Religion in Pakistan:
According to Pakistani government sources, almost all of the 130 million citizens of Pakistan are Muslim:
||77% are Sunni Muslim
||20% are Shi'a Muslim
||1.5% are Christian
||1.5% are Ahmadis, Hindus, Zikris, followers of other faiths, or persons of no
However, Christian leaders insist that they constitute at least 6% of the total
Pakistani Blasphemy Law
An old blasphemy law, which was written in 1927 during during colonial days,
banned insults directed against any religion. In 1986, dictator General Zia-Ul
Haw modified the law to protect only Islam. The law require a life imprisonment
or a life sentence for anyone who defiled the name of Muhammad or committed
other blasphemy. In 1990, a religious court ruled that the
penalty for crimes under the law (Section 295-C of the country's Constitution)
is execution. 6 The law states: "Whoever by words, either
spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by inputation, innuendo, or
insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy prophet
Mohammed...shall be punished with death and shall be liable to a fine." The law is being used in Pakistan
to discriminate against religious minorities: largely Christians, and Ahmadis.
Under the present law, a Muslim may blaspheme Christianity with impunity. But a
Christian doing the same against Islam can theoretically be executed.
Iqbal Haider, then the Law Minister, urged reform of the blasphemy law because several
individuals had been falsely accused. There was a suspicion that the motivations of their
accusers was to settle old scores or to intimidate others. In response, some
extreme Fundamentalist Muslim leaders put a price of $40,000 on Haider's head.
On 1994-JUL-28, Amnesty International urged prime minister, Benazir Bhutto to
change the law because it was being used to terrorize religious minorities. 4 The AI
press release stated: "Pakistan's blasphemy laws are so vaguely formulated that
they encourage, and in fact invite, the persecution of religious minorities or
non-conforming members of [the] Muslim majority."
Benazir Bhutto attempted to change the law, but was unsuccessful. She did direct all
district magistrates to release any accused persons under this law until their case had
first been investigated. A subsequent prime minister, Nawaz Sharif won two thirds of the
seats in parliament in 1997-JAN with strong support from Muslim religious fundamentalists.
His government has reversed the ruling of the former prime minister. Individuals are now
being arrested for blasphemy, and held without bail, while their cases are being
investigated. No Christian charged with this crime has every been granted bail.
The government is considering appending to the blasphemy law an amendment that will
provide heavy penalties in the event of false accusations.
As of mid-2002, only the testimony of a single Muslim is sufficient to
prosecute a non-Muslim on blasphemy charges. 18
Ayub Masih, a Christian, was convicted of
blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998. He was accused by a neighbor of
stating that he supported British writer, Salman Rushdie, author of "The
Satanic Verses." Lower appeals courts upheld the conviction. However, before
the Pakistan Supreme Court, his lawyer was able to prove that the accuser had
used the conviction to force Mashi's family off their land and then acquired
control of the property. Masih has been released. 18
The vast majority of Pakistanis are either Shi'a or Suni Muslims. Two of their
foundational beliefs are that Muhammad was the last and greatest of the prophets, and that
the Messiah is expected sometime in the future. However, followers of the Ahmadiyya
Movement believe that God sent Ahmad to be that Messiah, "a messenger
of His in this age who has claimed to have come in the spirit and power of Jesus Christ.
He has come to call all people around one Faith, i.e. Islam..." While
followers of Ahmadi consider themselves to be a part of Islam, Shi'a and Suni Muslims
disagree; they consider Ahmadis to be guilty of apostasy, to be non-Islamic. (11)
The movement's founder was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He was born in
Qadian, India. He felt that he had a mandate from God to correct a serious error within
Christianity. Most Christians believe that Jesus is a member of the Godhead. "...because
Jesus, whom God sent as a Messiah to the Israelites was taken for a God, Divine jealousy
ordained that another man [Ahmad] should be sent as Messiah so that the world may know
that the first Messiah was nothing more than a weak mortal."
After his death, the community elected a series of Khalifas (successors). The current
and "Fourth Successor (Khalifatul Masih IV), to the Promised Messiah was chosen
in the person of Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad" on 1982-JUN-10. The Ahmadiyya
Community currently has more than 10 million members worldwide.
Probably the most famous Ahmadi from Pakistan was Dr. Abdus Salam (1926-1996). He was
awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 for his theoretical work on the unification of
two fundamental forces of nature. (12)
The Pakistani government supported the expulsion of Ahmadis from Islam with
legislation: "In 1974, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved the Second
Amendment to the Constitution literally excommunicating Ahmadi Muslims and banishing them
from the fold of Islam...In 1984, General Zia-ul Haq, promulgated Martial Law Ordinance
XX...branding Ahmadis as criminals liable to fine and imprisonment if they practiced their
belief in Islam, used Islamic terms or posed as Muslims." (6) The
punishment is up to 3 year in jail and a fine.
In 1993 the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard a case by a number of Ahmadis who
asserted that they were being deprived of their religious rights and freedoms, as
guaranteed under Article 20 of the constitution. The appeal was rejected. The court felt
that granting the Ahmadis equal rights would be against public order. They said
that Shi'a or Suni Muslims, who vastly outnumber the Ahmadis, consider the "movement
ideologically offensive." 6 The majority opinion of the court stated that many
Islamic phrases were, in effect, copyrighted trademarks of the Islamic faith. Thus the use
of these phrases by Ahmadis was a form of copyright infringement; it violated the
Trademark Act of 1940. They also found that Ahamdis were committing blasphemy when they
spoke or wrote specific Islamic phrases.
One of the main purposes of a country's constitution is to protect the majority from
terrorizing and discriminating against minorities. However, there are limits beyond which
minorities cannot go. Apparently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan valued public peace for
the majority over freedom for a religious minority. The U.S. Lawyer's Committee for
Human Rights stated: "...to sanction Ordinance XX and its discriminatory
impact and religious restrictions is to violate a fundamental and universally recognized
standard of human rights." 7 Honourable Jules Deschenes, a Justice of the Supreme
Court of Canada commented: "20 years have elapsed since the Second
Constitutional amendment and 10 years since the promulgation of Ordinance XX; yet those
unfortunate provisions are still in force and continue to breed their nefarious results,
as can be seen from the above-mentioned recent judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan"
A sampling of persecution during the 1990's include:
||Rashood Ahmad of Sangahr was found guilty of displaying a verse from the Koran on his
wall. He was given a sentence of 2 years in prison and a fine of about US$166.
||Five journalists of the Ahmadi daily newspaper Al Fazal were charged under the
blasphemy law, Section 298(c). This was in response to complaints that they had propagated
their faith and passed themselves off as Muslims.
||The Rawalpindi Development Authority demolished a 40 year old Ahmadi center in
Rawalpindi. The government stated that the land had been illegally converted to a place of
||Numerous Ahamdis have been murdered for their religious beliefs.
Persecution of Christians:
The Bishop of Lahore, Alexander John Malik, said that the blasphemy law "is a
tool for religious cleansing." Some disturbing recent developments include:
||In 1997-DEC, Reverend Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, is believed to have urged government officials to amend the
law. Some Pakistani Islamic organizations were outraged and demanded an
apology from the Archbishop.
||A trial on 1998-MAY in Sahiwal Town, Punjab, has generated a great deal of anger among
the Christian minority. Mr. Ayub Masih, 34, a Christian laborer, returned to his village in
rural Punjab and applied for a house lot under a government program. He was accused of
blasphemy, of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and of promoting the writings of Salman Rushdie.
He allegedly praised Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses," in a
private conversation with a Christian neighbor. He
was jailed and refused bail. He was unable to find a lawyer to represent him. At his
trial, he was fined 100,000 rupees (about US $2,100) and sentenced to be executed. All of
the Christians in his village have fled. Their homes have been seized. He has appealed his
conviction, but the process might take may years. During 2002-FEB, a
two-judge panel ruled that his case should be reviewed because of
prosecutorial errors. He will probability be eventually
released, because no appellate court has yet upheld the death sentence.
||Two Christians, jailed on suspicion of blasphemy, have died in police custody.
||Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph led a protest march on 1998-MAY-6 to the courthouse where Mashi's trial took place. He gave a speech asking for peace and unity between Muslims and
Christians. He then committed suicide, apparently an act of protest. 2
||One day later, Raja Zafarul Haq, the Minister for Religious Affairs, said that the
blasphemy law does not discriminate against persons of any faith; it is not against any
The government is considering appending to the blasphemy law an amendment that will
provide heavy penalties in the event of false accusations. Bishop Malik commented: "I
think the government is quite willing to listen to us. It is the extreme mullahs who are
Random, mutual extermination of Shiite and Sunni Muslims:
Random acts of violence have occurred in Pakistan for many years between
Shiite and Sunni Muslims. These often take the form of unprovoked attacks on
peaceful Muslims at prayer. After a horrendous murder spree on 2003-JUL-5, the
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued a news release titled: "Pakistan
Bombing: A Wake-Up Call for Muslims:"
The suicide bombing in Quetta, Pakistan,
Friday, that killed dozens of Shiite Muslim worshipers and
injured about 65, should be condemned by all who believe
in God and human decency.
It adds to the outrage that those misguided individuals
violated the sanctity of human life that God made sacred,
and desecrated the sanctity of a place of worship.
This terrible crime illustrates the depth of
misunderstanding and confusion that has darkened those who
claim belonging to Islam. Beyond mere condemnation, MPAC
is urgently calling on all conscious and educated Muslims
to expose the root of the malignant ideas that would lead
Muslims to undertake such terrible acts of sectarian
violence. These ideas and subsequent actions endanger
and offend the basic principles of Islam, which are mercy,
justice, freedom, and human dignity.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught that whoever is silent
regarding the truth is equal to a devil. This hadith
(saying of the Prophet) is echoed in a well-known modern
saying, "all it takes for evil to prevail is for good
people to remain silent."
We call on Muslim intellectuals to initiate a robust
debate around this issue. MPAC will contribute to this
debate and will publish the discourse through our channels
Points of Discussion and Reflection about the Quetta
Bombing for Muslims:
||This crime is not one crime, but several crimes (according to Islam) at
once, including suicide, mass murder, desecration of a holy place of worship,
spreading corruption, destruction on earth and compromising the peace (in a
country that was created as a sanctuary for Muslims) and further tarnishing
the peaceful religion of Islam.
||The culprits have also committed a crime discussed for
centuries by Islamic scholars, known as "crimes of the
heart". These crimes include hatred, cruelty, and
sectarian fanaticism. (6:159)
||Regardless of the history (sometimes deep) of
sectarian strife in certain places or cultures, there is
no escaping the fact that the mentality that can lead to
the level fanaticism witnessed in Pakistan this past
weekend is taught, not inherent to Islam or to Sunnis or Shiia.
||Muslim intellectuals have been relatively reluctant to
exert the effort needed to expose and isolate these
poisonous teachings in detailed, specific terms complete
with analysis and recommendations.
||A major root cause of this type of fanaticism is one
group or another believing that they alone hold the key to
righteousness and that everyone else is wrong. One hadith
(saying of the Prophet) in particular is often quoted, to
the effect that "the Christians were divided into
seventy-three sects and so Muslims will be divided into
seventy-two sects. All of these sects are wrong except
one. When the Prophet was asked which one is the 'one',
he said it is the one that best follows his way."
This hadith has two problems. This hadith is considered
by scholars to be daif (weak), and as such, should not be used as an educational
tool. Moreover, historically and logically, different groups have and do
consider their way to be the 'one'. If this is the case for all groups,
than the point becomes moot and therefore meaningless.
||It is time for concerned Muslims: intellectuals, religious leaders,
community leaders, et all, to head the various 'wake up calls' that have
arisen since September 11. 14
John Stackhouse, "Pakistani law has Christians up in arms," The Globe
and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-JUN-8.
Sarah Horner, "Bishop Suicide," VOA; quoted in the Pakistan News
Service at: http://paknews.org/main2may-8.html
"Blasphemy law is not discriminatory," Pakistani News Service, at: http://paknews.net.pk/pns_may11.html
"Pakistan Urged to Alter Blasphemy Laws," Chicago Tribune,
A page dedicated to Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan is at: http://home.inforamp.net/~admalik/mw/human_rights/
"The Situation of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan," at: http://www.alislam.org/pakistan/hr-pak1.htm
- Letter, Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, New York, 1994-FEB-4, cited in Reference 6.
- Letter, Judge Deschenes, 1994-APR-22, cited in Reference 6
US State Department Report at: http://www.utexas.edu/students/amso/pakistan.html
An unofficial home page of the "Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam" is at: http://www.alislam.org/pakistan/index.html
"The Messiah Has Come," at: http://www.utexas.edu/students/amso/messiah.html
A home page dedicated to Dr. Abdus Salam is at: http://www.alislam.org/pakistan/salam.html
Munir Ahmad, "Pakistan court orders Christian freed," Associated
- "Pakistan Bombing: A Wake-Up Call for Muslims," MPACnews, the Muslim
Public Affairs Council, 2003-JUL-7
Copyright © 2000 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2003-JUL-8
Author: B.A. Robinson