THE RINGING OF THE PHONE AT 5 A.M. on Sept. 25 jolted Patricia Boyd Saddler and her husband, William, awake. It was Sabrina, the wife of Pat's youngest son, Daniel, calling their Washington, D.C., apartment from Pakistan. "I knew right away that something was wrong," says Pat, 51, the mother of five.

While she lay in bed, her heart racing, William, 40, a Washington attorney, spoke with Sabrina for what seemed an eternity. Pat's thoughts flashed to Daniel, 22, who had gone to Pakistan in October 1989 with Sabrina and their sons, Mohammed, 4, and Zakariya, now 2 (a third, Luqman, was born a year ago); and then to her son, Charles, 30, who had followed last February with his wife, Debra, 34.

Both men had traveled to the dusty, turbulent city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, to do relief work with Afghan refugees, largely as a result of their conversion to Islam, the religion practiced by William, their stepfather. There was reason to be concerned for their safety: Anti-American sentiment had been running high since the U.S. reduced aid to Pakistan last year, and many Pakistanis resented the Boyds' support of the unwelcome Afghan refugees. Pat, a legal secretary, worried that something terrible had happened. Finally, William hung up the phone. "Darling, just tell me they are alive," Pat recalls asking. "They are alive," he answered. Then, wordlessly, he got up, showered, and said his morning prayers to Allah.

When Pat could stand her husband's silence no longer, she confronted him. "Well," he said, "Saifullah and Asadullah [Daniel's and Charles's Muslim names] have been convicted of bank robbery." In short, Charles had been sentenced to five years in prison and Daniel to 12 years for allegedly entering the United Bank in Hyatbad, stealing 82,477 rupees ($3,927) and possessing a gun. Both had been remanded to a rat-infested prison and were living on bread and water. Then, as Pat recalls it, "William took a breath and told me, 'They will sever the right hand and left foot of each boy.' "

Amputation. For a moment a mother's fear blotted out time and space. "My world stopped," says Pat. "It was like I was in a vacuum. I know my boys are innocent. They are very religious." A Christian who had raised her sons as Episcopalians, she regards their conversions to Islam as "a great blessing. It was impossible that they had committed a crime, any crime. It's against their Islam."

As Muslims, the Boyds, who have denied all charges, are subject to Islamic law, which prescribes amputations for the crime of theft. Because the courts forbade the Boyds to speak publicly of their alleged offense, Pat and her lawyer-boss Hal Furman have had to piece together an account from conversations with her daughters-in-law, the State Department and the Boyds' Pakistani attorney. The problem, they say, began when Daniel received a check for $5,000 from a Muslim refugee relief organization and sent Sabrina to deposit it. A bank employee offered to cash the endorsed check on the black market, where there was a higher rate of exchange, and split the profits, and she agreed. When she told Daniel what she had done, he asked her to return to the bank for the check. But the bank employee, according to Sabrina, denied ever having received it. Then, perhaps to avoid a scene, he asked her to step outside. There he violated a strict Islamic taboo by touching her suggestively. When he was confronted moments later by an enraged Daniel, who had joined his wife, he meekly refunded $3,700 in partial payment. Two days later, police knocked on the door of the brothers' home, arrested them and confiscated some $1,200 Daniel had in his pocket.

From Furman's point of view, the bank employee concocted the robbery story to cover up his attempted seduction and fraud. Local authorities conspired in the cover up, says Furman, and Daniel, at gunpoint, was forced to sign a confession written in Urdu, a language, says Pat, that he can neither read nor write. Moreover, although the police testified in the High Court of Peshawar that they had searched the Boyd quarters and found guns, Sabrina insists that they never entered the house. The bank officer was not called to testify.

Family members find the accusations preposterous. "They would never rob a bank," says the Boyds' sister, Erin Massie, 28. "They're not stupid. They'd never jeopardize their family." In fact, family has always been at the sometimes chaotic center of the Boyds' lives. Charles and Daniel, along with their older brothers, Douglas, 33, Robert, 32, and Erin, grew up in a family their mother describes as "classically dysfunctional." Their father, Pat's first husband, Thornton Boyd, was a Marine captain, and the family moved from base to base almost annually. After Pat and Thornton separated in 1974 (they divorced in 1977), she and the children endured desperate poverty. During winters when there was no money to pay the electric bill, Pat would cook meals in the living-room fireplace, sometimes making soup from leaves gathered in the yard. Charles ran away and was sent to reform school. Daniel showed signs of developing into an unfocused teenager too. Then, in 1980, Pat married William. "He has the most amazing ability to relate to each child," says Pat. William's deep religious conviction inspired the younger sons, and in 1981 Charles, then an electrician, converted. (His first wife, Jeanne, attempted to accept his decision but couldn't; they divorced later that year.) Daniel chose Islam when he was 17, and in 1986, the year she bore Mohammed, Sabrina too became a Muslim.

"My brothers were both mighty rebellious before they converted," observes Robert. "Afterwards they had a peace within themselves." Daniel began working in construction to support his family, but driven by the need to do good works and participate more fully in his adopted faith, he decided to move to Peshawar in 1989, sponsored by a Muslim relief group. When he broke the news to Pat, she says, "I wept and wailed, and I probably kicked a few walls. Hut they told me they could practice their charity and their Islam over there. And I was happy for them."

Ironically, it is the strictures of their new faith that now threaten them with dismemberment. Yet legal experts are optimistic about the outcome of the case. Says Issa Smith of the American Muslim Council in Washington: "There hasn't been any case in Pakistan in which a hand or foot was cut off." Smith believes that evidence against the Boyds is "shaky" and that when the case is presented on Oct. 14 at appeal, they will be found not guilty.

Still, the nature of the Pakistani legal system is unpredictable at best. Currently, congressmen including Rep. Stephen Solarz of New York, as well as Amnesty International and Asia Watch, are trying to intervene on the Boyds' behalf. Pat Boyd Saddler, meanwhile, places her trust in her sons' faith. "My children are decent people," she says. "They are survivors. Their Islam will pull them through, and whatever happens is the will of God."

MARJORIE ROSEN
KATY KELLY and SARAH SKOLNIK in Washington, D.C.

  • Contributors:
  • Katy Kelly,
  • Sarah Skolnik.