The incident involving the girl happened Thursday afternoon, evidently while she was gathering trash — but beyond that, everything is in dispute. Some locals claim to have witnessed her and her mother burning the entire Koran.
But Tahir Muhammad, a 30-year-old shop owner and landlord, said the girl found just one page of the holy book while cleaning a house, mixed it with other papers and burned it.
A 10-year-old neighborhood girl said she saw the whole thing and took the ashes to the mosque — with no pages of the Koran extant. In interviews Sunday, two men at the mosque said that only ashes remained and that the imam mixed in some pages himself before turning over the “evidence” to police.
“Somebody must be confused when they said pages were mixed in — no such thing happened,” Imam Hafiz Muhammad Zubair said Monday. He said community leaders decided to turn the girl and her mother over to police for their safety.
“Both the women confessed to us that they had indeed burned the Koran,” he said.
Various tellings of the incident spread Friday to other mosques. Some outside religious leaders and locals encouraged Muslims to converge on the Christian enclave, but others counseled restraint, said Bhatti, who talked with several clerics.
An estimated 500 to 1,000 Muslims, including many outsiders, turned out Friday to demand punishment for the alleged blasphemer, blocking a nearby highway and burning tires. The mob also menaced police.
Other Muslims, who said they count Christians among their friends, said they oppose vigilantism. But, they said, if the girl is found guilty, the Christians must leave for good.
“The people here are not extremists,” said Asad Riaz, a worshiper in his late 20s who was at the mosque Sunday evening, “but this has provoked them.”
The imam sounded a note of conciliation, but with conditions. “It isn’t really those poor folks’ fault,” Zubair said, “but we will wait and see what the official verdict against her is — and if they are guilty, then decide accordingly.”
Over the weekend, Bhatti said, hundreds of residents of the Christian enclave began to migrate to other colonies in Islamabad, where they have remained. Authorities said they could not guarantee their safety if they return.
Some Christians who stayed in the area said shopkeepers are refusing to sell them food and have issued threats.
“They said they will burn our house down if we don’t leave,” said a 17-year-old who lived near the accused girl’s family. “They are also saying that since a woman burned the Koran, they will come after our women now.”
He and his cousin, perched nervously on a motorbike, would soon be migrating to Islamabad, too, they said, before taking off into the night.
Anam Zehra contributed to this report.