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Thursday, 12 July 2012

'They wanted to hang me... they thought it would be an insult to Islam if I lived': New beginning in Texas for Pakistani Christian woman who suffered savage acid attack by Muslim man who thought she was a traitor

By Laura Cox

A 26-year-old woman horrifically burned in an acid attack has spoken out about her trauma as she re-builds her life in Houston, Texas.
Julie Aftab was 16 and working in an office in Pakistan when a man walked in and asked her if she was Christian, spotting a small cross she wore around her neck.
She replied that yes, she was and the man became abusive, shouting at her that she was living in the gutter and would go to hell for shunning Islam.

Barbaric: Julie Aftab's face was horrifically disfigured during the attack, requiring 31 surgeries
He left and returned half an hour later, clutching a bottle of battery acid which he savagely chucked over her head. As she ran screaming for the door a second man grabbed her by the hair and forced more of the liquid down her throat, searing her esophagus.

Teeth fell from her mouth as she desperately called for help, stumbling down the street.
A woman heard her cries and took her to her home, pouring water over her head and taking her to hospital.
At first the doctors refused to treat her, because she was a Christian. 'They all turned against me,' she told the Houston Chronicle.

'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.'
Eventually Aftab's family found a hospital that agreed to take her in but there was little they could do.
Aftab could not speak or move her arms and the acid had burned through her skin to leave bone-deep wounds.

Aftab's wounds are hidden in this picture of her profile
67 per cent of her esophagus was burned and she was missing an eye and both eyelids. What remained of her teeth could be seen through a gaping hole where her cheek had been.
The doctors predicted she would die any day.
Despite the odds she pulled through. She remained in hospital for a year, unable to speak or see for the first three and a half months. 
On leaving the hospital she was labelled a pariah in her neighbourhood, her family was persecuted and their home was burnt down. 
'They wanted to hang me,' she told the paper. 'They thought it would be an insult to Islam if I lived.'
But there was light at the end of the tunnel for Aftab. A nondenominational bishop arranged for her to be treated in Houston and to live with a local couple, Lee and Gloria Ervin, whom she now calls Uncle Lee and Auntie Gloria.
Supported by her host parents a now 26-year-old Aftab says the attack has made her faith stronger than ever.
'Those people, they think they did a bad thing to me, but they brought me closer to God,' Aftab told the paper. 'They helped me fulfill my dreams. I never imagined I could be the person I am today.'
Aftab has had 31 surgeries to reconstruct her face and has gone on to accomplish things no member of her family had done, including graduating from high school and going to college. 
She spoke no English when she arrived in Houston in 2004 but will later this month take her citizenship test, having been granted asylum in 2007. Aftab is an accounting major at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Persecution of Christians is an ongoing problem in Pakistan.
Pakistani Christians live in fear of being arrested under the blasphemy laws, which critics say are often misused to settle personal scores or family feuds.
Efforts to change the laws have made little headway. Last year, two prominent Pakistani political figures who spoke out against the blasphemy laws were killed in attacks that raised concerns about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan.

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