humans?" replied Aasya, which antagonized others around, who called Muslim men working in the nearby fields. They mobbed her and Aasya, scared, ran to her house. But the mob followed, broke down the door, tortured her and her children, till the police arrived, who took her into custody, telling her husband, Ashiq Masih that it was for her protection.
On Friday, the June 19, 2009, Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim, when told about the June 14 incident, led a mob and pressured her to admit that she had indeed blasphemed Muhammad and defamed Islam. Even though Noreen did apologize for anything she may have said during the argument that might have hurt their feelings, Salim filed a case with the police at the Nankana police station.
Additional District and Sessions Judge Naveed Ahmed Chaudhary of Nankana Sahib District delivered the verdict, that she be condemned to death, under Section 295-C of the Pakistan's controversial "blasphemy" statute and also fined her 100,000 rupees (US$1,150).
Noreen's lawyer, Chaudhary Tahir Shahzad, said that among other allegations, she was accused of denying that Muhammad was a prophet, "How can we expect a Christian to affirm a Muslim belief?"
Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry who has been ministering to Noreen during her confinement, and was present at all hearings, said he was impressed by her continued faith. "Jesus will rescue me from this fake case and I will return home - please ask everyone to pray for me," she had said.
The Urgent Prayer Request was spread through out the world, and the overwhelming response from India surprised Pastor Roderick Daniels. It did result in a chain of intercessory, all night and family prayers.
For Margaret, working in the bank, Monday November 22, 2010, was a very busy day. Just as she was about to have a tea break at 04.00 PM, her mobile phone rang. It was the pastor, "Good news. Mrs. Aasya Noreen was released by the Pakistan authorities today."
For a fraction of a second, she did not understand what the pastor was talking about, but the words, "Released by the Pakistan authorities" struck her like a sledgehammer. Never did a prayer request, evoked such strong emotions in her life. Like Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry in Pakistan, she was awestruck by Aasya's continued faith, a fact that evoked such strong reaction from her Muslim brethren.
Walking alone to the Bank's canteen, she bought herself a cup of tea, and sat in a corner and sipped her tea slowly. As the warm liquid flowed in, it refreshed her and closing her eyes, she thanked the Almighty for answering her prayer.
Later when she met Pastor Roderick Daniels, he said, "Remember Margaret, Prayer is the key, to unlock the heavenly gates, to enable God to intercede and reach out directly to us breaking the earthly barrier."
Noreen is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's widely condemned law against defaming Islam.
Ataul Saman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that lower court proceedings take place under intense pressure, with local Muslims gathering outside and chanting slogans to pressure judges. Saman added that NCJP research showed that up to 80 percent of blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle personal scores of which Christians are 4 million out of Pakistan's total population of 184.7 million.
Between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged, and include 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.
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