National Review Online

Call to Ban Bible Under Pakistan's Elastic Blasphemy Laws

Nina Shea
Nina Shea
Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Religious Freedom

Adam and Eve sans fig leaves, Lot getting drunk, Jesus stopping a stoning . . . This is all too much for Muslims represented in Pakistan's parliament by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party. They view Bible stories such as these to be "pornographic" slurs against the biblical figures whom they claim as their holy prophets. They are now demanding that the country ban the Bible because of such "blasphemy" and exact a "punishment." There seems no limit to what could be considered an offense against Islam under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws.

At a press conference on May 30 in Lahore, party leader Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi informally petitioned the Supreme Court, complaining that the Bible includes stories about some of the biblical prophets that include "a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures."

newspaper reports: "Farooqi  cited a number of [supposedly pornographic] scriptures from the Bible, saying such 'insertions' strongly offend the Muslims, who hold all prophets and holy books in high esteem, as part of religious belief and never even think of committing any blasphemy against them."

[Update:  The verses in question are:

Genesis 19:33–36, 29: 23, 32–35, 38:18

Exodus 32:2–6

1 Kings 13:2–29

2 Samuel 11:2–27, 13:1–22

Matthew 1:13, 16:23, 26:14–47]

As in many of Pakistan's blasphemy cases, political motives seem to be at the root of the complaint. Farooqi cited Pastor Terry Jones and said the party would not burn the Bible, as Jones has done with the Koran, but would formally lodge a petition if the high court failed to act on its own motion to ban the Bible. There would not be a clash between the two religions, Farooqi ominously promised, as long as the courts are functioning. Pakistan's Islamists are also agitated by the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American troops in that country.

Christians and other religious minorities have been disproportionately prosecuted under these laws, which can carry the death penalty. Local Christians, estimated at 3 million, fear the call for a Bible ban is a sign of a trend of deepening persecution against them.

The definition of blasphemy under Pakistan's laws is vague and can include offenses that are committed "by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly." In Pakistan, blasphemy charges have been brought against Muslims as well — in one recent case, for tearing off a page of a wall calendar that had a koranic verse written on it, and in another, for throwing away the business card of a person named "Mohammad." Attempts to repeal Pakistan's blasphemy laws have so far failed as extremists have become emboldened under them. Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered earlier this year for their opposition to the blasphemy laws.

Pakistan's governments have long advocated a universal blasphemy law. Every year for over a decade, the nation introduced a resolution in the UN's Human Rights Council and its predecessor body, calling for a worldwide ban against "defamation" of Islam. The resolution has routinely passed, but support decreased over time, and it was not introduced at the last session in March.