Top Menu The Fatwas That Can Change Pakistan’s Blasphemy Narrative


Blasphemy cases in Pakistan have made international headlines, especially in recent years, but they aren’t primarily an international issue, in fact international campaigns may likely be an impediment to change.

Blasphemy is foremost a national issue in Pakistan, one that is part of its own culture wars, in which perceptions of Shariah, opposition to foreign interference, conceptions of nationalism and worldwide degradation of sacred Islamic symbols combine to create a volatile mix within society.

The fact is the blasphemy laws passed in the 80’s during dictator Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization drive have led to horrific consequences: the targeting of the poorest of the poor, used and abused to settle personal squabbles, inflaming of passions leading to vigilante mobs wreaking havoc, and the targeting of minorities who increasingly feel under siege and fearful.

The following article in the Pakistani daily, Dawn, gives us a glimpse into the societal discussion over blasphemy, how the current blasphemy laws are in stark contradiction to classical Islamic Fiqh (the human endeavor to know Shariah) understanding and a departure from the consensus of Muslim scholarship in the subcontinent.

Change within society cannot be imposed from the outside, Amnesty International will not be as effective as local groups, scholars, politicians and media. In Pakistan there is clear precedent for this, a previous law regarding rape requiring four witnesses was deemed anti-Islamic and subsequently the law was changed. This was due to the efforts of those working within an Islamic Fiqh paradigm and the nationwide, robust media discussion that altered and changed the narrative.

While the proposed changes in the blasphemy law will not please “Western liberals,” since it does not call for elimination, what they must keep in mind is that this is not about them. This is about injustice and the many lives who are endangered by an un-Islamic blasphemy law. (h/t: Arif J.), By Arafat Mazhar

Pakistan’s blasphemy law continues to sustain popularity and credence, with death being considered not only the most appropriate retribution for offenders, but the only one. This ideology is embraced most wholeheartedly when it comes to non-Muslims charged with blasphemy.

In my previous article when I spoke of the authentic Hanafi position on the permissibility of pardon for all blasphemers (Muslims and non-Muslims), the overwhelming response supported such a pardon for the likes of Junaid Jamshed (a ‘fellow Muslim brother who had offended some by mistake’) but held that the same principle of pardon could not be extended to non-Muslim offenders such as Asia Bibi.

This is largely reflective of the predominant public narrative on blasphemy.

Those who dissent – who speak of pardon and of waiving the death penalty, particularly for non-Muslims – are seen to be speaking from borrowed western ideologies or from a faith deemed too weak to be seen as a credible authority for the public. This has made it convenient for citizens to largely ignore those who plead for clemency, reducing these voices to a small, ineffective and irrelevant force, at best.

There was a time when this was not so – in fact, at one point, the most revered ulema (religious scholars) of South Asia had rallied together to defend the position that non-Muslims could not be awarded the death penalty for blaspheming.

This occurred in the late 19th century, when the South Asian ulema (the overwhelming majority of whom belonged to the Hanafi school of thought) were under ideological attack from the Ahl-e-Hadith.

The Ahl-i-Hadith originated as a movement influenced (and later funded) by the Wahabis of the Arabian Peninsula. This movement challenged the established Hanafi rulings on various issues, including blasphemy, alleging that these were based on opinion (ra`y) and Greek influenced analogy-driven reasoning (Qiyas), rather than on prophetic tradition (Ahadith).

In particular, they took exception to what they perceived as Hanafi lenience towards non-Muslims blasphemers (i.e. not prescribing a fixed death penalty and the provision for pardon) which they viewed as incompatible with Ahadith.

The exact position of Abu Hanifa (the founder of Hanafi School) that ends up being a source of contention for the Ahl-i-Hadith.

The exact position of Abu Hanifa (the founder of Hanafi School) that ends up being a source of contention for the Ahl-i-Hadith.

These criticisms roused the Hanafi ulema to an impassioned rebuttal.
Many of them targeted the Ahl-e-Hadith from within their own framework, deconstructing several Ahadith that formed the basis of these criticisms.

One such example is a monumental, 21-volume commentary, the I’la al-Sunan (the exaltation of the normative practices [of the Prophet]) by Maulana Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani, aiming to demonstrate, against the charges of the Ahl-i-Hadith, that the legal doctrines of the Hanafi school were in fact solidly based in traditions of the Prophet (PBUH).

Despite monolithic individual efforts of such stature, the most profound and relevant in terms of blasphemy, in my view, was Fath Al Mubeen Tanbeeh Al Wahabin (an explicit victory and a warning against the Wahabis).

This contains a fatwa (see below) that clearly states that a non-Muslim blasphemer cannot be killed unless he/she is habitual in the offense.

This last part is an important qualifier because it differentiates single acts of blasphemy from multiple and deliberate attempts, in fact from what is considered politically rebellious blasphemy.


The monumental fatwa endorsed by 450 scholars that shows that killing is not permissible unless adat (habituality) and kasrat (high frequency) of offenses are established.

The monumental fatwa endorsed by 450 scholars that shows that killing is not permissible unless adat (habituality) and kasrat (high frequency) of offenses are established.The Ahl-e-Hadith, in challenging the Hanafi position on blasphemy presented a compilation of Ahadith which supposedly showed that blasphemous offenders (including non-Muslims) were in fact killed, and that therefore the Hanafi ruling was erroneous in this regard.

In the rebuttal, the fatwa pointed to an important flaw in the Ahle-Hadith argument — that the Ahadith thus presented all pertained to cases of repeat or habitual offenders.

There is not a single case where a non-Muslim was ever killed for committing a singular offense of blasphemy.

(Further, according to Imam Abu Hanifa, the death penalty is awarded in cases where it is categorised as siyasa (political) punishment, as opposed to sharia (divine) punishment, against elements openly rebelling against the Islamic state, using habitual blasphemy as a tool).

This legal position 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.

It is difficult to come up with a case study of a bigger systematic consensus (ijma) than this one. Hundreds of leading ulema of their time from South Asia have declared that non-Muslims cannot be killed for a single offense for blasphemy and their pardon is acceptable unless it becomes a habitual and high frequency offense.

Read the entire article…

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  • Iekyll

    I guess I’m not really helping the state of affairs by wanting to become a doctor… Honestly, I’m interested in becoming a scholar but I’d also like to be a doctor. I’m not sure I’d be able to do both, it would take a very long time I’m guessing.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    A good read on the subject is the paper written by Asifa Quraishi, “Critique of the Rape Laws of Pakistan,” which can be found in “Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America.”

    “As it turns out, contrary to what the Pakistani legislation would suggest, Islamic jurisprudence has not only categorized rape as a separate criminal offense (under hiraba) but has also allowed civil compensation to rape survivors (under jirah).” (p.129)

  • Iekyll

    Four witnesses are not needed or the pictures aren’t in Urdu? XD

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    They are not Tanveer.

  • Iekyll

    In Pakistan there is clear precedent for this, a previous law regarding
    rape requiring four witnesses was deemed anti-Islamic and subsequently
    the law was changed.

    I’m confused, I thought four witnesses were needed in order to prove rape?

    And could a fabulous person who knows urdu (I’m assuming it’s Urdu, looks urdu-ish) translate those pictures please?

  • Jekyll

    Religion is the opium for the poor in al almost all Muslim countries, something that secular turds can exploit as cherry on cake.

    You are right in two things: first that this neo salafi is a modern movement and second the only options is an ugly version of Islam or no version of Islam. Both versions are well suited for people that are not Muslims

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    Yes because those are the only two options available to Muslims. Either accepts Ultra-Conservative understanding of Neo-Salafis who are an entirely modernist movement and oppress all dissenters and those who have a different view of Islam. Or be like Turkey and oppress Islam and try to make irrelevant. Why do the neo-Salafis get to define and impose their view Islam on Muslims? And why are the secular extremist who are nothing more than a mirror image of the Saudi gov the only other alternative?

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    It is troubling, 500 individuals are slated to be executed under those laws. One of those already executed was a minor when arrested.

    The party that opposed the war on terror collusion and lobbied for Pakistan to exit it was Imran Khan’s PTI, for which he has been labeled Taliban Khan and essentially has been cut off at the knees on that policy. That’s not to say the TTP (Pak Taliban) didn’t also contribute significantly to this whole mess because they certainly did.

    The evidence shows however that pre-War on Terror, terrorist attacks in Pakistan were small, they sky-rocketed after the US started its war.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    My guess is repeal is not going to happen anytime soon in Pakistan. The best hope for those languishing under these charges and at risk from them, which should be the primary concern, is reform. The mindset of folks has to be changed and the deeply influential religious movements will to be too resistant to anything else.

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    That is hopeful but the fact that it has been reinstated is very troubling part of the reason for those attacks was reveng for what the military has been doing to their region. Although though it may galvanize support for the military from the public it is detrimental in the long run will lead to more violence.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    There is a place for international rights organizations but quite often, and I can cite numerous cases, such as the above case I cited regarding the zina bi-al-jabr (rape) law in Pakistan it can have a detrimental impact and entrench already hardened reactionary views to foreign meddling. It took a lot to overcome that and in the case of blasphemy my guess is that is going to be even more difficult.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Pakistan currently has a moratorium on the death penalty that’s been in place for the past few years. However, in response to the attacks on the Peshawar school it has been reinstated for “terror offenses.”

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    This is a good starting points but I do want to see the Blasphemy Laws repealed in an authentic Islamic framework. I pray more Islamic countries adhere to Tariq Ramadan’s call for a moratorium on All capital punishments.

  • mindy1

    While I do agree change has to come from within, international pressure is good for simply making people aware of such issues to begin with.

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