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Blasphemy laws in Islam and Pakistan

Updated on October 18, 2011


Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan

Since last few decades, Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws are circulating frequently in the news media. Many cases have surfaced where people, especially of minority backgrounds, have been charge, prosecuted and sentenced to death in accordance with Section 295-C of Pakistan Panel Code, amended in 1986. It describes that whoever defiles the sacred name of Prophet Mohammad, either by words, spoken or written or by visible representation, directly or indirectly shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life. Pakistan being a Muslim majority country has support of the masses for keeping the law in tact as outlined in the constitution, giving death sentences to those charged for blasphemy without considering the merit of the case.

Blasphemy basically means act of insult, cursing, swearing against a deity, holy personage and beliefs. It is an act of irreverence towards God, faith or founder of the faith or use of profanity

Historically, blasphemy against God & religious personage had been in existence for centuries in various shape and forms. In early days of Judaism & Christianity, blasphemy against God/Lord was punishable by death but there is nothing explicitly clear in Quran and Hadith that deals with blasphemy. Apparently, the concept of blasphemy may have been imported from the Judeo-Christian tradition into Islam and the Indian subcontinent.

In Indian sub-continent, blasphemy law was initially introduced by British in Indian Panel Code around 1860 to protect the Christian Missionary working in India as well as for diverse faith & minorities groups in order to have peace and harmony on religious ground. The law made, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief; criminal offense punishable by fine and jail terms. It imposed prison terms of up to two years for any damage to a place of worship or sacred object carried out with deliberate intention

Though most of the countries have blasphemy laws to protect and provide recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy. It serves as a deterrent in discouraging blasphemers. Some Muslim Rulers had also used blasphemy laws to safeguard Muslim interests. In countries other than Muslim, Blasphemy laws exist & may include fine or imprisonment etc. but Pakistan has severe punishment of death penalty for Blasphemy which does not comply with the basic tenets of Islam as well as that of human rights groups. In reality it seems to be a tool of discrimination and abuse against religious minorities for ethnic cleansing. The law is vague in making distinction between intentional deliberate action and unintended mistake in its application and has been used indiscriminately to settle personal vendettas

In Pakistan blasphemy laws were part of the constitution in mild form having imprisonment and fine terms only but in 1986, Zia ul-Haq modified the constitution making several additions including life imprisonment and death penalty for anyone found guilty of defaming Islam or its prophet. Articles 295-A/B/C was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to punish blasphemers. These laws were fabricated by humans but not specified in Quran and Hadith & do not conform to Islamic Sprit. It is being misused deliberately to victimize minorities like Qadianies( Ahmadiyya) and Christians as well as opponents of the laws. Anyone who raises concerns about the law is harassed, threatened or killed. Take the case of Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for minorities, appointed to review Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, in 2008, was shot dead on March 2, 2011 in Islamabad, by Taliban. Similarly Sherry Rehman who proposed changes to the legislation was charged for blasphemy and consequently she went into seclusion due to death threats.

One may ask the question why article 295-C of PPC, bears harsh punishment of death for blasphemy? Is there a need for that as per sacred text or hadith or we simply had borrowed that from the traditions of Judo- Christianity as there is nothing inthe sacred scripture to reflect what is described in 295-C.

Proponents of blasphemy laws in Pakistan may say that insulting the Prophet is worst action and it constitute kufr and apostasy from Islam and those who commit this crime should be executed even if they repent irrespective of their faith as they all are kaafirs.

Those who consider surah al-ahzab verse 57, sura Taubah 9:66 and surah al-massad in support of death penalty for blasphemy against Allah and the Prophet (PBUH) may have their prerogatives but in reality Allah is informing through these verseswhat would happened to them in this world and in the hereafter. If we interpret the verses to imply that all kaafir be executed then 75% of the world population may fall within that category. Are the proponents of the law advocating Muslim Umah should to go and kill all kaafirs?

We Muslims are contradicting and making mockery of our own claims that God is “Raheem & Karem” as well as the Prophet Muhammad is Rehmatul-lil-Alameen” (mercy for all), by incorporating death penalty for blasphemers in article 295-C on the basis of kufr, that makes it repugnant to the Quran and sunnah. In addition to above surah Toaba9:66 “Make ye no excuses: you have rejected faith after you had accepted it” relates to Munkars. This verse is also self explanatory and does not ask Muslim to go and kill the Munkir.

Similarly there is no authentic hadith regarding blasphemy except the case of women as per Abu Dawood (4361), who used to say bad things about the prophet and one day she was killed by a blind man. When the matter was brought to the Prophet he said there is no blood money applicable in that case. No matter what the Muslim scholars conclude from this incident, Prophet has not advised Muslims to follow the same.

If committing kufr is the main criteria of blasphemy law 295-C, then there are more than 5.5 billion kaafirs on this planet according to Muslim perception. Is it incumbent upon Muslims to kill all kaafirs in compliance with the interpretation of above referred verses?

The argument with respect to right of Allah and that of the prophet for forgiving a person for insult may be questionable on the scale of rational wisdom. Advocating the right of Allah, for execution of the one who insulted the prophet should be decided by Allah not by the followers of the faith.

Since the blasphemer does not take the life of anyone, rationally, no one has right to take his/her life just for blasphemy. The only appropriate punishment could be fine or jail terms. It is also likely that the blasphemer may have committed the crime being in sane due to physiological or emotional breakdown pertinent to certain conditions without a specific intent. Under this situation appropriate consideration should be given to establish the rational intent of the blasphemer. If found in sane, the blasphemer should not be charged under article 295-C, however, if proven guilty of blasphemy, the person should be given 1-10 years of imprisonment or some fine depending upon the severity of the case but not sentenced to death. The applicable article should be amended to reflect this, in the constitution.

The current support for blasphemy laws is an indicative of growing trend towards extremism in Pakistan. Many people have raised their concerns about article 295-C, warning concerned authorities that if the law is not repealed or modified to address minorities concerns, it will strengthen religious extremists.

After the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan and conviction of assassin ( his body guard Mumtaz Qadri); there had been public outcry and support in favor of the assassin, glorifying and celebrating him as hero of Muslim Umah, comparable to 19 years old, Elam Din Shaheed, who killed Raj Pal in 1920 for writing an inflammatory book defaming Prophet Mohammad. The Raj Pal case was tried but he was acquitted by the court although his writing was malicious in tone & intentionally offensive.Elam Din could not absorb this and killed Raj Pal out of his religious feelings.

Those who were in favor of Elam Din, included Quaid-e-Azam (Jinnah) who also acted as his defense lawyer, Alama Iqbal and Dr. Muhammad Din Taseer (father of Salmaan Taseer). Elam Din was advised by Jinnah to enter not guilty plea but he refused as he was proud of his actions. Elam Din was sentenced to death hanged and buried without any funeral prayer. Consequently there was public unrest between Hindu and Muslims. People of Lahore demanded his body for proper burial. Dr, Allama Iqbal & Dr. Muhammed Din Taseer were instrumental in getting the body, after two weeks back to Lahore for proper burial. Allama Iqbal placed the body of Elam Din into the grave and said this uneducated young man has surpassed us the educated ones.

The case of Salman Taseer’s assassin should not be compared with that of Elam Din as the prior deliberately killed Salman Taseer who did not commit blasphemy whereas the later killed Raj Pal who deliberately committed blasphemy insulting the Prophet of Islam, hurting the feeling of Muslims. In provocation, Elam Din could not control his emotion and killed Raj Pal and hence tried and sentenced to death. There is no comparison between the actions of Mumtaz Qadri and Elam Din except that both acted out of a feeling of religious veneration.

Salmaan Taseer merely tried to support Aisah Bibi a 45 years old Christian women for the alleged crime of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad that she has denied. Salmaan Taseer wanted to repeal or amend article 295-C so as to conform to Islamic jurisprudence. It is generally accepted that intent is the key element for establishing guilt for blasphemy and Aisah Bibi did not have any intention for defaming the Prophet. She had expressed her sorrow and apologized for her emotional mistake and hence should be forgiven. There is a saying from Imam Abu Hanifa that non-Muslims cannot be awarded death penalty for blasphemy.

This brought Pakistan’s blasphemy laws into lime light and got attention of international human rights groups who believe that the law is often used to discriminate religious minorities.

Under current global communicational facilities, minorities charged under blasphemy laws get immediate coverage that defames Islam and its followers. Responsible seems to be educated Muslims who remains silent observers and resist honest religious discussion for Islamic spiritual revival. As religion and state politics are considered incompatible, generally, Pakistan should keep the two separate entities. If Pakistan was a solely religious state running under sharia laws, even then blasphemy laws should not be what it stands today. Liberal voices on this issue, are very few who do not like to speak against it due to fearswhereas the political parties have no courage to amend the law 295-C. Irony of this issue is that more than 800 lawyers have offered their services to represent Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer. Political Parties, Ulemas and general public seem to be proponent of the law without rationalizing its implication in light of sacred scripture and hadiths or compliance on rational wisdom.

It is appropriate for all Muslims to think rationally about this issue and get the law amended and bring it in line with the laws that exist in other countries. Based on fair judgment of the blasphemer, fine or jail terms should be given but not death penalty as is being prescribed and practiced. Our clergy and the masses should reconsider their ill-conceived support for Mumtaz Qadri who was hired to protect Salmaan Taseer but instead he killed Salmaan Taseer for his ill-informed religious feeling and should not be pardoned.

I beg to differ with the proponent of article 295-C and suggest that all concerned should revisit the law and support the proposed changes, replacing death penalty with 5-10 years of imprisonment or proportional fine. This will support our claim that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.

Mohammad Ashraf

Winnipeg. Canada

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      mohdashraf 6 years ago

      Thanks MG Singh. Apparently it may not happen in my life time but one has to pin point flow in our perception of faith & I did my share of responsibility.

      M. Ashraf

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      MG Singh 6 years ago from Singapore

      Good views expressed, but I doubt it will ever happen in Pakistan.