Pakistan Needs Religious Tolerance


The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan caused the murder of Shahbaz Bahtti on March 2, 2011. He was the only Christian in the Pakistani government, serving as Minister of Non-Muslim Minorities. The law also led to the death, on Jan. 4, 2011, of Salman Taseer, the Christian governor of the Punjab Province, whose only crime was his public support for Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by hanging in Nov 2010, for Blasphemy.

The Pakistani Blasphemy Law carries a possible death sentence. It forbids the wounding the religious feelings of Islamic persons, defiling the Quran, or defaming the prophet Muhammad. Trials are held before Muslim judges. Many people have been charged with Blasphemy and have been prosecuted over the past decades.

Pakistan was created as an Islamic state by Britain, when they segregated the Muslims and Hindus of India into two nations (1947). A decade later, the young nation formally became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (1956). They later integrated Islamic Sharia law into their legal code (1991). Now, it is being used in the provinces. In the Waziristan Province, for example, it was adopted in exchange for a ceasefire from Islamic militants (2008).

Unfortunately, an accused in Pakistan has no American-style First Amendment, barring the Establishment of Religion. There is no way to declare the Blasphemy Law unconstitutional. So it needs to be challenged as a violation of due process, which requires all crimes to be clearly defined. Laws cannot be so vague as to leave the accused unsure of what conduct is allowed or prohibited.

How would one possibly know if they are wounding the feelings of Islamic persons? How would they know if they are defaming the Prophet Muhammad? What if the speech was truthful and directed at the Quran for having demonstrably false entries? Would this be defiling the Quran? Would it be defamatory?

Pakistan, a nation with a large Muslim majority (97%), needs to change and allow religious tolerance. While it is hard to control 176 million people, they must engage in an educational campaign to tone down the madness. Once tempers have calmed down, they  must either repeal the Blasphemy law, or amend it, to grant due process, by narrowing definitions of what may be deemed illegal.

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