Author and National Endowment for Democracy fellow Malik Siraj Akbar looks at the history of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in an editorial for The Huffington Post, adding context to the recent story of a Christian Pakistani girl imprisoned for possibly burning an Islamic text. Akbar explains that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were enacted in the 1980’s by “military dictator” General Zia ul-Haq.
Ul-Haq defended the notorious law by describing it as a milestone in Pakistan's journey toward the restoration of ‘real Islam.' The law endorses death sentence [sic] for anyone who disrespects the Quran, Prophet Mohammad and the religion of Islam.
Akbar notes that the law is considered by some “Orthodox Muslims” as “divine decree,” making it difficult to challenge. He also points out that those who are criticizing the case have focused on the girl’s age and mental capacity, instead of drawing attention to the laws themselves, and their problematic combination of religion and politics.
The Huffington Post also carries an editorial by Daisy Khan, arguing that “it is not Islam or Islamic law that led this imam and his community to mistreat a young, helpless girl the way they have. It is ignorance.”
Reza Sayah at CNN has an “explainer” on Pakistan's blasphemy laws, offering insight into how they operate and what makes them so difficult to change. He traces their origins to an 1860 British colonial law “to protect religious beliefs and customs.”
Critics say that soon after the blasphemy law was amended under Zia-ul-Haq, many accusers began misusing the law and exploiting Pakistan’s ineffective justice system to settle personal scores and persecute minorities.
The Jinnah Institute says nine cases of blasphemy were reported in Pakistan between 1929 and 1982. Over the past 15 years, the number of cases has reached into the thousands.
Feisal Abdul Rauf has also penned an editorial for CNN, calling upon Pakistan to reject the accusations against the girl:
Pakistan must champion Islam as a religion of peace and not allow a handful of extremists to define it for all Muslims; such extremists confuse ordinary Muslims into thinking that Sharia law is about punishment rather than about promoting harmony and human flourishing.
The story is also covered by NPR.
Saeed Shah, in a piece for The Miami Herald, notes that:
A group of Islamic leaders in Pakistan lent strong support Monday to a mentally disabled Christian girl accused of blasphemy in an unprecedented public move that was the first denunciation by hard-line mullahs of the country's controversial blasphemy law.
The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars that includes representatives from fundamentalist groups, joined hands with the Pakistan Interfaith League – which includes Christians, Sikhs and practitioners of other religions – to call for understanding for the girl, who's been identified only as Rimsha. They also demanded that those making false allegations of blasphemy be punished.