Explore Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, please

A Christian woman in Pakistan has been sentenced to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

That’s a hard story to cover. The Telegraph report about Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother-of-five who denies the charge and says she is being persecuted for her faith, includes these details:

Ashiq Masih, her husband, said he had not had the heart to break the news to two of their children.

“I haven’t told two of my younger daughters about the court’s decision,” he said. “They asked me many times about their mother but I can’t get the courage to tell them that the judge has sentenced their mother to capital punishment for a crime she never committed.” Mrs Bibi has been held in prison since June last year.

The court heard she had been working as a farmhand in fields with other women, when she was asked to fetch drinking water.

Some of the other women – all Muslims – refused to drink the water as it had been brought by a Christian and was therefore “unclean”, according to Mrs Bibi’s evidence, sparking a row.

The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs Bibi said she was set upon by a mob.

The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.

Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, said: “The police were under pressure from this Muslim mob, including clerics, asking for Asia to be killed because she had spoken ill of the Prophet Mohammed.

“So after the police saved her life they then registered a blasphemy case against her.” He added that she had been held in isolation for more than a year before being sentenced to death on Monday.

The Telegraph story is very thorough, including the fact that while no one has ever been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, as many as 10 people have been murdered while on trial for it. Compare that to the CNN report which simply mentioned that the death sentences are rarely carried out.

Generally the foreign press did a bit better on these reports. For instance, Agence France-Presse mentioned the two Christian brothers who were shot and killed last year while on trial for blasphemy. And here’s the BBC story about those killings.

The one thing that I was curious about — and didn’t find an answer to in any of the stories — is whether Bibi’s gender will have a role in her eventual punishment. For instance, while the penalty for males who apostatize is widely believed to be death, for females there are more options, including life imprisonment. Is Pakistan’s blasphemy law similarly structured with different penalties for males and females?

And on that note, it would be nice to get a bit more understanding of where these blasphemy laws come from, how they’re justified, and how Muslims inside and outside Pakistan view them. Sure, it’s good to know that human rights groups around the world condemn these laws. But how are these laws viewed within Muslim communities? It would help to find out a bit more about that.

Once again, there is no one Islam. There is no one unified approach to Sharia law, either. Readers need more facts to understand these clashes in beliefs within Islam.

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  • Jerry

    Mollie, I share the questions you ask.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    Here’s another blasphemy article. This man is in the West bank in Palestine.

    Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

    I wonder what percent of Muslims believe that death is the appropriate punishment for apostasy? I’m thinking it might be in the Quran, so to disagree might be to insult the Quran.

  • Jerry


    You’re wrong as I found it with 5 minutes with Google. The following reference discusses four ways that Muslims view Hadith (not Quran) and how the attitude they choose affects how they view insulting Islam and Muhammad:


    My analogy is whether or not someone would pay attention to the Old Testament death penalties or not. This issue has been settled in the Jewish and Christian religion but is being fought over in Islam.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A lot of relevant and interesting questions raised in the posting and the comments here. It would be good to see more discussion in the mass media–especially in our country–to ascertain how many (or few) Moslems hold strongly to some of the scary parts of the Koran and its traditional understanding. I saw a Pew survey that indicates strong support in Pakistan for some of the parts of Moslem tradition most feared in the West.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    According to the April 2010 Pew survey posted on the “Former Moslems United” web site::75% of Pakistani Moslems favor the death penalty for those who leave Islam.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    Hi Jerry,

    Thank you for the link. I see it says that the current mainstream Islamic jurisprudence does justify killing those who insult the prophet or Islam:

    Option 4: Muslims who follow the current mainstream Islamic jurisprudence books can also justify barbaric reactions to insulting Islam through the well-known rule in Islamic jurisprudence. This rule justifies killing those who insult the prophet or Islam (see, as an example, “Minhaj al-Muslim” by Abu-Bakr Al-Jazarry Volume :2 Page 525).

    In the article you linked, the 4th option listed was the mainstream one. So, the writer chose to put the less popular ones up front. Someone just skimming might be mislead into thinking they were the dominant ways of thinking.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    More from Jerry’s linked article:

    Ironically enough; the peaceful Muslims or the Muslims who do not use violence against those who insult Islam, are the ones who do not apply the mainstream Islamic teaching and Shariah properly!

    The Muslim world needs to learn that Islam will be perceived by others as Muslims portray it.

    If Shariah justifies killing a human soul because he or she insulted the Prophet Muhammad or insulted Islam, then the Muslim world must not expect others to call Islam a peaceful religion and Westerners must not expect the outcome of this teaching to be anything but violence and barbarism.

    When the Muslim world changes its teaching and understanding of the religion to promote forgiveness for those who insult the religion (as described in Option 1) then and only then can Muslims demand that “Islam is the religion of peace.”

  • Stoo

    Jerry I’m rather surprised you’d go to Newsmax for information!

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    This is only tangentially related to the coverage, but I’m curious. Has anyone heard of a blasphemy case in which some prophet other than Mohammad was allegedly insulted? A cursory Googling doesn’t turn one up.

  • http://alislam.org Hasan Hakeem

    There is no such punishment for blasphemy in the Holy Quran or in the Traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Blasphemy against God is mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following words: ‘And abuse not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite abuse Allah in their ignorance.’ (Ch. 6:109)

    No authorization has been granted to any man to inflict any punishment for blasphemy against God. Blasphemy was committed by Jews against Mary, the mother of Christas. It has been mentioned in the Holy Quran, where it says: ‘And for their disbelief and for their uttering against Mary a grievous calumny.’ (Ch.4:151)

    Book: Murder in the Name of Allah
    Murder in the
    Name of Allah
    Mirza Tahir Ahmad

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    a reader sent in this very helpful report on the history of such blasphemy laws: http://afpakind.blogs.france24.com/article/2010/11/14/pakistans-blaspheming-christians-suicidal-insane-or-merely-framed-0