Pakistan Blasphemy Law / Treatment from the root, need of the hour

(Pakistan) Blasphemy Law – Treatment from the root – need of the hour.
Posted on March 29th, 2022

by A. Abdul Aziz

Religious blasphemy laws can be a touchy subject, especially in Pakistan, where just bringing up the subject of the blasphemy laws and whether they are right or wrong is considered, well …blasphemous. This wasn’t always the case.

The sentiment behind most blasphemy laws is easy to understand. No person or group should insult another religion’s beliefs or holy personages, or desecrate their Holy Scriptures, icons, or places of worship. Yet the golden rule is the foundation of many freedoms—from speech to the press to privacy. The right to choose and practice a religion freely, without fear of insult or attack, is usually at or near the top of the list for most people, even those who are not religious. As Jesus said: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (see Luke 6:31).

Article 18 of the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights1 states, with regard to a person’s beliefs, that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Blasphemy laws by their very nature tend to compromise the aforesaid principles. However, they also operate on the premise that offensive speech or actions designed to hurt someone’s feelings or provoke physical harm are usually directed at members of one religion by the members of another separate religion—Muslims against Hindus or Christians against Jews, for example. But religious persecution can and frequently does occur between denominations within the same faith—Catholics against Protestants, or Sunni Muslims against Shia Muslims.

It is, in fact, this element of sectarian animosity and persecution that can turn blasphemy laws into a double-edged sword. This is exactly what is happening and has been happening for nearly 30 years and on, in Pakistan, where Sunni accusations of others desecrating the Holy Qur’an or uttering blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are routinely used to jail business rivals or personal enemies or members of minority sects, like the Shias and the Ahmadis or members of other religions whose homes or businesses are coveted by blasphemy accusers.

This began in 1974 under democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who endorsed and signed an amendment to Pakistan’s constitution that declared that Ahmadi Muslims were non-Muslims. It is vital to understand that Clause 3 of Article 260 was written specifically to legislatively nullify and deny the claims of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889 in Qadian, India, for the purpose of bringing people back to God and restoring Islam to its original purity and spiritual vitality. Despite intense, often violent and deadly persecution by other Muslims, the number of Ahmadis in the world continues to increase.

The inherent injustices created by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are laid bare by just one concept, which is central to our understanding and protection of the basic human right to freedom of religion: the blasphemy laws are unjust on more than just legal grounds because no political assembly has any religious authority or right to interfere with anyone’s chosen religious beliefs.

What is sadly ironic—tragic, really—is that in August of 1947 the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, echoed this in his famous statement promising complete religious freedom for all in the newly created country of Pakistan. He declared: You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

To put the bite of law into that 1974 constitutional amendment, Ordinance XX by General Zia-ul-Huq not only specified by name as its target anyone calling themselves Ahmadi, but also increased the severity of the penalties for acts or statements deemed offensive to Muslims or directed against Islam, the Holy Qur’an, or the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

While the purpose of Ordinance XX was to destroy the Ahmadiyya community by jailing its leaders and members for publicly posing” as Muslims or for otherwise practicing or preaching their faith, the larger consequence was that other Muslim minorities—Shias in particular—and the members of other religions were now being re-illuminated in the state sanctioned spotlight of overall religious bigotry, persecution, and legalized vigilantism. The result has been a catastrophic rise in attacks by Sunni Muslims against Shias and Ahmadis primarily, but also between various Sunni denominations as well. In truth, no one is safe.

The common denominator in all these atrocities and violations of fundamental human rights is twofold: one element stems from the breakdown of the Rule of Law caused by lax, nonexistent or selective enforcement of civil and criminal laws. The other element, ironically, evolves from just the opposite—the sanctioning by the very laws and constitution of Pakistan of vigilantism and religiously motivated hate crimes.

A paraphrase of the famous quote by Nazi-era German Protestant pastor Martin Niemoeller is tragically applicable to the present climate of religious intolerance and persecution in Pakistan:

First they came for the Ahmadis, but I did not speak up because I was not an Ahmadi. . . Then they came for the Shias, but I did not speak up because I was not a Shia. . . Then they came for the Hindus, but I did not speak up because I was not a Hindu. . . Then they came for the Christians, but I did not speak up because I was not a Christian. . . When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.”

 Lynching of factory Manager Priyantha Kumara Diyawadanage, a Sri Lankan in Pakistan by an extremist mob will not be the last of such acts. No amount of ‘We Are Sorry Sri Lanka’ placards, flowers and candles at makeshift memorials and political statements denouncing the crime can bring back his life that was cruelly brought to an end as a burnt offering on the altar of bigotry in an expression of savagery that has no place in civilized society. The Priyantha Kumara lynching by a mob linked to an extremist outfit Pakistan, for tearing off a political poster that allegedly had some religious verses in Urdu warrants the immediate revocation of Pakistan’s blasphemy law or its amendment in keeping with the Islamic virtue of tolerance and magnanimity.  

Referring to the incident, Allama Javaid Ghamdi explained in a video that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan have no support in the Holy Quran, the Traditions, nor in early Islamic theological thinking.

Mr. Zarrar Khuhro, a wise man says:

We’ll see the truth of this soon enough when the next Pakistani — be he or she Muslim, Hindu, Christian or otherwise — is lynched in the name of blasphemy. Because that’s going to keep happening no matter what becomes of those arrested in the Sialkot lynching. You know it, and I know it too. And if you believe otherwise, you may as well try to cure cancer with dispirin. Make no mistake; there will be several thousand more Kumaras and Mashals before this runs its course, if it ever will. And let’s face another fact. It won’t end. Why should it?”.

Zarrar Khuhro in ‘Sialkot surprise’ in the daily Dawn of December 6, 2021

Source: Persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan – Monthly Report – December 2021 issue by Human Rights Section, Ahmadiyya Muslim Foreign Missions.

Research shows a higher prevalence of extremism in countries that have blasphemy laws than in countries that do not have such laws.  Blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute the minorities or treat them as second class citizens. Such laws are incompatible with the Islamic teaching which calls for protection of the minorities and non-interference in their worship. If the Pakistan Government fails to make use of this heartrending incident as an opportunity to bring about radical reforms, it itself will be committing an act of blasphemy because its inaction allows the badly constructed law to distort and disgrace Islam.

Pakistan’s government should immediately introduce legislation to repeal the country’s blasphemy law and other discriminatory legislation. This blasphemy law and other discriminatory legislation emboldens Extremists. The government should also take legal action against Islamist militant groups responsible for threats and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups.

  The injustice and fear the blasphemy law spawns will only cease when this heinous law is repealed,” Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law,” as section 295-C of the penal code is known, makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. Since the Pakistani military government of General Zia-ul-Haq unleashed a wave of persecution in the 1980s, violence against religious minorities has never really ceased. Attackers kill and wound Christians and Ahmadis, in particular, and burn down their homes and businesses. The authorities arrest, jail, and charge members of minority communities with blasphemy and related offenses because of their religious beliefs, as a means of transacting vendettas and settling scores. In several instances, the police have been complicit in harassing and framing false charges against members of these groups or stood by as they were attacked. The government seldom brings charges against those responsible for such violence and discrimination.

It is urged the international community to press the Pakistani government to repeal sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which includes the blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadiyya laws. Also urged the government of Pakistan to prosecute those responsible for planning and executing attacks against religious minorities. As long as such laws remain on the books, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion.



Injuring or defiling places of worship, with the intent to insult the religion of any class


Up to two years’ imprisonment or fine, or both

295 A

Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs


Up to ten years’ imprisonment, or fine, or both

295 B

Defiling, etc., of the Holy Quran


Life imprisonment

295 C

Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet


Death and fine


Uttering words, etc., with the deliberate intent to injure religious feelings


Up to one year imprisonment or fine, or both

298 A

Three years’ imprisonment, or fine, or both


Three years’ imprisonment, or fine, or both

298 B

Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places, by Ahmadis


Three years’ imprisonment and Fine

298 C

An Ahmadi, calling himself a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim


Three years’ imprisonment and Fine

Source: Persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan – Monthly Report – December 2021 issue by Human Rights Section, Ahmadiyya Muslim Foreign Missions.


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