The Blasphemy Law Debate

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

This has been repeated many times – notably by A G Noorani the lawyer and journalist par excellence from India- that when a blasphemy law, to punish those elements who passed remarks to insult religions or prophets, was being introduced in the British India Central Legislature,  Jinnah sounded the following advice on 5th September 1927:

“I thoroughly endorse the principle that while this measure should aim at those undesirable persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attack upon the religion of any particular class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion, we must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected.”

The law at the time prescribed only a fine and two years rigorous punishment.   Then British India was partitioned into two states India and Pakistan.   Ironically Pakistan, which holds up the same Jinnah as its founding father,  ignored this fine advice and went on to make the blasphemy law even more draconian and more oppressive.  Now we have the dubious distinction of being probably the only country where the crime of spoken word is punishable by death.  For this there isn’t even a provision in Islamic Law – atleast that which is reached at by the application of the established principles of law making in Islam.  Yet we continue to impose it in Islam’s name, thereby giving both Islam and Pakistan a bad name.

The events in Sambrial recently underscore how these Blasphemy Laws are used to grind a personal axe.   One version of the events that took place there are that a young Christian man Robert Masih was in a relationship with a Muslim girl.   The family of the Muslim girl – enraged and outraged by the audacity of the “choora” – threw a siparah of the Holy Quran into a nullah and accused Robert Masih of having done it.    Later Robert Masih was done away with in jail over the same dispute.   So unbelievable and contradictory are the claims of the Islamists apologizing for the actions of those involved that one wonders  if they think they can fool the world. 

It is therefore quite clear that what is purported to be some sort of a defence against blasphemy has become a vehicle of oppression and persecution of minorities in Pakistan.  These laws are the most draconian in the world and have no justification even in Islamic jurisprudence.   It is time-  as one Pakistani MNA said- to repeal them for they have done more harm to Pakistan, Islam and humanity then good.   Indeed they haven’t done any good but have only reinforced negative stereotypes about Islam.

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