The Burns of Freedom: The Courageous Journey of Asma Yaqoob

Asma Yaqoob in the Hospital | Courtesy of Morning Star News

Rejection is not something people deal with easily. When people are turned down because the other wants to preserve her own freedom, it is hard not to feel a small bit of resentment for the person who made them feel rejected. But, as individuals get older, most learn to deal with rejection in a mature manner, because people who are self-aware understand they are not the only ones who matter in the world. Unfortunately not in cases of domestic abuse, the partner who feels rejection takes this as a sign of their significant other attempting to break free, which causes the abuser to reassert power by any means necessary. This happens all too frequently, particularly in relationships where the individual lives in a society that has always made people feel entitled to act as they please without facing the consequences.

This is what brings us to Asma Yaqoob’s story. As a young 25-year-old woman in Pakistan, Asma was a devout Christian who was proud of her faith and her independence. Although she was illiterate, Asma held her Christian values very near and dear to her heart and preached God’s word as often as possible.1 She was considered a minority in Pakistan since Islam is the majority religion, but she still refused to conform to the traditional Pakistani values and continued to openly practice her Christian Faith and share the gospel with everyone she encountered.

Asma was a headstrong woman who was not easily taken advantage of, unlike many Pakistani women taught to be submissive at a young age. Asma was a unique woman because rather than succumb to the oppression, she stood up for herself and her independence. However, not all people support women standing up for themselves and their rights. To improve women’s participation in the political system, Pakistan is finally creating laws that help women to slowly break through the walls of political confinement. For instance, in the 2011 Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, it finally became illegal for women to be forced into a marriage. This caused much controversy, as it has always been the tradition for families to arrange their children’s marriages. This is a massive breakthrough, as this is a start at giving women the necessary freedom they deserve.2 Another massive breakthrough is that 2018 is the first year in history when Pakistani women could vote in a public election. This was accomplished when Pakistan’s government enacted a mandate stating that no voting results will be accepted unless 10% of women have voted in the district. A major step for women was accomplished this year, with percentages of women who voted rising from 12% to 44% this year alone.3

Pakistani women waiting to vote in July 2018| Courtesy of CNN

Although history has been made in recent years with women inching closer to gaining more rights, the majority of the population are not always ready to support this modernization and prefer women to stay in their place confined to the private home sphere. Muhammad Rizwan Gujjar, Asma’s boyfriend, certainly felt that way. He met her through Asma’s brother, and he immediately fell in love with Asma.4 After a few weeks, Muhammad immediately knew that he wanted to marry Asma. She was smart, beautiful, knew how to cook and clean, and perfect for a family. Muhammad had a job and would be able to provide for a family in the future.  Sounds like a 1950’s match made in heaven, right? One would think so, if Asma conformed to societal norms and did not speak her mind. But, this was not the case. He was determined to have a wife and family who practiced his religion and supported his values, no exceptions. The couple began arguing incessantly over Asma’s refusing to convert. Eventually, Asma realized that the relationship was not worth converting over and broke up the engagement with Muhammad.

Asma was happy to move on with her life, as she was no longer bound to convert to a religion that she did not want to follow. This was a defining moment for Asma. Around the world women are typically too afraid to leave abusive relationships, instead choosing to endure abuse. They feel that they have no other options and would rather have security in a life of oppression than face the world alone, scared of the violent response of their forlorn husband. It is still taboo for women to get divorced. So much so that women who get divorced are ostracized from their communities and forced by their own families to return back to the abusive husband because protecting family honor is prioritize over women’s safety.5 Asma had not married him yet and so she decided to get out of the relationship. Enjoy her return to freedom, Asma went back to her normal life. One of her father’s friends came to visit her family when there was a knock on the door. Asma went to answer the door and saw Muhammad who told her that she must convert and marry him the next morning.6 Strong in her stance, Asma rejected his demands. Muhammad grew extremely angry with her. He dowsed her in gasoline and set her on fire before fleeing from the scene. Asma’s family heard her screams and rushed her to Lahore’s Mayo Hospital where she eventually died because the burns were too severe and covered most of her body. Muhammad was eventually found and arrested.7

Parents showing Asma after her death | Courtesy of Charisma Magazine

 

Asma’s story is one of courage and inspiration to women around the world. She stood up for herself and for her freedom in spite of the impossible circumstances surrounding her. Although Pakistan passed the “Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2017,”  the list of victims continued to grow every year.8 But, it is because of stories like Asma’s and many other women who resist abuse that these cases are slowly decreasing. Pakistani society now takes legal action rather than the previous traditional ignorance of these crimes. Asma, an amazing woman has put the Pakistani society on a better path to a better future. Although there is still a long way to go, Asma has shown women that saying NO is an option and their fight for freedom and equality continues. Asma’s name and honor stance will live on in the hearts of many women who grow strong inspired by her strength and faith.

 

 

  1. Asif Aqeel, Pakistani Christian Dies after Being Set on Fire by Muslim in Alleged Dispute over Who Should Convert (Pakistan: World Watch Monitor, 2018).
  2. Punjab Information Technology Board, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011(Pakistan: The Punjab Commission On The Status of Women (Pakistan: The Punjab Commission On The Status of Women, 2015).
  3. TRT World and Agencies, Pakistani Women Make History As Some Vote For the First Time (Turkey: TRT World, 2018).
  4. Asif Yeshel, Relationships Cannot Be Forced, We Must Learn to Take a ‘no’ (Lahore: Daily Times, 2018).
  5. Lauvut Zahid, These Women Stayed in Abusive Relationships Because Pakistan Failed Them (Pakistan: Dawn, 2017).
  6. Mark Ellis, Pakistan: Christian Woman Set on Fire after She Refuses to Convert, Marry (God Reports, 2018).
  7. Kaleem Dean, Asma Yaqoob- A Tale of Courageous Woman (Lahore: Daily Times, 2018).
  8. Leena Nishtar, Eradicating Acid Violence (Pakistan: The Express Tribune, 2018).

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60 Responses

  1. This article was speechless and shocking to read. After reading the title, I would have thought that Asma was going to make it and live a happy life after that and it was so impacting to realize how happy endings don’t happen for everyone. Even though she passed away, she became a huge inspiration for women in her country, leaving a legacy of women’s rights and how they also have a say. I would wish that other women in Pakistan could also realize as Asma did, they are not objects or belongings of nobody. The story was overwhelming and sad but it is a relief to know that Pakistan has started to develop a little more engagement toward women.

  2. This story is so heartbreaking to read, why should a woman have to die simply because she said no? You usually do not realize how strict countries are about religion and their stance on gender roles and what a woman should be. I remember seeing something like this online where it happened to a different woman, these assaults happen to often and it is terrible. This story is so sad yet inspiring that Asma was so brave at her stance on religion and not wanting to convert for marriage.

  3. In this article the title a picture was eye-catching from what I read throughout this article, she was a huge inspiration to women who felt the same way as she did even though, women looked down at her for what she was doing and it is incredibly heartbreaking that such a significant image for women was killed by a man who could not handle rejection. I found this story very interesting and very empowering, and I appreciate her bravery to do something. This is a great article!

  4. I’m so shocked that Asma died, I guess I imagined that this story would have an ending where she survived. She was such a strong woman when it must have been very hard to go through what she went through. It makes me angry that there are men who consider women property as Muhammad did, I mean who goes up to their ex and demands that they marry them?

  5. There are no words to describe this story. Should it be sad? or should we think it is brave? I cannot find the words. This woman was set on fire and left to die because she would not marry a man. The pain she must have felt when Muhammad did this… I don’t know if I should be happy or sad that she stood up for herself.

  6. From what I read in this article she was a big inspiration for women who felt the same way as she (since sadly women looked down upon her for what she was doing) and it’s extremely tragic that such an important figure for women was killed by a man who couldn’t handle rejection. I found this article very informational and her as very inspirational, I admire her courage for doing something that is seen as very taboo where she comes from.

  7. This is such a sad story because I did not expect her to die especially that she was an independent woman who would fight for her self. Its crazy how this man was able to burn her like as if she meant nothing, like as if it would fix anything. Although this tragedy happened, the family received justice for their daughter

  8. This article was very tragic, it was sad to read that society is still denying women’s rights in Pakistan and took like centuries to acknowledge the true potential of women. As for Asma, she died a hero a symbol to all women that you could say no and stay firm to your choices and beliefs. I hope we all could learn from Asma especially women is that it’s not worth staying in abusive and demanding relationships and that we all are blessed with choices and beliefs as human beings.

  9. Considering that I live in the United States, where women have freedom, I often fail to recognize that women in other countries do not have the same opportunities. I applaud Asma for remaining strong in her faith while living in a country where the majority of the population is of another religion. I hope Asma’s story is told in her community and encourages other women who are in similar situations to do the same. Although it’s sad to see that laws like the “Acid and Burn Crime Bill” have to pass until an incident occurs, I’m glad Pakistan is slowly progressing to help women. This is a great article!

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