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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20 Comments

  • This is a very heart breaking story. I’ve heard many stories about women get acid thrown on them by their partner/ ex-partner and it’s extremely heartbreaking to read about stories like that. However, this is the first time I’ve heard about a woman dying after the acid were thrown. I know many women have serious burns, but I never heard about a woman dying right after. I just hope that tragedies like will end someday because no one deserves any harm, it’s very selfish and cold hearted for someone to do this to someone else.

  • While this story had a tragic end, I can’t help but feel such strong admiration for Asma. She stuck to her guns, despite how much criticism she faced from society and her fiancé. It’s upsetting how women are expected to conform to ridiculous and suppressive expectations and are so limited in expression and education. Asma’s murder was one that shouldn’t have happened, but I’m glad laws are being passed to prevent something like this from happening again.

  • This story of Asma and Muhammad Rizwan Gujja is truly heartbreaking. It is so easy for us as free american women to forget that there are so many around the world who would give anything to have those same freedoms. And even easier for the world to turn a blind eye to these issues. However it is great to hear that there are certain actions that are taking place to push these misogynistic views out of their countries and religions even if they are starting off as smaller changes.

  • This goes to show that toxic masculinity and hyper aggression truly transcends all barriers. We hear so much of different examples of domestic abuse within our own communities and within our own country that it becomes difficult to comprehend that many people all around the world are continually suffering at the hands of their abusers and feel trapped in their situation. This was hard to read, yet it needed to be said.

  • Something like this should never be brought on someone who is just sticking up for what they believe is right. This is a tragic story and one that I think should be heard. I understand that it is a culture thing and that is just how it is in Pakistan but we are living in a different time where women want rights and the ability to make their own choices which I fully support. This is sad but I think this starts the conversation of what are we going to do to change things so this does not have to happen to someone else.

  • This is beyond tragic. This should have never had to happen to Asma. She was simply sticking up for herself. She knew she deserved to have rights to do what she wanted as an individual. She knew she deserved respect. It is sad that in other countries women are fighting for basic rights. The fact that women feel safer to stay in abusive relationships is beyond scary. My heart goes out to Asma’s family and any women in Pakistan who are still fighting the fight for women’s rights. I hope their country continues to progress and more laws are passed to protect women.

  • I understand that men in different cultures still see the idea of marriage in the eyes of a 1950’s man but the times are changing. I feel like its a huge lost that Asma had to loose her life at the hands of an abusive man for the public to see that there has some sort of law that prevents these actions. I’m glad that the government is finally taking action.

  • I think it is obviously wrong for something like this to happen, whether this situation occurred in Pakistan or in the U.S. However, it still pains me to say that even though the man was rightfully arrested, his actions may still have been considered acceptable in his “tradition-based” Pakistani society. I’m also glad to hear that this country is taking steps in the right direction because women ought to be liberated for good, after all.

  • This is such a devastating story. It is unfair for her to have been killed for wanting her freedom. She did not deserve to go this way. Its so weird how different cultures vary in how they treat others especially women and minorities. Had the culture been different and encourage more freedome maybe she wouldn’t have been killed in such a brutal way.

  • I can understand how different cultures work, but the control of women in how they act and how they are forced into marriages is something that I don’t agree with. Women like Asma stood up for what she believed in and made a difference with her life, than adjusting to what everyone else decided. It is very sad to read about her murder, but I am glad that the man who murdered her and other men will be charged for events like these. This is a good change so far.

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