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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This Post Has 46 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is the first time that I heard about the story of Asma. This story is a clear example of the injustices that happen in the societies of some countries. This act was against the rights of this woman. It is difficult to assimilate how a men could do this with the woman that he was getting married. As human beings, we have to stop doing these acts against human rights. I think that this is an inspiring story for those women who are forced to do things that they don’t want to do.

  2. Avatar

    Asma’s story was very inspiring. Although she passed away, she made a huge impact in many peoples life.It’s upsetting to hear that her ex fiance literally burned her alive, just because he wanted her to marry him. Im beyond proud that she kept her word and faith and didn’t change her mind to convert her beliefs for her ex. I love that she set up an example for women to step up to any man if they don’t like what they have to offer them. I still want to know what happen to her ex.

  3. Avatar

    A very captivating and inspiring story. As I am personally a christian, I am very happy to hear of her choice to go again the societal norms, and stand up for her beliefs. The story does have a very sad ending and its makes me upset and angry there are people roaming this earth with the mind set of Asma’s ex boyfriend. I feel for Asma’s family and friend’s but her stands will make a lasting impact.

  4. Avatar

    I believe that this could be taken as an alternative version of Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” just instead of going along with the traditional Iranian values, Asma rejects her traditional religious expectations. The fact that Asma got burnt with gasoline just because she didn’t want to convert to Islam is way too extreme, but indeed an inspiring story for others who struggle with the same type of oppression. Being a woman in society in general is hard because most of the time, just because of the simple fact of being a woman, it can be degrading and negatively impacted to their own personas. Overall a good read!

  5. Avatar

    This story is very inspiring but also sad. I hate that Asthma died the way she did, but I think more people should hear about her story, I am glad I did. She is very strong in that she never wavered in what she believed in. Especially being a woman and a Christian in Pakistan at that time. She never let a man tell her who to be.

  6. Avatar

    This story is so motivating and inspiring. It is very hard to read that some people need to pass through this things and that this things actually exist. She stood up against society and that is something very hard to do as it takes a lot of courage. She did not want to be a victim and she did not want others to be victims so she sacrificed herself and was brave. Asma was a unique woman because rather than succumb to the oppression, she stood up for herself and her independence.

  7. Avatar

    What a empowering story. Asma Yaqoob was not going to let herself stay a victim in a toxic relationship. Asma fought her fight and continues to bring the Pakistani society awareness of the critical issue of gender inequality and punishment of crimes of that nature. I was glad to read that she is free of her toxic past. It only takes one to start change and I think Asma is a perfect example of that.

  8. Isabella Torres

    Asma Yaqoob deserved so much more than what she was forced to endure. In Pakistan, a place where women had very little rights and were seen as nothing but vulnerable objects that should conform to the desire of others, Yaqoob still voiced her own opinions. The amount of courage she had to have had in order to stand up for her beliefs in a place where people are so unaccepting is unimaginable. It is absolutely devastating what Muhammed did and how Yaqoob could not survive the effects and continue to live her life.

  9. Avatar

    Asma Yaqoob’s story is a story of courage and bravery. She is a true inspiration to women all over the world. Asma was as strong headed women and stood her ground not caring what the majority would say. This article is one of great sadness, another great woman with a bright future became a victim to a violent relationship. Although Asma was brave enough to walk away, she was not saved. Her former boyfriend angered that he could not have control over her and force her to convert to his religion set her on fire in her own home. Due to the severe burns, Asma died in the hospital. Even in death Asma continues to be a inspiration to women all over the world to stand up for what they believe in.

  10. Avatar

    Asma Yaqoob is a woman everyone is proud to praise. She stood up to society’s norms and to everything that she is ‘supposed’ to do. Yaqoob turned out to be a woman of great perseverance, who has shown many woman around the world that there really is no reason to fall victim to those around you; and although what did happen to her was tragic, it is not to be seen as a possible result, but as an act of bravery and sacrifice for the rest of us to continue her work. Being a woman in today’s society is tough, it can be degrading and causes us to be vulnerable, but whose to say that can’t be flipped. Not in way that woman over power any other gender, but in a way that woman and all genders are equal. If we have had enough power to do that with males, why is it so tough to do the same, but for the majority of the population. But if we’re being honest, many have become obsessed with the power, and that is the reason why it is so tough to over turn it now.

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