A 15-year-old boy in the Pakistani village of Hujra Shah Muqeem has cut off his own hand after the local imam called him a “blasphemer” during a sermon. Even more horrifying, the boy’s neighbors, and even his own father, are hailing him as a hero for mutilating himself in the name of Islam.
Perhaps worst of all, according to a Reuters report, is that the whole incident was a mistake. The teenager misunderstood something the imam said during his sermon, and raised his hand at the wrong time.
Cleric Shabbir Ahmed was delivering a sermon on January 11 when he asked the crowd if anyone present did not believe in the teachings of Mohammed, whose birthday was being celebrated at the time. The 15-year-old boy evidently misunderstood the cleric and thought he wanted to know who did follow Mohammed’s teaching, so his hand shot up.
According to the BBC’s account of the sermon, it was an easy mistake to make, because the fiery imam had been pumping up the crowd with questions like, “Who among you is a follower of Mohammed?”
When he changed things up by roaring, “Who among you doesn’t believe in the teachings of the Holy Prophet? Raise your hands!” the confused boy raised his hand. (Interestingly, almost every other media outlet in the Western world renders the cleric’s fateful question as asking if anyone “did not love” Mohammed, rather than asking if anyone failed to follow his teachings.)
This prompted Ahmed to point at the boy and denounce him as a “blasphemer” in front of the entire mosque. When the boy got home, he chopped his hand off to punish himself, even though the imam’s accusation was not true.
“When I raised my right hand unwittingly, I realized I had committed blasphemy and needed to atone for this,” he explained to a BBC reporter who traveled to his village for an interview.
As to how he committed the awful deed, the boy said: “I came back home and went to the grass-cutting machine, but found the place dark so I took my uncle’s phone to point some light at my hand. I placed it under the machine and chopped it off in a single swirl.”
He then picked up his severed hand, put it on a tray, and staggered back to the mosque to present it to the imam, still bleeding profusely from the self-inflicted wound. He said the people he walked past, holding his own severed hand on a tray, “didn’t say anything,” but eventually a few onlookers stepped forward to bring him to the hospital for treatment.
The boy has no regrets. “I didn’t feel any pain when I chopped it off, so why would I feel any now? The hand that commits blasphemy should be chopped off,” he told the BBC, with what the reporter described as a “restrained smile.”
According to CNN, the teen’s father is “proud of his actions,” and he has been hailed as a hero by his neighbors, with his fame spreading to other nearby villages.
The BBC observed a man named Farooq visiting the boy, kissing his remaining hand, and tucking some money into his pocket.
“I heard that a boy sacrificed his own hand for the love of our Prophet. I came here to meet him,” Farooq explained, with tears in his eyes. “The boy’s gesture to show his love for the Prophet is unmatchable. I’m here to encourage him and to pay homage.”
However, the BBC reporter notes that the boy’s father, who has four other children, is breaking down under the strain of having to make ends meet with a gravely injured son. He complained that he did not have money to pay for a nurse, or to buy a prosthetic hand for the boy… before adding, “My only solace is that he did it for the Prophet.”
Several commentators noted that if the teen had not “done it for the Prophet,” someone else might have done it for him. Reuters notes that “blasphemy is a highly controversial issue in Pakistan, and angry mobs have killed many people accused of insulting Islam in the majority Muslim country.”
Such vigilante assaults are “skyrocketing” in Pakistan, in part because accusations of blasphemy are becoming a popular method of settling scores.
Pakistani law actually calls for the death penalty in blasphemy cases, although the offense is not legally defined, and an official execution for blasphemy has never been carried out.
The Pakistani government, in the person of the local police chief, denounced the incident at Shabbir Ahmed’s mosque, called him an “illiterate imam” who should not be permitted to give sermons, and arrested him under an anti-terrorism law that prohibits inciting violence through hate speech.