Where did the blasphemy law come from?

Published: December 2, 2010

The justice system in Pakistan has been influenced by a long history

According to Islamic belief, blasphemy is considered the use of profanity or a show of disrespect towards religious beliefs and holy personages, but unlike Judaism and Christianity, no strict punishment for the crime has been proscribed. In fact, Allah takes it upon Himself to deal with those who “revile Allah in their ignorance”.

Quran’s Surah Al-Anam aayah 108 says:

“Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did” as per the translation of Maulana Yusuf Ali.

Similarly, in Hinduism and other non-Abrahamic religions, there’s no concept of blasphemy as a punishable crime.

Following the Prophet’s footsteps

The life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is proof of the fact that Islam reinforces the values of forgiveness, kindness and tolerance especially for those who refuse to accept the word of wisdom and commit blasphemous acts. Throughout our student life, we have been hearing compelling stories of the Prophet’s tolerance, forgiveness and his exemplary ways of dealing with the worst of his enemies. Most common of them being the anecdote of that old woman who used to throw garbage on the Prophet whenever he passed her street. The Prophet got concerned when it stopped one day, enquired about her health and took care of her when he found her ill.

The second common narration is that of the Prophet’s early preaching visit to Ta’if, a small city in the Southeast of Mecca, where he was cursed and stoned by the locals. The persecution was so harsh that his body was full of wounds when he returned and his shoes were full of blood. But he responded to them with kindness and prayed for their blessings.

The birth of the black law

The blasphemy laws in the subcontinent, which were mainly the work of Muslim rulers, were later repealed by the British colonial rule to evangelise the Christian missionaries. But in 1860 the law was retained in the Indian Penal Code as Section 295, which gave protection to worship places, scriptures and personages of all religions of India. Later in 1927, two Sections 295 (A) and (B) were inserted, which prescribed punishment for outraging religious feelings of any class or religious group with deliberate and malicious intentions. Pakistan and Bangladesh inherited this Code and hence, the Blasphemy Law was born.

The wave of Islamisation of the judiciary and constitution made Pakistan take the lead in having the strictest blasphemy laws among all Muslim-majority states. An Amendment was introduced to 295 (B) in 1982 that extended penalty options to include life imprisonment, in addition to inserting Section 295 (C) whereby defamation against Prophet Mohammad was punishable by death.

In 1986, further additions were made to Section 295-C adding the option of the “death penalty”, and a minor amendment to Section 296 (disturbing religious assembly). In 1992, the Nawaz Sharif government removed the option of life sentence from Section 295-C (“derogatory terms against Prophet Mohammed”). In this shape, the blasphemy laws of Pakistan made convicted “blasphemers” liable to a mandatory death sentence.

It’s not just Pakistan

In the rest of the world, blasphemy has been a serious crime punishable by death and remains so in some parts to this day. The last execution for blasphemy in Britain occurred in 1697 when an 18-year-old Thomas Aikenhead was persecuted for saying: “I wish I were in that place Ezra calls hell so I could warm myself.”

British blasphemy law was repealed in 2008 while in the US, it is unconstitutional to try someone for blasphemy. This historical journey of blasphemy legislation did not come about without a popular vigilantism patronised by political leaders and state institutions of the time.

Today, these laws pose the greatest threat to minority communities of Pakistan and bring shame to Pakistan’s name in the comity of nations every other day. Pakistan’s civil society has been voicing its concern and standing for the repeal of especially 295 (B) and (C) for over two decades.

Since their inception, these black laws could not see any serious attempt for their repeal due to lack of public support and too much pressure from religious parties and organisations. In 2000 The all-powerful former president, General (R) Musharraf promised to ensure that before making charges of blasphemy, the case would be examined by a civil servant. It is not difficult to guess why he took back his proposed amendment to blasphemy case procedures just a month after the proposal; it is not rocket science.

Not only do these laws have no religious standing in Islam, they are repugnant to the basic principles of justice, equality and human rights in addition to challenging the basic spirit of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees equal rights to all citizens.

It is high time we build public pressure groups to repeal the blasphemy laws which make it impossible for religious groups that do not have a voice in the political system to impose their version of religion over a vast majority of this country – a country whose population is religiously diverse and moderate.

Marvi Sirmed

Marvi Sirmed

A political commentator, governance specialist, free lance journalist, theater actor and an independent blogger.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/13/syed-ali/ S. Ali Raza

    Try explaining this to the masses :)Recommend

  • Hina

    *Its about time they kill this Pathetic Law made by Pathetic Evil Minded people to please their own kind and abuse the ones who differ. Islam never allows ANYONE to kill the other so these morons needs to stop making up their own Islam and get real * Recommend

  • Shahjahan Bhutto

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Now how do we get this message across to the majority of Pakistanis who don’t speak or understand English? No sarcasm meant.Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Very nice post.
    This is the legal side, even the procedural side is funny, alot of importance has been given to the “witness”, in this law.
    A dummy witness can easily be purchased in Rs. 500.
    Here, many people do this “witness job”, just give them the money, they will say whatever you want.Recommend

  • Humanity

    Bravo! May Allah guide the people towards tolerance and compassion for others. Ameen.Recommend

  • Talha

    The blasphemy law was made spefically for Ahmadi’s aka Qadianis so that they can be persecuted with state sanction.Recommend

  • Talat

    “Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did” as per the translation of Maulana Yusuf Ali.

    If your entire blog is based on this verse, I am afraid you have got it badly wrong. The verse merely prohibits Muslims from insulting or abusing the gods/deities of infidels so that they don’t retaliate by insulting Allah (swt). It can not be taken to mean that the Quran prohibits Muslims from punishing blasphemous acts. On the contrary, the verse can be used as a justification for punishing the act for it is clear from it that God does not like to be insulted or verbally abused (obvious isn’t it?). Recommend

  • Someone

    Great piece. Fully agree. I think we have not lived up to the expectations and conduct which our religion teaches usRecommend

  • Abdul Said

    If Asia is murdered in Pakistan because of this law, the estimation of Pakistan in the world will not go lower. A lower place does not exist. Have you all gone mad ????Recommend

  • http://justanothercommonblog.wordpress.com Shahzaib

    Loved it!!!
    Keep blogging.. :DRecommend

  • sadaffayyaz

    Good to see your piece here………..I cant agree more with it……..Recommend

  • Nadeem Akhter

    I think that the law should remain a part of our constitution.all the blame lies with the judiciary system which should handle the cases on blasphemy with utmost care.the argument is that the law has been misused by people to take revenges form others,the law itself has nothing to do with it.a proper and fair trail is needed to solve the cases and not removing the law. Recommend

  • parvez

    Realistically , due to political expediency ,this law cannot be repealed but it must be amended.Recommend

  • Danish Qadimi

    @Talat: Actually it is not clear. You are putting word in God’s mouth (Naozobillah), that in essence is attempts to add to the Quran and is a major sin.

    Quran repeatedly espouses forgiveness, both the Quran and the Sunnah greatly discuss (again and again) the need for tolerance. The prophet himself practiced tolerance towards those who were clearly sacriliginous to him. Finally Quran has many places where God tells the faithful that he is going to attend to the sinners Himself and gives many examples of the azab that was visited upon them.Recommend

  • Muhammad Sarfraz Abbasi

    so cowardly you removed my comments.. you guys are so cheap and coward, you blame but you can’t face the truth… Recommend

  • http://www.fattaurus.com Ahmed Ilyas

    Blasphemy law should not be removed… Its the wrong practice of this law that creates issues,.. not the law itself.Recommend

  • Arshad Saeed Khan

    Dear Marvi Sirmed,

    Why the minorities are frightened and so deliberate to revoke this law; because of their intention of blasphemous act which they always react against Islam whenever they have the blasphemous opportunity to their own religious satisfaction. Since the inception of freedom’s movement; Pakistan was taken in the name of Islam and consists of majority Muslim occupied areas to live their beliefs without any fear from Non-Muslims. You are well aware the history of India’s Hinduism (so-called secular state) also has the law for equal rights to all religious fills with the holocaust of Muslims time to time politically and socially. Did you ever write a single line on this issue?Recommend

  • http://www.fattaurus.com Ahmed Ilyas

    @Nadeem Akhter:

    I totally agree with you… its not the law… its the wrong practice…Recommend

  • http://ayeshahoda.wordpress.com Ayesha Hoda

    Express Tribune should get this piece translated and publish it in Express – the Urdu newspaper as well as give permission to other papers to republish it. Express channels can also have a discussion on this and get the right word out. That is the need of the hour.Recommend

  • Arshad Saeed Khan

    Yes I agree! its not the law, but malpractices, we should differentiate between them and highlight the malpractice elements. Recommend

  • http://blog Sultan Ahmed

    Some time i compel to think,why the people commit such crime
    that is open violation of existing law and religion,
    God forgive them,Recommend

  • rukun

    yeah and while we’re at it, lets put a stop to feudalism.Recommend

  • Masood

    Since Blasphemy law in its current form (295-C) has no basis in Islam it can be repealed in a single day. It needs courageous leader who is not afraid of a bunch of jahil maulvis. Recommend

  • affie

    I believe this paper TRIBUNE is on a special mission to prove something about blasphemy law,
    just forget it whether the law is justified or not, all blogger as i feel are ignorant of the understanding of Islam and Quran, and so do most of the commentators here.
    Everyone is trying to put their own meanings to the Quran, which in itself is a big sin.
    But understanding is for those only whom Allah give the wisdom.Recommend

  • http://hotmail.com Anonymous

    Twisting with facts will not help anyone. The Second Amendment in the constitution of Pakistan started all this blasphemy issues with the help of PPP govt under the regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as then PM

    CONSTITUTION (SECOND AMENDMENT) ACT, 1974

    Hence all the PPP jiyalas, MNA’s, MPA’s who are misguiding the public around through their sympathetic wordings and blog posts should force their PPP govt to repeal the law which was initiated in their holy god father secular and self proclaim champions of democracy who with the second Amendment in constitution of Pakistan defined the Role of Mullahism for the longer term.Recommend

  • Haseeb

    Plus What do you guys think abolishment of this law will do ?
    It will result in CHAOS & bloodshed.Recommend

  • WILLIAMPGH

    If Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet than why do they go against his teaching… If anyone is without sin then cast the first stone, no one that is made of flesh and walks this earth is without sin, if you believe you have no sin while you are here, you deceive yourself. I find this really flawed in thought how a mortal person with sin can just call out and say murder this woman for what she has said, let God handle the situation, God does not need his creation takeing matters like this into their own human hands! God is the ultimate judge, not man!Recommend

  • Danish S.

    I don’t understand one thing, If Islam is so exalted, the true religion, the best among the rest then how can some mere words of disrespect from one lowly woman in a shanty village in Punjab harm Islam? Hasn’t Allah taken responsibility to protect Islam Himself? I mean sure we need to keep it alive in our lives by practicing it and preaching it but not by taking the law in our own hands. Recommend

  • Masood

    This is not rocket science. Islam’s source is Quran and Sunnah (practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad peace be on him). Both sources are 100% opposite to the Blasphemy law of Pakistan.

    Those who support blasphemy law are insulting Allah, Quran and Holy Prophet (peace be on him). They are the biggest blasphemers themselves. They promote extremism and anti-Islamic ideology of “holy war” to kill anyone who does not agree with them. They are the ones producing terrorists who consider all Pakistanis as potential target. And yes they are the same people from whom the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) warned the Ummah.

    And yes they are the same people who were against the creation of Pakistan in the first place. They don’t teach us that in history lesson!

    And yes they are the same people that Bhutto, Zia and Musharraf and every government used for their own benefit.

    This jinni is now a giant beast and out of control. God bless Pakistan.

    As you sow, so shall you reap.Recommend

  • Arshad Saeed Khan

    @WILLIAMPGH:
    Being a Muslim we revere all prophets send by Allah! But we all are well aware that the holy Bible was amended and turned into on its original version by your priest to use their own benefits. First of all non muslims have to study Islam and learn in its true spirit before they publish their views. If we apply your referred principle “let the God handle” allows other to do sin or crime without any fear of punishment create chaos & bloodshed. I didn’t mean that Aasia is guilty, and strongly recommend a judicial enquiry should be made without police involvement and whatever the out come reach on its conclusion.Recommend

  • Masood

    Whether Aasia is guilty or not is irrelevant. In Islam there is no punishment for blasphemy. If Pakistan was created in the name of Islam then it must cleanse itself from un Islamic laws created by jahil maulvis. However if Pakistan follows some other religion then the discussion is irrelevant. Do whatever pleases you.Recommend

  • Muhammad Irfan

    i want to add here that the writer of the article is saying about the tolerence peace of islam, truly agree, because it’s the teaching of islam that no maulvi or mullah or mufti have never ever spoken against the christianity or hinduism or any other religion inspite of this that these religions’s peoples have repeatedly spoken against islam and prophet muhammad PBUH, this is the tolerence and peace,
    Islam is the religion of tolerence and peace does’t mean that if somebody Nauzbillah abuses the islam infront of us, and we will tolerate it?????
    If someone do so than he/she is hurting the billions of muslims of the worldRecommend

  • http://www.myoffstreet.com/karachi/booksclub Hina

    BRAVO!Recommend

  • http://imransarwar.com Imran Sarwar

    @Arshad Saeed Khan:
    Well Said !!Recommend

  • Imtiaz Asghar Siddiqui

    Well I do not agree with the writer. There are several incidents in the life of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) that He encouraged the persons who killed the blasphemers, so I think the writer should have a complete look in history of Islam before writing anything public. I would say that

    *Blashphamy law should exist. But the need is that it should be amended in a way that a responsible Civil Servant investigate the whole case unbiasedly before taking it to court *

    May Allah give us true knowledge and make us a true Muslim not following the agenda of west!Recommend

  • Sunil

    I doubt, that people have really understood the real problem yet when people call the incidents like Salmaan Taseer’s a ‘misuse’ of the ‘Blasphemy’ law. Can an unlawful law be misused? Brutal killing of Salmaan Taseer and lynching of many others by mobs in Pakistan are the cases when this black law was ‘used’. A lawful and genuine use of this kind of laws will always result in such inhuman acts. Please stop calling this being ‘misused’.
    Only repealing of this and similar laws will bring justice to the society.Recommend

  • masood

    Can someone tell me as to what is the origin of this law in islam? According to my humble knowledge Hazrat Umer killed someone who disputed a decision made by the Holy Prophet ( May Peace Be Upon Him). Also there have been so many learned scholars in islamic world who endorsed this law and they were not fools. The shariat council that made this legislation must again have been constituted of most learned scholars. Then there is the element of common sense that says that the person( Holy Prophet , may peace be upon him) whom God loves the most amongst his entire creatures must be given the respect by others in the same proportion (else invite the wrath of Allah Almighty). Our faith is incomplete unless we hold him( may peace be upon him) dearer than our loved ones and our ownselves. Why in the entire world full of miseries one, particularly a muslim, should choose to sympathise with someone who is guilty of disrespecting that loveable soul (may peace be upon him) who until the very last moments of his life was worried about his ummah and who (may peace be upon him) would save billions of souls from hell on the day of judgement? simple questions. Legislation cant stop persecution, countless examples are there in front of us. Muslims wont like to wait for the law to take its course, they would continue to come forward in individual capacity to put the culprit to the sword. World needs to understand this. The best course is to excercise care and rein in the freedom of speech impulse at least in case of this issue. Recommend

  • Arshad Saeed Khan

    @masood:
    I totally agree with Mr.Masood.Recommend

  • Jawad

    I agree with, we are still passing through an age of ignorance, we are going through the process of evolution.

    We still follow immature and illitrat, molvies. Our Maulvi raised people’s feelings on baseless issues, they have always played upon common people sentiments and always cashing people’love for religion. Recommend

  • http://bloggers.com/author/khyrat/ Syed Khyrat Hussain

    You have made a good effort. A latest news is seen on following link. please go through it.

    http://bloggerstown.com/2011/03/05/pak-law-including-blasphemy-law-will-not-be-misused-gilani-assures/Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Sultan Ahmed:
    Don’t you mean God forgive the guy who turned ST into a human sprinkler system? Sounds like he’s the one who’s in need of it after what he did. Yes, people shouldn’t insult ANYONE’S religion, but I don’t think that gives anyone the right to riddle the blasphemer with bullets, and then be showered with flowers. Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Arshad Saeed Khan:
    With respect, I partly agree with what WILLIAMPGH has said. And furthermore I strongly think muslims themselves need to acquire knowledge of the TRUE message behind Islam. Anyone trying to justify this murder clearly knows nothing of his/her own religion. Simply can’t understand it. Yes, every society needs rules, but you say if we don’t follow the tenets of Islam, THAT will result in chaos and bloodshed…? My friend, look around you, it’s already happening BECAUSE people are trying to force their own perverted version of Islam down everyone’s throat. God forbid you don’t follow, off with your head. Recommend