It was the traditional Milad un Nabi, when Muslims commemorate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, and the imam in a small Punjab village had a question.
“Who here does not love the Prophet Mohammed?” he asked. Mishearing the cleric, 15-year-old Anwar Ali raised his hand.
A shout went up from the crowd, which had gathered to celebrate their prophet with songs, poems, and the reading of sacred texts. “Blasphemer!” the imam declared, and pronounced that the boy should be put to death.
Instead, Ali rushed home and cut his own hand off with a scythe. He returned later to present the imam, Shamir Ahmed, with the hand placed on a plate – a sign of his repentance. “What I did was in love for prophet Muhammad,” he reportedly said as his father expressed pride in his son’s actions. While police later arrested Ahmed for “inciting violence,” Ali was heralded throughout the community as a hero.
In fact, Anwar Ali was one of the lucky ones. Others accused of blasphemy have been sentenced to lashings, beheading, or both. And it isn’t always by the government: in 2014, a Christian couple, accused of burning verses from the Quran, was set on fire and thrown into a brick kiln by a mob of more than 1,000 people. The wife, just 24, was four months pregnant.