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. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    hind, stink of a hindu, skunk from hindered gutter india spewing their hinduism, stink

    August 25, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  2. Shia Power

    Sunnis are idiots. They are the trash of the world

    August 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Sunni Power

      True Islam

      August 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Mediator

      Let the comments begin.

      August 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • rush21

      all islam is garbage, and should be wiped off the face of the Earth!

      August 25, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  3. HeavenSent

    Islam busted.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Scotty, cough, tommie tom, you can use your fake handles all day to bash Islam. I use dead rat bones for toothpics. It won't save you from having your own personal worm to feed on your fat drippings for all eternity.


      August 25, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @HS Poe,

      I get it, but perhaps you could lighten up here? If the real HS goes back to the judgmental behavior fine, I understand, but at some point this is indistinguishable from harassment.

      August 25, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  4. Reality


    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 11:25 pm |
    • KK

      Its there country let them worry about it

      August 25, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Reality

      The Islam problem is a global issue:

      To wit:

      As the global koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. "
      o 24) Mon Jun 4, 2012 10:18am EDT
      BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed car outside a Shi'ite Muslim office in central Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 190 in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate.
      The bombing on a Shi'ite religious office comes at a sensitive time, with the country's fractious Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs locked in a crisis that threatens to unravel their power-sharing deal and spill into sectarian tensions."

      25) BURGAS, Bulgaria | Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:27am EDT
      (Reuters) – A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the interior minister said on Thursday, and Israel said Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants were to blame.

      August 26, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  5. LogIK

    500 BC called it wants its country back

    August 25, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  6. k.madhukar

    Blasphemy law was passed because Pakistanis think Allaha is too weak to protect his religion and protect the honor of His prophet.How sad Allaha is keeping quiet.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • toad

      Alas, Allah is no more. Allah died quietly in his sleep and is buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown country. He is not mourned.

      August 25, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  7. Altee11

    Blasphemy laws are pure oppression. They are being pushed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group led by autocrats and want-to-be autocrats. This is not about religion; it is about oppression.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  8. Christ likes crack

    So when is this superman with a hippy haircut gonna show up and kick this profit moe-hammids ass for not properly
    brown nosing Yaweh? Oh wait.. I know... none of them exist. Save the world. Kill a zealot.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  9. ma & pa

    ...guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. Some people's religion is the attacking of all religions.

    August 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  10. Colin in Florida

    "Pakistan’s blasphemy law makes it a crime to destroy or damage the Quran or to insult the Prophet Mohammed." Well, I guess I am kicking Pakistan off my bucket list. Must be a pretty weak prophet if he can't take a little insult. Oops, I guess i just insulted him. Oh well.

    August 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      I guess I have to wonder why Pakistan would ever be on your bucket list to begin with. Did you go to a mini-Pakistan in Vegas or Epcot or similar that made you want to go to the real thing? Lol.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  11. Eros

    TexasRanger this is what it looks like http://sheikyermami.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/koranpaper1_2.jpg

    It's nice and smooth to. When your getting to the end of the roll the face of Mohammed shows up.

    August 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • loki

      I wouldn’t want to seem prejudice so I’d need a roll with all religions on it…

      August 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  12. TexasRanger

    Where can I get some toilet rolls blessed with quranic versus, and maybe some pictures of Osama too?

    August 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      RNC .... Oh sorry I thought you said Obama. Never mind

      August 25, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      I want some with alternating images of the bible and the quran. and maybe some portraits of st peter and st paul thrown in there like wildcards – you know to make you feel like you're going to have a special day.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  13. Peter

    All Muslims are sheep first, then Swine, it is a gutter religion, fueled by fanaticism and hatred, I say drone all Islamic countries until they are all dead! Mohammed was not a false prophet, he was indeed Stan incarnate!

    August 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      All Christian are sheep first, then Swine, it is a gutter religion, fueled by fanaticism and hatred, I say drone all Christian countries until they are all dead! Jesus was not a false prophet, he was indeed Stan*1 incarnate!



      you can Love me latter♥

      August 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • truth be told

      The true black murderous heart of the so called atheist is revealed.

      August 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      I'm not an atheist
      i think that guy is a Christian
      i'm just saying the words are that easy to replace
      when they do the exact same thing

      August 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Jay

      So many posters, so few adults.

      August 25, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  14. Eros

    It is so nice to live in a free country.
    I can use my Quran Toilet paper
    every time I use the rest room and
    the government could care less!

    Mohammed is not real. Has anybody
    actually seen his face? Maybe that
    cartoonist in hiding did.

    August 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      I am Sunni muslim from Pakistan and I prey 5 times everyday. I hate India, America, UK, Israel, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Gays, Lasbians, and pigs.

      Allah u Akbar.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Cartoon Moha Mad

      I hate Muslims. I use the Quran toilet papeer. My fart sounds Allah purrr purrr Akbar

      August 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  15. Jack

    Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 25, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  16. Ram Ram Ram

    I am Haram I am Haram I am Haram

    I speak three times every time someone mentions Islam to me.

    August 25, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      sadly they don't have harems any more i miss old Arabia,.. hot nights exotic substances uninhibited people

      August 25, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  17. Cabot L

    it could have been better if my mama had dumped me in the trash can at abortion clinic instead raising me as Pakistani Sunni muslim.

    August 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Mucky

      I feel the same way


      August 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Mucky

      I feel the same way Cabot!


      August 25, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Ducky

      Your posts are making me feel like i am covered with pig blood. Uuukkkk

      August 25, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Mountain High

      I feel like jumping from mountain.

      August 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Cartoon Moha Mad

      I feel the same way too. Why can' they have a like button?

      August 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  18. Atheism is healthy for kids and grown-ups too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. Teaching kids to be agnostic helps reinforce their understanding of the new real things they can see and learn about in life. It helps them properly separate the known from the unknown without confusing them. They just need to be taught things that are unknown, like god, and things that are made up, like all religion.

    Atheists have strong minds, and don't run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, disserving society).

    We have only begun to scratch the surface in using the mind to its maximum. Damaging it with made-up junk that politicians and salesmen dreamed up long ago is senseless, and limits the mind's potential. These politicians and charlatans didn't even do a good job of organizing and being consistent with the stuff they dreamt up to try to control people. Daddy used to say they were caught with their pants down when the bible was first translated so that common folk could read it. Very true.

    Instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea or coffee and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    August 25, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Kara Lawrence

      Well said!

      August 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • sharkfisher

      If you want to put your trust in yourself or another man go ahead,That is your right. I choose to trust Jesus. That is my right.I have seen science change it,s mind to many times over the last 76 years. One example: when I was in school we were taught that milk was the perfect food. That eggs and cheese were excellent protien food. That red meat was required for proper nutrition and that we were headed for another ice age. I'v never known Jesus to be wrong.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Shark, you certainly have a right to believe whatever you want, but pretending that science is "wrong" because research uncovers new information and shows evidence that previous conclusions are not always correct is simply ignorant.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 25, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • jqent

      How about, "things change prayer?"

      August 25, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • SuZieCoyote

      ...or how about, "prayer changes nothing."

      August 25, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • nope


      August 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Kara Lawrence

      Actually, scientific studies have been conducted that show that prayer changes nothing. When I want a warm, fuzzy feeling, I pet my cat. Scientific studies have also shown that petting animals lowers a person's blood pressure. Lower BP AND no genocide! Huzzah!

      August 25, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Colin in Florida

      Evidence, please.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Religion is not healthy for 11 year-old Pakistani girls...

      Or anyone else for that matter.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • CarolinaKate

      If I remember correctly, the "Prayer changes things" vs "Things change prayer,' came from a wonderful book from the 1960s,, "Stranger in a Strange Land". One of the best and most memorable books I've read in the last 60 years!

      August 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  20. Ram Ram Ram

    Islamism is healthy for any other living things, but not for humans since no other living things give a $H|T if there were 72 hoors in Jannat waiting for them.

    August 25, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Mountain High

      LOL I knew it Islam was a fake deal. Bas turds.

      August 25, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Ducky

      Uueeee Amma, my assshole hurts when I read your posts.

      August 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Mucky

      I am a muslim animal and I don't give give a $H|T to 72 you-know-what!

      August 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Cabot L

      Shame on my parent for leading me into a gutter religion.

      August 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • CarolinaKate

      (One of ) my ex-husbands apparently gave some thought to the idea of 40, or 72, or however many, virgins await Muslim heroes in heaven. His final analysis was that deflowering one virgin was not nearly as enjoyable as he had anticipated, so why on earth would anyone want 40, or more?! He also noted that dealing with one wife was more than sufficiently time-consuming and stressful, so only a fool would want to contend with a whole covey of them. I thought he made an excellent point!

      August 25, 2012 at 11:49 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.