Monograph: Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law and Non-Muslims

Abstract:  Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code prohibits insulting the Prophet and carries a mandatory death penalty. This law was passed based on a claim of ijma‘ (consensus among Islamic scholars) that such an offense is subject to a hadd (divinely fixed) punishment. Nearly half of those charged under this statute crimes of hadd are Christians, who make up only about four percent of Pakistan’s population. Yet there is no consensus among Islamic scholars on the death penalty for non-Muslims who insult the Prophet. Some early Islamic scholars held there was no punishment at all in such cases, and most said it was a ta‘zir offense, i.e., subject to discretionary punishment or none at all. Under Islamic law, whether and how ta‘zir punishment is applied depends on the interests of the common good (maslaha). Pakistan’s application of Section 295-C to non-Muslims promotes harm: mob violence, disrespect for the law, oppression of minorities and the poor, and damage to Islam’s reputation. Moreover, such cases are adjudicated by judges who have no expertise in Islamic law or the interpretive tools of Islamic jurisprudence needed to mitigate the statute’s harm. Therefore, applying this section to non-Muslims contradicts Islamic law. Under Islamic law and from a policy perspective, the only relevant question is whether enforcing Section 295-C against non-Muslims promotes the common good. Because it clearly does not, the government of Pakistan should immediately stop doing so and pardon those accused or convicted under it. Muslim religious leaders should make it clear that Islam does not require the death of non-Muslims who insult the Prophet and that the true way to show love for him is not mob violence, but dignified behavior, patience, and wisdom.