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Sunday, July 15, 2012

New Life For Acid-Attacked Pakistani Girl In Houston

This is what happens to Christians in Pakistan.

But the horrific thing that 16-year-old Julie Aftab was subjected to only strengthened her faith. After 31 surgeries she is now 26, lives in Houston with a kind family that took her in, and is studying accounting.

This is her story:
She was 16 years old, working as an operator in a tiny, public call office in Pakistan, when a man walked in and saw the silver cross dangling around her neck.

He asked her three times: "Are you a Christian?"

Julie Aftab answered, "Yes, sir," the first two times, and then got frustrated.

"Didn't you hear me?" she asked.

They argued, and the man abruptly left the little office, returning 30 or 40 minutes later with a turquoise bottle. Aftab tried to block the arc of battery acid, but it melted much of the right side of her face and left her with swirling, bone-deep burns on her chest and arms. She ran for the door, but a second man grabbed her hair, and they poured the acid down her throat, searing her esophagus.


[snip]

Aftab was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan, the eldest of seven children in a Christian working-class family.

She dreamed of becoming a doctor, but dropped out of school at age 12 to work in a sewing factory after her father, a bus driver and the family's sole breadwinner, broke his back in an accident. After the sewing factory closed when Aftab was 16, she took a job as a telephone operator helping people place phone calls from the small office in the city's center.

It was June 15, 2002, two weeks into her new job, when the customer spotted her silver cross, a gift from her grand­father. She wore it despite knowing it branded her as Christian, a tiny minority in the Muslim-majority country.

You are living life in the gutter, the Muslim man told her.

She tried to ignore him, remembering what her mother had taught her since she was a child: "You are no one to insult someone's religion. If someone is insulting religion, they have to answer to God."

You are going to hell, the man told her. You are living in darkness.

"I am living in the light," Aftab replied.

So you think Islam is in darkness? the man demanded.

Aftab was frightened. She knew Christians had been accused of violating Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws in the past when others had twisted their words, to make it sound as though they had attacked Islam.

"No, you said that," she replied. "Not me."

But the man was enraged and returned with the battery acid and his friend. When she finally broke away from them, the acid searing her skin and throat, she ran down the street. As she screamed, teeth fell from her mouth and hit the ground.

A woman heard her screams and threw her head cover on Aftab so she could touch her without getting burned. The woman took Aftab to her home and poured water on her. Others eventually came to help take her to the hospital.

People in the neighborhood detained the two men who assaulted her until police arrived.

Why did you do that? the men were asked.

They said Aftab insulted Islam, that she said Muslims are living in the darkness and are going to hell.

"They all turned against me," she said. "Even the people who took me to the hospital. They told the doctor they were going to set the hospital on fire if they treated me."

The police let the two men go, and did not even file an official report on the assault until Christian leaders complained, she said.

Family persecuted

Aftab's family was turned away from one hospital, and then another. Her mother begged a doctor at a third hospital to treat her, and he relented.

Aftab could not speak or move her arms. Doctors said 67 percent of her esophagus was burned. She was missing an eye and eyelids. Her remaining teeth could be seen through her missing cheek. The doctors predicted she would die any day.

She was angry at first, she said.

"God, why did you do this to me? Why did you put me through this?"

Slowly, she started to heal. Three months and 17 days after being burned, she spoke again and was able to see through her left eye. She spent almost a year in the hospital.

Aftab quickly learned that in her old neighborhood, she was a pariah. Her mutilated face was plastered on the news, associated with insulting Islam. Her family was persecuted, and their house was burned down.

"They wanted to hang me," she said. "They thought it would be an insult to Islam if I lived."

Aftab and her parents went to a nondenominational bishop in Pakistan, who said he would try to help. He took her in, contacted Shriners Hospitals for Children, and arranged for her treatment in Houston.

He gave her one piece of advice before she left Pakistan in 2004: "If you forgive them," he said, "your wound will heal without any medication. You can heal from the inside out."

Read her whole story here.

2 comments:

Kevin Bacon (not) said...

Wow. I read this and tears came to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

Incognito said...

Mine too. Very inspiring that she was able to find some good in something so horrific.