Girl accused of blasphemy for a spelling error

Published: September 25, 2011

Eighth-grader expelled from school; mother forced to move from city.

ABBOTTABAD: 

It may have been a mere misplaced dot that led to accusations of blasphemy against a Christian eighth-grader, whose miniscule error led to her expulsion from school and uproar amongst local religious leaders.

Faryal Bhatti, a student at the Sir Syed Girls High School in Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) colony Havelian, erroneously misspelt a word in an Urdu exam while answering a question on a poem written in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The word in question was ‘laanat’ instead of ‘naat’ – an easy error for a child to make, as the written versions of the words are similar.

According to the school administration and religious leaders who took great exception to the hapless student’s mistake, the error is ‘serious’ enough to fall within the realm of blasphemy, Saturday.

Spelling out her punishment

On Thursday, Faryal’s Urdu teacher was collecting the answer sheets from her students when she noticed the apparently offensive word on her pupil’s sheet. The teacher, Fareeda Bibi, reportedly summoned the Christian girl, scolded her and beat her. Her punishment, however, did not end here. When Faryal’s class fellows learnt of the alleged blasphemy, the teacher brought the principal’s notice to the matter, who further informed the school management.

In the meanwhile, the news spread throughout the colony. The next day, male students of the POF colony school as well as certain religious elements took out a rally, demanding the registration of a criminal case against the eighth-grader and her expulsion from the area.

Prayer leaders within the community also condemned the incident in their Friday sermons, asking the colony’s administration to not only take action against Faryal but her entire family. In the wake of the increasing tensions, Managing Director POF Colony Havelian Asif Siddiki called a meeting of colony-based ulemas and school teachers to discuss the situation. The girl and her mother were asked to appear before the meeting, where they explained that it was a mere error, caused by a resemblance between the two words. The two immediately apologised, adding that Faryal had no malicious intentions.

In a move that was apparently meant to pacify the religious elements clamouring for action against the teenage ‘blasphemer’, the POF administration expelled her from the school on Saturday. Faryal was not the only one who got in trouble for her spelling error, however, as her mother, Sarafeen Bhatti, who was a staff nurse at the POF Hospital Havelian for several years, was immediately transferred to POF Wah Cantonment Hospital.

Decision applauded

While talking to The Express Tribune, Maulana Alla Dita Khateeb of Gol Masjid praised the decision of the POF colony administration, claiming that he had personally seen the answer sheet in question. He further went on to say that he had met the girl himself, who had apologised for the word used in error.  Asked whether the incident still fell within the realm of blasphemy and whether Faryal deserved expulsion when she had misspelt the word unintentionally, Khateeb said that although he was unclear about the intentions of the girl, the word she had used was sacrilegious.

The managing director of POF Colony was not available for comment.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2011.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (464)

  • Hashmi
    Oct 15, 2011 - 12:29AM

    Just one word ” P A T H E T I C “

    Recommend

  • Faiz
    Oct 15, 2011 - 12:59AM

    Shame on Moulana,,, I agree with Hashmi, its worse than ” P A T H E T I C “, my sympathies for poor little girl and the family.
    We need to reign in those bearded men, taking our societies control, and heading us into complete trouble.

    Recommend

  • I fight for the right 101
    Oct 16, 2011 - 5:14AM

    what are some open ended questions in this article that would start a great argument

    Recommend

  • Maya
    Oct 16, 2011 - 1:09PM

    It can never be a deliberate thing. Minorities in the country know that they live amongst radicals or extremists. They are sure to do any such act would be suicidal, they matter could have been well settled if that teacher proved semblance with intellects. Poor handling of matters is a grave problem in the country.
    The case of Asia bibi is an example too. Pakistan has a good combination of radicals, fools, and illiterate and anti americanism adds fuel to the fire. True facts never come to the surface and people never tend to investigate whether or not it is a blasphmey.

    Recommend

  • Osama
    Oct 21, 2011 - 9:06AM

    The funny part is how such “so called innocent mistakes” are always made by Christians and not Muslims!

    I was in eight grade once too! I was not stupid and neither was I naive! The girl should have known better! Furthermore the paper was an urdu paper and not an english paper. Hence simply saying that LA ( dot) Naat was the mistake is down right stupid! The paper was not in english! Try spelling the same thing in urdu and you will understand exactly what i mean! It was not an innocent mistake and an eight grader is not an innocent child!

    Ask any real teacher what he/she thinks about eight grade students! They are not children in this day and age anymore! We knew everything. We knew about all the taboos of our society and we were by no means innocent by then!

    Recommend

  • écrimaginaire byannot
    Oct 21, 2011 - 10:53AM

    Obama, you are the same supporting
    that it is right to kill for blasphemy to prevent the spread of fire?
    Do not see what crime is the only think that a girl have to be so severely punished for something so meaningless?
    That’s why your country is considered in the third world (rather in the fourth)

    Recommend

  • Oct 22, 2011 - 11:51PM

    it is about time we abolished the blasphemy laws. they are discriminatory and they are against human nature. people should have right to speak their mind. religion is simply based myths and rituals. people should have right to question, renounce, or change their religion.Recommend

  • Jiya Raja
    Oct 24, 2011 - 5:08PM

    @Pieter van Lieshout:
    dear sir, “laanat” means ‘cursing someone’ and “naat” means ‘words said in praise of our Prophet PBUH’…hope that make u understand the situation.

    Recommend

  • Tony C.
    Oct 24, 2011 - 8:53PM

    I am not really certain whether Pakistan children are all potential Ph.D. candidates or not? However, when reading comments by people such as Maulana Alla Dita Khateeb of Gol Masjid, who said that he had examined Faryal’s exam paper and found it sacrilegious, I am starting to wonder. My knowledge of Urdu is extremely limited, but Faiz (Sept. 26) appeared to explain quite succinctly the difference between LANNAT and NAAT, and if he is correct the difference is one tiny wriggle-like character with a pen. Although, as some nauseatingly religious people have explained, most people of Faryal’s age would know the wriggle difference between Lannat and Naat, they have not explained the psychological pressures which build up under exam conditions, and lead on to errors occurring. Further to this I have found quite often that not only do I make spelling and punctuation errors, I sometimes leave out a whole word, which changes the entire point of what I am attempting to portray, and I am certain many other people do also, without any malicious intent. Summing up, I thought when I went to school some 60 odd years ago that some of my teachers were a little tough, and have felt somewhat mentally bruised ever since, but upon re-examining my situation I now realize how fortunate I am that I was not sent to Faryal’s school. Better still, Maulana Alla Dita Khateeb was not reviewing my written work.

    Recommend

  • Secular
    Nov 1, 2011 - 4:19PM

    A nation which imposes laws which refutes logic and where irrationality and supersition prevails is destined to go backward.No wonder why pakistan is having low progress both economically and culturally,
    People are looking backward.

    Recommend

  • Salman
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:36PM

    The Ottoman Empire had it right. Send them all on free trip to Haaj, except send them on a lovely cruise. All of them. Then bomb the crap out of it. It’ll be forgotten after one generation then we’ll all be able to get on with living normally.

    Recommend

  • Tony C.
    Nov 2, 2011 - 3:12PM

    Just a couple of points worth mentioning. Anthony Permal mentioned almost from day one that the CIA-RAW-Mossad were involved in Faryal’s blasphemy case. He omitted to mention the really bad guys in MI6.
    The second point, and this is the important one, has Faryal’s teacher, Fareeda Bibi, who caused all the trouble in the first place been brought to book over this, and has she apologized?

    Recommend

  • One burnt
    Nov 16, 2011 - 3:37AM

    In Pakistan the blind lead the blind. Any uneducated man can decide he is a true man of god and his word may stand to hold more force then that of the law. if the prophet forgave slights against his person by non muslims, who are these people to decide what is blasphemous and what isnt. That is for god to take offense to…not man.

    yes Pakistan is in the stongeages…and yes…our posts do nothing to elevate it from its state of despair.

    Recommend

  • michele
    Nov 18, 2011 - 11:07PM

    @MSQ: It is not useless because the world is watching, learning, and people are coming together against corrupt governments (yes, my own included). I offer my strength to this poor girl and to all who suffer worldwide. May we develop intelligence through education and know peace. <3

    Recommend

More in Pakistan