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October 1st, 2012
04:30 PM ET

Explainer: Pakistan's blasphemy laws

By Reza Sayah, CNN

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) - It has been more than a month since a teenage Christian girl was charged in Pakistan under the country's blasphemy laws . Her accusers say she burned pages from the Quran, Islam's holy book. Amid twists in her case, including changed statements by witnesses, she is facing life in prison.

On Monday, CNN reported that three witnesses whose testimony could absolve the 14-year-old Rimsha Masih have changed their statements, a potential setback for her. She has denied the charges.

The case has drawn the country's complex laws about blasphemy into the spotlight. Here is a primer on those laws.

What are the major stipulations of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and what exactly do they prohibit?

Pakistan’s blasphemy law makes it a crime to destroy or damage the Quran or to insult the Prophet Mohammed.

The following are two sections of the law as they appear in Pakistan’s penal code:

Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life.

Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

When were Pakistan's blasphemy laws adopted? What fueled them?

 According to the public policy think tank Jinnah Institute, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws originated in British colonial laws drafted in 1860 to protect religious beliefs and customs.

In the 1980s, under the rule of hardline Islamist and military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the laws were amended to include life imprisonment and the death penalty.

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Zia-ul-Haq accused previous governments of leading the country away from the principles of Islam and openly stated his mission to return Pakistan to a conservative Islamist state. Zia-ul-Haq’s reign is widely viewed as the “Islamization” of Pakistan.

Critics say that soon after the blasphemy law was amended under Zia-ul-Haq, many accusers began misusing the law and exploiting Pakistan’s ineffective justice system to settle personal scores and persecute minorities.

The Jinnah Institute says nine cases of blasphemy were reported in Pakistan between 1929 and 1982. Over the past 15 years, the number of cases has reached into the thousands.

What are the big Pakistani blasphemy cases in recent years that got international attention? How were they resolved?

In November 2010, Christian laborer Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a fellow worker accused her of insulting Islam. The sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail.

Months after Bibi’s death sentence, provincial Gov. Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – both moderate Pakistani politicians – were assassinated after public calls to amend the blasphemy laws.

In May 2010, militants attacked two mosques and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadi sect, minority Muslims often viewed as heretics and blasphemers by hardline Sunnis in Pakistan.

Why have some hardline Islamist groups in Pakistan rejected the call to change the blasphemy law and gone as far as praising the assassination of politicians who pushed for change?

Aasim Sajjad, a political analyst and professor of history at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam Univeristy, blames a succession of governments, leaders and institutions that have directly or indirectly either promoted or tolerated a hardline Islamist mindset.

“There are very well-entrenched structures of power that exist in this society,” Sajjad said. “Some of them have to do with how this state and its institutions are set up. Those deeply established structures are part of the answer why this continues to happen.

“What one needs to emphasize is how since its inception, the state has depicted itself as citadel of a particular kind of religious ideology. And what’s well-established is the direction of the state towards a self-proclaimed Islamic state during the late '70s and '80s. I think that was a fundamental turning point," he said.

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“Today, there is a wide cross-section of society that tolerates this, and I think there’s also an environment of fear where they feel that if they do stand up against it, they will be targeted. The primary sentiment is one of ‘keep your head down and don’t get yourself involved, because if you do, then you’re going to be set up to be jailed or killed,' " the professor said.

Is there any chance of meaningful debate or change when it comes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws?

“I think it’s going to take a visionary political leadership which is willing to be courageous and take a stand to generate popular support,” Sajjad said.

“But my sense is that the mainstream political forces in this country have the same approach as most everyday Pakistanis, which is just put your head down and don’t take up these issues. Until a popular constituency develops, political will won’t be generated. Until a political will is generated, a popular constituency may not be developed.

“It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg?”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Islam • Islamic law • Pakistan • Quran

soundoff (1,048 Responses)
  1. TruthPrevails :-)

    Allah, all praise be unto Him, actually has both male and female genitalia (how could it be otherwise?). Ibrahim knew this and was ashamed of Allah, all praise be unto Him, and began the lie that so many believe today that Allah, all praise be unto Him, is somehow male. Nothing of the sort! Self-copulation, practiced by those truly made in the image of Allah, all praise be unto Him, has always been the right and good practice of all who have been faithful to Him from the beginning. All should pray fervently that the sons of Ibrahim should turn away from Ibrahim's lie and self-copulate to the glory of Allah, all praise be unto Him.

    August 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Saad

      Another thing which I love about Islam is the brotherhood, The other day i was speaking to a non Muslim about Islam, An African American, I first told him that Islam was the first Religion to Eliminate Racism (Mashallah the same day he took shahadah, Inshallah Allah guide him), and in a beautiful Hadith our Prophet Muhammad said “An arab doesn’t have superiority over a non Arab, or a Non Arab over an Arab, or a White man over a Black man, or a Black man over a White man”, and you can see this today.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Darkon711

      @saad

      Care to explain the islamic/arab participation in the African slave trade? Or the koranic verses about the Ethiopians with the shriveled heads? Oh, what am I saying? Of course you won't.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • sendai

      One thing I admire about Mormon doctrine is its clarity about the status of the Black race of men before God. Saad I am so pleased to hear that Islam does not distinguish between the races of men.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Dubhly

      i would say you are wrong them. Racism has only been a problem within the Jewish/branch religions. By that judism, chrisitianity and islam. So your statement might be correct within that faith set it is not true worldwide.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Saad

      @Darkon711

      Yes, I would be happy too. African make excellent slaves. Ask any American. It is a shame how the American Civil War ended. Our economy would be much better if we still had slaves.

      The koranic verses about the Ethiopians with the shriveled heads are metephorical. The true meaning of the Quran is this: Black men while equal in the eyes of Allah, PBN, are unintelligent and are as the animals are to humans.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      true all beings of heaven (angels) are both male and female that's they way Ashera mad them God (Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah) is an angel the other Canaan gods are not but Yahweh the king of angles is definitely an angel all children of Ashera are angels thus Herms

      August 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      its also true for the creature of the island of Destiny (Avalon) too

      August 25, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  2. Seth Hill of Topanga, California

    Sure makes me grateful I live in the good old USA.

    August 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Dirk Diggler

      Surrounded by all those p.o.r.n queens in Topanga! Awsome!

      August 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  3. Duke

    That entire country is a cesspool.

    August 25, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Are you talking about Pakistan sir! Pakistan is an Islamic Republic and calling Pakistan cesspool is like calling Islam cesspool. How dare you?

      August 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      If you insist on following the lies of the talmud, God has an oppointed for you in Satan's kitchen, hell, which is hot. I would use the toilet if I could find it, but it is blocked off. I come on these blogs to remind you athiests and non-believers of Jesus' love for you.

      Amen.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      @HeavenSent

      are you a wise guy or what? Are you calling PakiSatan's kitchen, hell, and hot? Are you being sarcastic about Pakistan is lacking toilets or they are blocked? Don't sit there and curse people, visit us in Pakistan and see them yourself. We do have toilets and they are unblocked.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      @hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      The only thing blocked is your mind from the truth of the one true God, God almighty. If you believe in the lies of the talmud you will be a minion of satan for all time. My camel-toe is so large one of my cats gave birth to a litter of 7 kittens in there. It is time for you to walk hand in hand with your best friend, Jesus Christ and save your soul.

      Amen.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Take my offer and you walk hand in hand with your best friend Mohammad (I am not talking Mohammad living next door), and save your soul (from our Jihadists).

      August 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Mohammad is burning in hell right now for not following Jesus' truth. I haven't been out side for three years. It smells here. Satan is expert at spreading lies to make you follow his lies about God. Read the bible and be saved from hell.

      Amen.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  4. Bill

    all sandniqqers are nuts...

    August 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  5. Bill

    I heard Mohamed was a pedophile so whats so bad about this. I burned a koran last year

    August 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  6. O'Connor

    muslims have the dubious distinction of the only ones that persecute others for their Faith.

    SHAME ON YOU!

    August 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Duke

      Ever been to northern Ireland ?

      August 25, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Dubhly

      never met any christians have you. Ever hear of the crusades? how about the KKK? i could go on, but islam is not the only one.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  7. Saad

    What I love About Islam is that any practice that it teaches has hikma (wisdom) and such a clear purpose behind it and so many benefits. For example, this Black Kid walked pass me about 15 years old, He saw me dressed in Islamic Clothing kind of like a tobe and he said “Yo it’s your holiday right?”, I replied “na not yet but we are fasting for 30 days” then he said “werd, that means ya can’t eat right”. I said “Yup from sunrise to sunset”, Then he said yo how you be doing that? I told him people die all the time around the world because they don’t have food, and plus it makes us stronger”. Then he said “Yo i feel you man”, “Waalaikumusalam”. I was happy to hear him say that in his Brooklyn accent, which i also possess as you can see.

    August 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • fail

      total................FAIL.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Saad

      PBA

      August 25, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      I love about Islam is it protects men under honor killing. and and and the best part it protects me for bringing young kids into my bedroom. Allah rocks.

      August 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  8. AcclaimedMan

    Cowards are scared that their cult, spread by a pedophile with rapid inbreeding program written into that cult manual, and hence this BLASPHEMY law !!!

    Only Islam has implemented that law !!!

    Islamic cowards – they are so scared !!!

    August 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • AcclaimedMan

      And, they know the weakness of their cult, and hence this blasphemy law !!!

      August 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      Yes AcclaimedMan, I am reminded of Pakistan, after failing to get into the semi-finals of the ICC Under-19 World Cup, failed again to win their fifth place play-off semi-finals against the West Indies.

      August 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • AcclaimedMan

      After that they lost to none other than "Bangladesh U-19" !!!

      What a joke !!!

      August 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      I know, right?

      August 25, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Lisa

      If Muhammad was a pedophile for marrying an underaged girl back in the day then loads of our ancestors were also because it was pretty common for grown men in America to marry 16, 15, and even younger girls even less than 100 years ago.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Creepy Pioneer Dude

      Ahhh, those were the days. Now we have to "listen" and all that crap to these b.i.t.c.h.e.s all day. Just give me young and stupid.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  9. Sports Fan

    This story reminds me that the three Twenty20 internationals will be played in Dubai on September 5, 7 and 10. Pakistan's head coach Dav Whatmore was confident his team will perform well in the limited over series against Australia.

    August 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      Sorry, I forgot to mention in a related piece of news, Bangladesh Captain Inamul Huque’s sizzling century made it easy for his team to defeat Pakistan by 5 wickets and clinch 7th position in the play off match of under-19 World Cup on Friday.

      Pakistan batting first had made 235 for 8 wickets in the overall 50 overs and thus set a target of 236 for Bangladesh to win the match. Muhammad Nawaz played innings of 82 runs!

      August 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  10. Cabot L

    Hindus are allowed to worship anything – including s#xual organs. It is not unknown for them to name their children Shiva Lingam (God Shiva's s#xual organ) or Rama Lingam (God Rama's s#xual organ).

    August 25, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Who cares?

      August 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      We do the same thing in America:

      Dick, Johnson and Rod for example.

      August 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • AcclaimedMan

      But you Muslims learn to live with the DRONE strikes, no RESPITE even !!!

      August 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  11. Seth

    INDIA: S@X WITH COWS
    In many Hindu temples there are sculptures depicting men having s@x not only with men but also cows. What is the meaning of this? Is not the cow sacred? If it is, then it should be worshipped not s@ually assaulted

    August 25, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Seth, are you a believer in the Holy Bible? Jesus said he would give the non-believers reprobate minds. The dog is licking my lady parts but I can't reach that far down to stop it. Walk with Jesus in the sunshine of the truth. Those that follow the lies of the talmud will burn.

      Amen.

      August 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • AcclaimedMan

      Imagine when a Muslim tries to carry out a honor killing of a Muslim girl because she is trying to desert Islam by marrying a non-Muslim !!!

      The answer lies there – comprende "pedophile" follower?

      August 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • vs101

      Seth & Besh – Making derogatory remarks about Hinduism or Hindus doesn't make people forget about the horrors that are taking place in Pakistan in the name of Islam. Your comments actually highlight the filthy minds that people from your country have and the reason why Pakistan is disintegrating into anarchy. I don't feel sorry fo you or your country.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  12. Seth

    If the Hindu woman's husband dies, not only is she prohibited to remarry but she should be cremated along with her dead husband ("Sati").
    When His "Holiness" Puri Shankaracharya was asked about the fate of the widow's children, he replied – "it is fate! Let the children suffer or die without a mother. But SATI has to be performed according to Hinduism".

    August 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • AcclaimedMan

      Islam does not even allows their "unmarried" daughter escaping the house to marry some one other than their own cult, called Islam !!!

      August 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  13. Jack

    Hello folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  14. Besh

    With such "Dark Age" culture still in existence in India how can the world be healthy and the neighbors prosperous. India poses a grave danger to the world and its deities and leaders set a bad example. Mahatma Gandhi, a pedophile, needs to be exposed and tried posthumously for his child molestation crimes just like the Penn State crowd Sandusky et al. Gandhi's statutes need to be knocked down everywhere they have been put in USA. The hindu deities need to be shattered and trashed. Disgusting figurines of ugly and scary looking characters with demonic personalities. How can hindu children grow up mentally stable looking at such atrocious representations of evil in its most heinous form.

    August 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Dubhly

      from what i have seen of hindis they are a hell of a lot more stable them islamics and certainly better then the Pakis atm

      August 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  15. In the Name of Our Lord

    I am getting bad vibes reading about Hindus and Indians and their culture. I have read up on them as well and don't like what I see. How can our government be supporting India, a culture so brutal and anti women, children and minorities.

    August 25, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Dubhly

      if by our you mean the US then its becuase India is a good ally in the area, and if you look at the republicans, whats the differance in relation to women and children. If you want comparisons to Pakis just look to the Tealiban party

      August 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  16. Sports Fan

    I am reminded that Pakistan is lucky in that, unlike other countries, cricket is still the most popular game there. That’s why they produce so many fast bowlers who only need to be polished!

    August 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  17. HeavenSent

    You athiests joke about the rapture when the truth known as the Holy Bible in true. I found a dead mouse under my left lady teet, here kitty. keep scoffing in the face of the Almighty and soon you will have your own personal worm to eat your fat drippings in hell.

    Amen.

    August 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Not much to joke about...this is how you play it: The Bible is true because it says it is!! There is nothing more to your delusional stance than it being circular. You can't use the bible to prove god or the bible to prove the bible. You need to be able to back it with substantial evidence outside of the one book and since you can't, the book has no meaning. I don't care what you believe...it is damaging to society and the reason that you are mentally unstable!!

      August 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @TruthPrevails

      Hmmm... You might want to re-read this particular HeavenSent's post. This is not the real HeavenSent.

      However, whoever this one is... makes me LMAO with his comments. ! 😀

      Peace...

      August 25, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Duke

      Umm whatever. If you have the moral weakness to need a fairy tale to tell you what is right vs. wrong, good for you. The bible and the quoran have both caused countless lives to be lost. both books are evil. both would make good "verse a day" toilet paper.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Duke you need to humble yourself in the face of God. You prideful athiests will not listen to the Truth, the Holy Bible. I don't really noice the stench of the cat pee anymore. Take your walk with Jesus and discover God's love for us all.

      Amen.

      August 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  18. Reality

    AND ONCE AGAIN:-->>>>>>

    THE SAFE AND EASY SOLUTION: (Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..)

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi––

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    August 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  19. Sam Yaza

    remember the Christians would like to make blasphemy laws here to in fact they tried but then good old Jefferson said you evil p!ck3s better shut the F4ck up its called freedom know go worship your three headed monster some in quite

    August 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Jesus freaker

    Did the Rapture occur or did the Belief Blog go on vacation?

    August 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.