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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28 Comments

  • Asma was such a courageous women and it’s so tragic to read about what happened to her. I don’t understand how certain cultures can ridicule and berate women so much, and the cruel punishment that follows when a women disobeys/defies societal expectations. It saddens me how while in the western world and in other cultures, women’s rights have evolved so much, but in other cultures there has been little to no progress at all.

  • This story is so outraging and sad, but it brings attention to a topic that should be given more awareness to. Women are still treated like this in the Middle East. It’s impressive and I admire her actions very much for standing up for what she believes in and not letting the tragedy she faced stop her. Women should be able to do whatever they want and not worry about getting put into a situation like Asma.

  • This is a touching story and its sad to match the picture of the face with the story because you can vividly paint the whole situation in your mind and its sad that our world has places that have such violent natured areas because people want to maintain control over other people and thats not right and when people get to greedy you get things like this happening.

  • This article brings awareness to a topic that is not often discussed. Women today are still being burned and having acid thrown on them in the Middle East. This story is heartbreaking. A man could not accept that he could not have a young woman the way he wanted her to be and could not control her, so he killed her in an extremely painful way.

  • one of the sad things that may happen to anyone is the hate crime, and i think this consider as the worst crime ever because the hate is what drive the criminal to commit such thing. every person has the right to practice his or her own belief and no one has the right to force anyone to believe on what he is believing in. it sad me to read about a young girl who had her own dreams about her future and about her family and she got killed in a very very insane way just because she was not muslim. i think any person who has an ability to commit hate crime should be held and spend long term in jail

  • This story is both heartbreaking as well as outraging. My heart hurts for Asma, she was a unique woman and killed for being unlike other women, who were submissive. This story is sad, also because similar events still continue to happen today. So many woman are afraid to say no or turn someone down, and sometimes if they do, their are horrible consequences that follow. I hope Asmas story brings light to the horrific and unfair circumstances woman still face today.

  • I remember reading burn stories like this one in National Geographic growing up. I was always struck by the women’s fortitude and courage to stand up for themselves and hold fast to their beliefs when the whole world around them was screaming for them to change. It is sad to realize that stories like Asma’s where commonplace once. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to think that if you don’t marry someone you could die.

    • It is sad to read about how courageous people continue to get abused for expressing their opinion and in her situation it is very saddening to read about how she was treated. Yet her actions are very inspiring how she stood up for what she believed in and that she continued to move on after the burning. People shouldn’t force other people to be married or live their lives a certain way. They should live their life like Asma did.

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