Pakistan should sbolish blasphemy law

AP Local women walk past the locked house of a Christian girl in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan on Aug. … Continued


Local women walk past the locked house of a Christian girl in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan on Aug. 20, 2012.

My grandfather was one of the most well-known literary figures in Pakistan’s history and once famously told me that, “Anger is the most extravagant luxury in the world.” I am always reminded of my beloved grandfather’s poignant sentiment whenever I read stories about death sentences being meted out in accordance with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws; with the most recent example being the case of an 11-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who is facing blasphemy charges for allegedly burning pages of the Koran in rural Pakistan.

The child was arrested last week in a Christian area of the capital Islamabad, after a crowd of people demanded that she be punished for allegedly desecrating pages of the Muslim holy book. According to BBC News, it is not clear whether she burned pages of the Koran or was just found to be carrying them in her bag. Additionally, the BBC reported that doctors in Pakistan have examined this young Christian to further determine her mental capacity (some unconfirmed reports stated that she has Down’s Syndrome), with the results due to be presented in a Pakistani court in the coming days.

Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, has said she is innocent of the charges and should be released. Shortly after her arrest, Bhatti told BBC News that, “The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under a lot of pressure from a very large crowd who were threatening to burn down Christian homes.”

As an international human rights lawyer, it is my personal belief that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are one of the most obvious obstacles preventing the nation of Pakistan from protecting its religious minorities (including members of the Christian, Hindu and Ahmadiyya communities). According to Pakistan’s penal code, here are the primary sections dealing with blasphemy charges and their potential criminal punishments:

“Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

In recent times, these controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan have created major international headlines and generated debate across the globe. In November 2010, a Pakistani Christian female laborer named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a fellow worker accused her of insulting Islam. Her sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail. Only a few months after Bibi’s death sentence, provincial Gov. Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – both prominent Pakistani politicians – were assassinated in cold blood after public calls to amend the blasphemy laws.

CNN also further reported that militants attacked two mosques in May 2010 and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadiya sect, a minority Muslim group often “viewed as heretics and blasphemers by hardline Sunnis” in Pakistan.

As a proud and practicing Muslim, I have written previously on “blasphemy” issues insulting Islam around the world and how modern Muslim societies should respond to such controversies. Most Muslims are aware of a well-known Islamic parable which tells the story of the prophet Muhammad and his daily interactions with an unruly female neighbor who used to curse him violently and then proceed to dump garbage onto him every day from her perch-top window each time he would ever walk by her house.

One day, prophet Muhammad noticed that the woman was not present to throw garbage outside of her window. In an act of true prophetic kindness, he actually went out of his way to inquire about her well-being and then proceeded to visit his hostile neighbor at her bedside inside of her own home when had found out that she had fallen sick.

This genteel act of prophetic kindness toward unfriendly (and overtly hostile) neighbors is the truly Muslim and Islamic standard that we should all use within our collective lives, not threats of violence and/or death sentences which disparately impact religious minorities in Muslim-majority nations. After all, if our prophet Muhammad treated those who cursed him with kindness, shouldn’t other Muslims do exactly the same?

Thus, although Pakistan has a very long way to go in terms of protecting religious minorities within their national borders, it can take a giant step in the right direction by abolishing its overly-abused blasphemy laws and show compassion to people of other religions, something that Islam’s prophet taught us over 1,400 years ago.

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of and author of “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.”

More from On Faith:

In Pakistan’s blasphemy case, reflections on sanctification of objects

How conflicts over religious pluralism reveal America’s new ‘Sacred Ground’

What is a fatwa? Who can give one?

Ramadan 2012 around the world

  • bobaluchowdury

    The last conviction was 84 years ago. That speaks volumes. These dusty obscure laws if they indeed do still exist are unused and can not withstand constitutional scrutiny. We have freedom of speech and thought. Your post is interesting but quite irrelevant.

  • bobaluchowdury

    I like the story of mohammed and the garbage tossing woman. Its one of the less believable hadiths but I appreciate your efforts.


    You do not need to withstand constitutional scrutiny if you have the power to arrest someone and put them in jail. Intimidation works wonders in suppressing free speech.

    And if you want to call on Pakistan to abolish its blasphemy laws, are you going to call on Greece, Finland and Ireland to abolish their blasphemy laws as well? Or are blasphemy laws only bad when it’s an islamic country?

  • Secular1

    The one way I can think of getting rid of the blasphemy laws is to bring up the very people who support these blasphemy laws, those who prod and push rest of the people into enforcing these laws on blasphemy charges. these laws are generally written so loosely that you can drive a mack truck of bigotry through them. So bring up a bunch of semi-literate sunni mullahs on blasphemy charges according to the shia practices and bunch of shia ayatollahs on sunni blasphemy charges, bunch of catholic priests for idolatry, and the protestants clergy for ridiculing transubstantiation. Once a few of these persecutions take place, you will see them bast ards come to their senses and would be screaming for the getting rid of the blasphemy laws. The targets of this selective persecutions must be teh most ardent proponents of these stupid, vile laws. Because those scoundrels are the most deserving of such senseless persecutions. I really hope the secularists wherever they are in power with these blasphemy laws have the balls to undertake such an exercise.

    Coming to the islamic countries like Pakistan or for that matter any of the other 46 Dar-ul-islams, the journey seems to be a fools errand. Bigotry is so entrenched in the very DNA of the society at large is that we need a present day Kemal ata turk, in each of the dar-ul-islams. Then again I am not very fond of the original Kemal ata turk either. He was also a dictator. Take for instance the Dar-ul-islam of interest here, Pakistan. This is the country that did not exists even as concept 100 years ago. Then came along a few bigots in the colonial India who seeded the idea that muslims minority in independent India will not get a fair shake. Until then the independence movement was itself quite devoid of religious identification. Even then it did not gain much traction except amongst the official bigots of any religion the priests and mullahs. Then came along that narcissist egotist Jinnah, other wise the most secul

  • Secular1

    Continued from above:

    Jinnah’s delusion was that he will be able to steer Pakistan into teh secular waters. It was a delusion because, intellectually, emotionally, and temperamentally was no Indian. He was more a brown sahib, than an Indian. If he was ever less of a brown sahib, he would not have to give the intellectual heft to the absurd notion that was pakistan. He could have himself vied for a very substantive elective role in united India. So driven by his ego, and delusions, he accepted the titular status of father of pakistan, which did not require him to roll up his sleeves and dirty his hands in elective politics. The lament that was Jinnah was that (underscoring the fact that he was more a brown sahib) he could not even give the maiden speech as the president of pakistan in his mother tongues Gujrati, nor the predominant muslim language of Urdu, or Hindi. He had to resort that language of oppression and teh colonial masters and his intellectual and emotional mother tongue ENGLISH. The tragedy of Jinnah was his delusion that despite his ivory tower living, he would be able to ride against the activist bigotry of his lieutenants. Without any goodwill of the common fold in his bank and sheer lack of skill set or more a disdain for the rub shoulder, kiss the baby politicking, he was no match to the bigots once the absurdity that was Pakistan came to be. They were able to scuttle the passage of any constitution for nearly 25 years. Not only that they started off with a bungling escapade, in the name of bigotry, in Kashmir, right under the nose of that old fool by then, that was Jinnah. The experiment in bigotry that was/is Pakistan then inexorably hurled toward bigotry. mainly against that democratic behemoth next door India. In fact until 1971 the bigots thought that they were going to, any day be making Delhi their capital. After the ignominy of loosing the geographic absurdity of two wings separated by over 1000 miles, it had another chance, wit

  • persiflage

    Pakistan should eliminate it’s over-used blasphemy laws”

    Our continuing foreign aid should absolutely be contingent on their elimination. These religion-based interdictives violate human rights principles across the board. Where religion rules, humans are a secondary consideration.

  • Shareiq

    Pakistan’s very foundation is based on sectarianism. How can it go against its own grain? Secondly, this happens is ALMOST ALL muslim countries. Why simply blame Pakistan. Pakistan has always allowed its army for a rent to fight others wars but this is personal. When it comes to Islam, a country with worlds only negative literacy rate, is governed by theocracy. This theocracy controls 50% population of Pakistan which is illiterate. Rest of the so called literate people are largely educated in these madarsas where hating anything other than a very extreme puritan form of islam is considered worthless, and worthy of hatred and extermination. This is a very typical face of islam, if you think otherwise you are just fooling yourselves. This islam is not the real islam but the doctored islam (read wahabi) which now rules the hearts and minds of more than a billion muslims. Ignore this truth to your own peril. Pakistan is just a symptoms. Worst is yet to come.

  • SS1970

    Christians of Pakistan deserve a separate nation where they can practice their religion without fear of persecution.

  • SS1970

    Minorities in Pakistan are not safe in Pakistan. They should demand repeal of blasphemy law or seprate homeland.

  • Rongoklunk

    This is religion at its worst – at it’s most irrational and most horrifying. But religion does that to folk’s brains when they think they know what the great imaginary skygod expects of them. Educate the people and bring them into the twenty-first century where science rules and superstition is for idiots.

  • alert4jsw

    Blasphemy laws should be considered an affront to human rights. They serve only one purpose, and that is to shield religion from criticism by attempting to terrorize critics. By the ability to charge critics with “blasphemy,” religion is shielded from ever having to answer for its actions. We know the results — millions dead over the last 20 centuries in holy wars and inquisitions.

    Any religion that is so afraid of critizism that it must resort to the use of blasphemy laws has no justifiable claim to the respect of civilized society, much less defense of its claims and teachings by the state.

  • FactFinder

    Did you hear that an imam put burned pages of koran in that little girl’s bags and commented to his assistant that this is the best way to get rid of Christians. How sad it is?

  • WmarkW

    So an Imam who doesn’t get true Islam framed a retarded girl for a capital offense.

    If the people who ought to know Islam best misunderstand it so badly, how can you fault the rest of us for thinking it’s a violent, intolerant faith?

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

Read More Articles

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

The End of Surveillance for New York Muslims — For Now

How American Muslims modeled the right response to systematic injustice.