A Reconciliation with the Past and a Way Forward
On the 31st of October, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code in 2009. She was acquitted on the grounds that the prosecution failed to meet evidentiary requirements. As a direct consequence, the leadership of the extremist Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) announced a nationwide protest. As of this release, the protest is ongoing, halting the lives of ordinary citizens, and becoming increasingly violent with reports of damage to property and harm to persons.
This judgement and the controversy surrounding it has made it very clear that Pakistan needs to engage with the history and substance of its blasphemy laws, specifically section 295-C, in order to bring about a more equitable and, vitally, a more just state of affairs. This is essential not only for minorities living in Pakistan who are made disproportionate targets of these laws. It is also vital for the wide spectrum of academics, policy makers, lawyers and activists who operate on the ground and are victimized as a result of the constructed narrative and weaponization of the concept of blasphemy.
This comprehensive report on Pakistan's blasphemy laws traces their history, including their colonial heritage, engages in an immanent critique of those laws drawing on the Islamic legal tradition and offers policy recommendations on how to move forward. The report also includes canonical texts of Islamic jurisprudence and their translations in order to challenge the notion that there is an absolute consensus among the schools of Islamic jurisprudence on the issue of blasphemy and what the punishment for blasphemy should be.
This report has been three years in the making. The research for this report was done by scholars proficient in Arabic, Islamic jurisprudence, as well as historians, legal experts, and Madrassah students. The research for this report included consulting the primary Arabic texts referenced, their Urdu translations that are available in Madrassahs in Pakistan, the notes of actual parliamentary proceedings, judgements from Pakistani courts as well as the laws and opinions of scholars from various Muslim majority countries. Throughout this process, many established Islamic scholars, madrassah students and graduates, imams, and muftis--most of whom did not wish to be named for fear of repercussion-- were consulted. We are wholly confident that our research and the story it tells is accurate.
At its core, this report is about truths which have been repressed and deliberately erased to pass and support a law that has been responsible for the deaths of many, many innocent Pakistani citizens whilst empowering and emboldening violent, extremist elements in the country. It is time that our legislators and religious authorities account for the findings of this report. The only way to move forward is to reconcile with the realities of the past.
The report can be accessed here:
A compilation of authentic Hanafi rulings on the issue of blasphemy (With English and Urdu translations) can be accessed here.
A compiled digital library of authoritative rulings from the four major Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence can be accessed here.