Engaging Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law

*First posted on Laaltain.

From Aasia Bibi, Rimsha Masih to Shama and Shehzad; blasphemy in Pakistan hangs like a sword over Pakistan’s religious minorities.

However, amid the cases, there is a concerted effort underway to push for reform regarding the blasphemy law in Pakistan, by the name of Engage.


A non-profit research and advocacy organization, Engage is pushing for the reform through research and dialogue, by way of which it aims to impact and change the discourse; legal, social and cultural frameworks surrounding the issue of blasphemy in the country.

Unlike the usual frameworks, such as those of human rights, used to structure debate and discourse against the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, Engage is rooted in the singular framework of Islamic tradition for the pursuit. During his recent talk at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, researcher Arafat Mazhar, who is one of the main individuals associated with the organization, continuously reinforced that authority has to be established in order to counter the dominant narratives prevailing on the issue in the country; and that this authority and evidence has to be derived from the same source which is used as a legitimating basis for the Blasphemy Law i.e Islamic tradition.

Picture taken from Engagepakistan.com

Engage, therefore, pursues the important deconstruction of what it calls the erroneous basis of the law through Islamic tradition; chiefly through Imam Abu Hanifa’s position that blasphemy is a pardonable offence for non-Muslims.

Moreover, Mazhar spoke of Ismail Qureshi, architect of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan’s, and his disastrously incorrect reading of Ibn-e-Abideen (1836) whom he referenced to lend weight to the law. It was Ibn-e-Abideen, who, in fact, pointed out the line of false narration regarding the Hanafi position on the issue of blasphemy by non-Muslims.

And as written in his articles for Dawn, he reinforced the significance of this Islamic tradition by mentioning that the position of blasphemy as a pardonable offence for non-Muslims was approved and signed by no less than 450 of the most prestigious names in the Hanafi ulema, not just from South Asia, but around the world” (which included Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, founder of the Barelvi school of thought to which, ironically, Mumtaz Qadri belonged).

The organization’s site is prompt to state that:

 “Our research actually shows that the law is built on erroneous religious foundations including misquotations and misrepresentations of authoritative classical Islamic jurists.

[and by demonstrating the abovementioned through informed, thorough research and historical evidence]

It is only when this narrative – the public sentiment– is reshaped that legal reform can be addressed.”

In Mazhar’s words, “legal reform cannot take place in a vacuum in Pakistan” without addressing the popular social and cultural acceptance and prevalence underlying the Blasphemy Law.

In short, Engage aims to make use of solid research in Islamic tradition to delegitimise the basis of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and engage the general public, society, culture, institutions such as the government, judiciary, religious scholars and groups such as non-governmental organizations and the civil society in Pakistan along with the international community of Islamic scholars, in order to push for reform of the law.

As part of its efforts, Engage has established a Fatwa Drive which seeks scholarly endorsements recognizing the erroneous position on cases of blasphemy relating to non-Muslims; that if an alleged blasphemer seeks pardon, he should be forgiven.  The Fatwa Drive includes visiting major madrassahs, masjids, Islamic jurists and scholars for the purpose.  For Engage, this is based upon the idea that “Together, the moral authority of these opinions can be used a force for legal and popular reform.”

Well-aware of the ire, controversy, dangers and suspicions such a campaign can and does invite, Engage seeks to maintain a clean character of its campaign – free of affiliation, association with different interests – by seeking funds to support itself and its objective through crowdsourcing.

Engage’s campaign can be contributed to at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/engage-reforming-pakistan-s-blasphemy-law

Arafat Mazhar can be contacted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arafatmazhar

And truly, if Pakistan is to chart a peaceful and pluralistic future for its citizens and religious minorities, it is essential to engage with and overcome all that sustains the Blasphemy Law.

~ Hafsa Khawaja


8 comments on “Engaging Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law

  1. Reference: (blasphemy as a pardonable offence for non-Muslims “was approved and signed by no less than 450 of the most prestigious names in the Hanafi ulema, not just from South Asia, but around the world” (which included Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, founder of the Barelvi school of thought to which, ironically, Mumtaz Qadri belonged).

    It would be appreciated if you’ll post any authenticity of this fatwa or any reference.

  2. Irshadullah says:

    Yes. The law as it stands is contrary to the obligation of muslims to protect the lives and properties of subject non-muslims since these non-muslims are required by the laws of Islam to pay jizya for this purpose. The laws of Islam also require muslims to honour all transactions/commitments not only amongst themselves but also with subject non-muslims. The law as it stands is therefore repugnant to Islam. The CII/Shariat Court has not yet intervened to strike it down.

    However I think the Shariat Court would accept this argument if it is approached on this issue. It is true that (as far as I am aware) non-muslims in Pakistan are exempt from payment of jizya as well as exempted or rejected from joining the army. So perhaps a compromise solution to the dilemma would be to call the income tax contributed by non-muslims jizya since there is no income tax in Islam. There is tax on assets (Zakat) only which is not imposed on non-muslims. What about the income tax contributed by muslims? The Shariat Court can issue a decree that it be called obligatory khairat imposed on muslims only to help the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
    By accepting income tax from non-muslims in Pakistan and not calling it jizya the door is being left open to letting muslims wiggle out of the duty to protect the lives and properties of subject non-muslims as an obligation arising from getting jizya out of them.


  3. Irshadullah says:

    I honestly believe that if a petition is made to the Shariat Court that the income tax paid by non-muslims be called jizya and the income tax paid by muslims be called obligatory charity (khairat) from the muslims to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan then the Shariat Court can not refuse it. This is because Islamic law does not recognize income tax and Islamic law requires non-muslims to pay jizya (for protection of their lives and properties as a binding commitment required of muslims according to established scholars of Islamic jurisprudence ). As a direct consequence of this decree from the Shariat Court muslims would be happy to give in charity

    • irshadullah khan says:

      Thank you for your decision to make my comments on the blasphemy law public on your blog. It was a pleasant surprise. I am happy with your editorial process.

  4. Irshadullah says:

    continuation of previous comment: what is presently collected from them as income tax. Also to make it possible for muslims to fulfill their obligation to protect non-muslims (arising from getting jizya from them) they have to change the blasphemy laws in their present form.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s