Shot Dead Because He Dropped the Koran.
When Ashiq Nabi got into an argument with his wife, she held up a Koran to protect herself, setting into motion a deadly series of events. Mr. Nabi then pushed his wife, say human rights activists, sending Islam's holy book onto the floor and prompting the local mullah in Spin Kakh, Pakistan, to file blasphemy charges.
Before the police could act, Nabi was spotted in town and the mullah allegedly spread the word over the mosque's loudspeakers. A mob of more than 400 villagers chased Nabi until he climbed up a tree, then shot him dead.
The April incident is only the latest in a string of extrajudicial killings by vigilantes for blasphemy, which is punishable by death under Pakistani law.
And it helps explain the depth of feeling over the disputed charges that US interrogators flushed a Koran down a toilet in Guantánamo Bay - charges that have sent shock waves throughout the Muslim world.
In Afghanistan, the allegation that appeared in Newsweek magazine triggered several days of anti-American rioting that left 15 dead and scores injured. Protests were also held in Pakistan, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries.
The magazine has subsequently expressed regret over the report after the source, an unnamed senior US government official, expressed uncertainty over the sources of his own information. The Pentagon, which said the original story is "demonstrably false," pledged to investigate the charges and blamed Newsweek's "irresponsible" reporting for the violent clashes.
But while moderate Muslims welcomed the Newsweek follow-up in this week's issue, experts in Pakistan say that the more-extreme passions unleashed across the Muslim world are unlikely to be cooled by the doubts over the story, or by US government assurances that no desecration of the Koran would go unpunished.
Most Muslims believe that the Koran was transmitted to Muhammad from Allah by the angel Gabriel nearly 1,400 years ago and written down precisely as Allah intended.
In practice, this is one of the reasons observant Muslims are urged to learn Arabic, since a translation is deemed no longer the precise word of God. Strict Muslims are expected to clean themselves ritually before touching the Koran. They don't allow the book to be set on the floor and, in some cases, hold that nonbelievers should not touch the book.
More than 4,000 blasphemy cases have been registered since the laws were enacted in 1986, according to human rights activists. While no one has ever been officially executed for blasphemy, dozens have been killed by vigilantes.
Blasphemy cases rarely involve malice against Islam. Rather, the charges are often pretexts rising out of petty issues ranging from cattle theft to land disputes. They are also used as a weapon against religious minorities, says Shabaz Bhatti, head of the All Pakistan Minority Alliance.
Last November, a Christian girl in the small town of Wah Cantt was accused of blasphemy after someone spotted pages of the Koran in a trash bin outside the house where she was cleaning.
Before the police could investigate, extremists attacked the house and threatened to kill her. Muslim and Christian elders intervened and handed the girl to the police in a bid to save her life, locals say. She was released, but the death threats continued, forcing her and her family to leave.
"We still feel that we are living under danger, under a shadow of a fake accusation," says a relative of the girl. "We have lived with our Muslim brothers for decades. They respect our beliefs and we respect their beliefs, except there are some extremists who want to ignite feelings on the basis of baseless allegations."