Although Pakistan was created as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, religious freedom was one of its founding principles. In 1947, Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Seventy years later, Pakistan is better known for religious extremism and the persecution of Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is a state-sanctioned tool of religious oppression used to target members of minority faith communities whether Ahmadiya, Christian, Hindu, or Shiite, as well as Sunnis who criticize the law. Its many victims include Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned since 2008, and two prominent government officials who were murdered in 2011 for defending her: Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minority Affairs Minister, and Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab.
On March 9, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedomed hosted a discussion on the blasphemy law and the state of religious oppression in Pakistan with Farahnaz Ispahani, a former Pakistani politician and the author of Purifying the Land of the Pure. In her new book, Ispahani traces the transformation of Jinnah’s Pakistan into an Islamic state, and writes that Pakistan’s Islamization has sparked a regional trend that will not be easy to reverse. Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, moderated the discussion.