Published: 15:45 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 23 July 2012
Pakistani Christian woman’s inspiring recovery from horrific acid attack
Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia
“Those people, they think they did a bad thing to me, but they brought me closer to God. They helped me fulfil my dreams. I never imagined I could be the person I am today.”Julie Aftab, a Pakistani Christian who had acid thrown in her face, aged 16
A Pakistani Christian woman who was severely disfigured in a vicious acid attack by two Muslim men ten years ago now calls her scars “my jewel, my gift from God”.
Julie Aftab, now 26, suffered extensive burns to her face, chest, arms, and oesophagus when the attackers threw acid at her and poured the corrosive substance down her throat.
The horrific assault happened on 15 June 2002, two weeks into her new job as a telephone operator in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Julie, the eldest of seven children, had had to leave school when she was 12 to earn money for the family after her father broke his back in an accident.
A man entered the office where she worked and noticed the silver cross necklace Julie was wearing. He asked her if she was a Christian and she replied, “Yes, sir.” The man said she was living life in the gutter, was going to hell and was living in darkness. Julie replied, “I am living in the light,” to which the man retorted, “So you think Islam is in darkness?” Conscious of Pakistan’s strict “blasphemy laws”, which are regularly used to penalise Christians, Julie replied, “No, you said that. Not me.”
Angered by the exchange, the Muslim man left, returning around half an hour later with another man and a bottle of battery acid.
He threw the liquid at her and, as the 16-year-old ran for the door, the other man grabbed her hair and they poured the acid down her throat, searing her oesophagus.
The acid melted through much of the right side of her face and left her with bone-deep burns on her chest and arms. She lost an eye, both eyelids and several teeth.
When the Muslim men, who were detained by people in the neighbourhood, said that they assaulted Julie because she had insulted Islam, the community turned on her, threatening to burn down the hospital if doctors there treated her.
The police let her attackers go without even filing an official report until Christian leaders complained.
Julie was turned away from a second hospital before a third one agreed to treat her. She was predicted to die any day but slowly began to heal, spending almost a year in hospital.
But her ordeal was far from over. Because she was associated with insulting Islam, Julie’s family was persecuted and their home was torched. “They wanted to hang me,” Julie said.
Her family sought help from a Pakistani church leader, who arranged for Julie to go to the US in 2004 for further treatment.
Eight years and 31 operations later, Julie’s face has been painstakingly reconstructed, and she has built a new life in Houston, Texas.
When she first arrived in America, Julie was taken in by a Christian couple, Lee and Gloria Ervin, with whom she still lives, and she has become very much part of their family.
Lee (71) taught her English and how to read and write, and Julie is now studying for an accounting degree. Over time she has been able to forgive her attackers.
Julie, who raises money for a safe house for persecuted girls in Pakistan, says that there is a reason that God gave her life, adding, “I don’t want to miss one second of it”.