Luckily, Hamida was saved from lynching. Someone suggested she be handed over to the police, to get a well-deserved punishment. Hamida’s petrified moans turned into hysterical wailing. She reminded the crowd about the sayings of God and his Prophets. She swore of her innocence. The crowd had turned deaf. Someone held her hand and roughly pulled her towards the police station. Hamida had glued her feet to the ground like an animal marked for sacrifice. This enraged the people further. Now 2-3 people tried to pull and push her from different directions. This jolted her firmly planted feet off the ground and she fell. She was dragged to the police station. Her skin was lacerated and bleeding; her shirt was torn in numerous places. She had spent all of her tears. With a dusty face, blood-spattered forehead, and dirt in her hair, she appeared to the police inspector on the verge of death at the hands of the crowd. He was an experienced cop, and had served at this station for 20 years. His long-standing connections with the ruling party had secured his position at this precinct. This was a sought-after station, especially with its close proximity to the Faisalabad industrial area. This geographic location made this station a gold mine. The Inspector was well acquainted with most of the neighborhood elite. He came forward and kissed Maulvi’s hand, as if this very act would erase all of his misdeeds and replace them with a clean slate.
“What is wrong Maulvi Sahib? Why did you trouble yourself? You could have called me instead.”
“Inspector, she has committed blasphemy. It was my religious duty to participate in this jihad. This road to the station was like that to heaven. She should get her rightful punishment.” It was worth watching Maulvi’s aplomb, his composure. He was oblivious of Hamida’s condition, crying, in torn clothing, her violent treatment evident. The demands of the Maulvi brought wrinkles to the inspector’s forehead. This situation was grave. He had thought it was an easy matter…adultery or perhaps theft. At least with those he could have made a profit through bribery. But here, the water was deep and the crocodiles had smelled blood.
“Nazeer, make a report and put her behind bars,” he called out to the sub-inspector.
Nazeer buried Hamida under numerous penal code violations and put her dead soul behind bars.
“The rest of you can leave now. Let the law take over from here,” the inspector repeated frequently-rehearsed words. Most of the people left. Some curious onlookers were driven away by Nazeer. The inspector requested Maulvi and some other individuals to stay behind.
“Maulvi Sahib, it is a grave allegation. She could have capital punishment!” The inspector eyed Maulvi closely.
“That will be the right punishment for her crime,” Maulvi insisted.
“You are the authority on religion. Find me a loophole to charge her with, and I will deal with her clan. Perhaps a monetary donation from them could be useful for mosque upgrade,” the inspector suggested. He was careful to word this dubious statement. “Once an official complaint is lodged, things will get too hot for both of us.”
Maulvi kept quiet. His silence encouraged the inspector to press on. “There must be a way out, Maulvi Sahib.”
“Well there can be a way out…if she recites Kalima,” said Maulvi decidedly.
“What do you mean?”
“Meaning Inspector, if this infidel recites Kalima and converts, asking God’s forgiveness, I am sure she will be forgiven.”
The inspector’s face lit up, and he took a deep sigh of relief.
“With your permission, I will not lodge an official complaint yet. Let me speak to her. When the police speak, people are willing to renounce their parents. This is only a matter of religion! I will discuss matters with her clan as well.”
“All right Inspector. Remember, if she recites Kalima, God will bless you as well.” Maulvi raised his hands in reverent prayer for the inspector, then left the station with his colleagues.
By evening, news had spread throughout the neighborhood, reaching even the city, and the whole province. There were conflicting rumors. The inspector told people the situation was not clear. Hamida was possibly caught stealing from the mosque. It was a very busy night for the station. The inspector was confident he would strike a favorable deal. Hamida was allowed to shower. Her wounds were dressed, but she returned her food tray untouched. Nazeer and two constables headed to the shanty town Hamida’s clan lived in, and fetched her father with a couple of relatives. The inspector laid out the case to them plainly. Hamida had committed a capital offense; she had uttered derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. Numerous witnesses were willing to come forward. The offence carried a capital punishment, and no lawyer or politician could save her. A resolution was being offered – should she recite the Kalima and convert to Islam, she would only have to then ask for God’s forgiveness and pay a paltry fine of two hundred thousand rupees to the inspector. The inspector could then generously change the offense to a theft from mosque, merely a slap on the wrist.
The inspector spoke to Hamida as well. When his initial pleas fell on deaf ears, he began threatening her, even asking Nazeer to give her a little “physical interrogation”. Hamida would not budge. After the initial shock, her family went into over drive. Hamida’s parents, friend, and siblings all begged and pleaded with her to take the deal. Hamida’s only answer was a stony silence. She was ready to ask for forgiveness, but reciting Kalima was a deal breaker.
“Just recite it in the presence of everyone to save your life. Jesus knows your heart, he will forgive you,” her local church’s priest counseled her. He was a God-fearing man, friendly and gentle. She requested to meet him alone. The Maulvi allowed it…after all this meeting could result in her reciting Kalima. Hamida and her priest met in a separate, private room.
“Father, her situation is critical. I will no longer be in control of her fate after dawn. The press is already on the story. From tomorrow, politicians will start lining up to make big statements. You have only tonight to work with her,” the inspector warned the priest.
The priest put a cross around Hamida’s neck. He reiterated that it was permitted to lie to save her life. “You should recite Kalima just to assuage the public. Then, leave the town. People have short memories. Jesus is forgiving,” he advised.
Hamida listened intently to all he had to say, then asked only one question: “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
“My case is different,” he sputtered.
“So is mine, father. I will not recite Kalima. It is not recitation, it is living by Maulvi’s dictation.”
The priest could not understand her logic. Her parents could not stop crying. “She has lost her mind. She is in shock. If I could get a few more days…” the priest implored the inspector.
“Things are out of my hands now. Tomorrow morning this place will be swarming with reporters. They will launch their own investigation, and I will be accused of orchestrating a cover up,” snapped the inspector.
Hamida’s whole clan had assembled outside the station before dawn. Some slept on the floor, others just sat there with their backs to a tree. The inspector sent a message for Maulvi. When he came to the station door, Hamida’s father put his turban at his feet, the sign of ultimate submission. Maulvi simply jumped the turban and entered the station. He remained firm. “The only way out is if Hamida recites Kalima,” he shouted over his shoulder, challenging Hamida’s father.
“Maulvi, Hamida has lost her mind. She knows the punishment and is ready to ask for forgiveness but will not recite Kalima,” he begged.
“I knew it, I knew it!” Maulvi totally lost it. “We have already delayed justice for almost 24 hours. God forgive us. She really should be punished immediately.” Despite the inspector’s pleas, Maulvi left the station to meet the press, who were eager for news.
“This girl has been disrespectful to our Prophet in the presence of witnesses. She is not even willing to recant it. We will not tolerate disrespect to our religion. This is a Zionist plot. It is a preplanned chain of events starting with those Swedish cartoons.” The press was busy, captivated by his poison.
Hamida’s trial lasted only one week. With so many witnesses, prosecutors had an open and shut case. The appellate court refused to overturn her death sentence. Sweet confections were distributed the day Hamida was hanged. People celebrated and rejoiced at the justice done to an infidel.
“Jamil Sahib, you should tell your cleaner to recite Kalima, or else she will be burnt in hell,” Maulvi exclaimed.
Before Jamil could utter a response, the mop dropped from the woman’s hands. She put her palms together in front of her and bowed to Maulvi. “I will. I will recite Kalima. I will respect the Prophet as well. I will do anything you want, just let me live, please.”
Dr. Saeed A Naqvi Syed is a physician by profession. He has published three short story collections, Namabur, Doosra Rukh and Tuk Tuk Deedam, and has a fleeting interest in poetry. His translations in Urdu include works by Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Herta Müller and Peter Stamm, as well as Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
This piece originally appeared in English in the Annual of Urdu Studies, no. 27, and in Urdu in Saeed A Naqvi Syed’s collection Dūsrā Rukh (Karachi: Scheherzade, 2011).
Artwork: Mohsin Shafi