Misuse of the Blasphemy Law and Religious Minorities in Pakistan

Blasphemy Law in Pakistan: Historical Perspectives and Disastrous Effects

The state of Pakistan was formed on August 14, 1947 as a division of India on democratic lines, recognizing the religious and ethnic diversity of the federating units. Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of this new country, made it clear in his presidential address on 11 August 1947 to the Constituent Assembly that all citizens should have equal status irrespective of caste, colour or creed, and that religion should have nothing to do with the business of the state. However, after the founding of this state, the religious elements in different forms who had earlier opposed the formation of Pakistan rallied together for their objective of making Pakistan an Islamic state. Soon after the unfortunate demise of the leader in September 1948, the religious elements managed in March 1949 to pass the Objectives
Resolution through the Constituent Assembly, which provided the base for a religious state. This resolution provided guidelines for framing the Constitution of the State of Pakistan, saying that: “wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed; wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective sphere in accordance with the teaching and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and th
e Sunnah.” This religious base was later vigorously used by the religious lobby to make a point for an Islamic Shariah-based state. Over the last five decades, the dominant socio-political discourse in Pakistan has been around the principles based on Islamic injunctions, which gradually grew stronger at the state level as reflected through its three constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973. The philosophical heritage in the form of a pluralistic social order, as spelt out by its founders, soon started fading. The Council of Islamic Ideology was constitutionally constituted, empowering it “to make recommendations to the parliament as to ways and means of enabling and encouraging the Muslims of Pakistan to order
lives individually and collectively in all respects in accordance with the principles and concepts of Islam as enunciated in Quran and Sunnah, to advise as to whether a proposed law is or is not repugnant to the Injunctions of Islam, and to make recommendations as to the measures for bringing existing laws into conformity with the injunctions of Islam”.
There have been a number of military interventions in this
fragile nation state, but the martial law imposed by military general Zia ul Haq in July 1977 changed the whole complexion of the society. He took it upon himself to islamize the society and introduced Shariah law in the form of Hudood Ordinances, supposedly based on Islamic Shariah, These Ordinances made changes in the Pakistan Penal Code whereby Islamic punishments were imposed that included lashes, cutting of hands and feet and stoning to death. Different legislative and administrative measures were
adopted by the state to build an Islamic society. He brought the religious bogey into the corridors of power that, until
then, had had no electoral constituency worthy of the name. These developments at state level encouraged religious extremism and pressure for a theocratic state. This situation thus encouraged socio-religious intolerance and violence in the name of religion which, if examined, had tacit
patronization at state level through state actors including feudal and tribal lords promoting socio-economic status quo, and the military establishment for recognition of its hegemony in state affairs.

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Content Courtesy- Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, World Council of Churches