Calls for amendments to the contentious laws have been met with tough resistance and have regularly led to violence [GALLO/GETTY]
may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with
the business of the state. In due course of time, Hindus will cease to
be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims – not in a religious
sense for that is the personal faith of an individual – but in a
political sense as citizens of one state," declared Muhammad Ali Jinnah,
Pakistan's founder, in his first address to the Constituent Assembly of
Pakistan on August 11, 1947.|
But more than 65 years on, Pakistan is again generating headlines because of its controversial anti-blasphemy laws that some analysts say are far removed from the founder's vision of the state.
The latest case, the arrest and imprisonment of an 11-year-old Christian girl for allegedly burning pages of the Noorani Qaida – a beginner's guide for reciting the Quran with correct accent and pronunciation. It may be shocking, but there are about eight to 15 cases of blasphemy that reach the Pakistani courts every year.
In most of these instances, it is Muslims – rather than Pakistan's Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis – who have been charged.
With no definition of blasphemy in the Pakistan Penal Code, the country’s strict anti-blasphemy laws are ripe for misuse and abuse, and accusations often stem from personal and religious rivalries.
The punishment for those found guilty can range from a fine to death, but there has never been an execution of a person charged with blasphemy in Pakistan. Convictions often result in a prison sentence of at least three years.