About 97 percent of the people are Muslims. Most of these are Sunni Muslims, while the remainder are Shi’a Muslims. Islam pervades every facet of a Pakistani’s life from birth to death, and people believe their destiny is subject to the will of Allah (God). The remainder of the people are either Christian or Hindu, or belong to other religions. Jalalabadis practice Sufism, and are a distinct and colorful people.
The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. It also
declares that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to
profess and practice their religious beliefs freely; however, in
reality the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion,
particularly on Ahmadis.
A 1974 constitutional amendment declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslim.
Section 298(c), commonly referred to as the “anti-Ahmadi laws,”
prohibits Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims, referring to their
religious beliefs as Islam, preaching or propagating their religious
belief, inviting others to accept Ahmadi teachings, or insulting the
religious feelings of Muslims. The punishment for violation of the
section is imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine. Other religious
communities were generally free to observe their religious obligations;
however, religious minorities are legally restricted from public
display of certain religious images and, due to discriminatory
legislation and social pressure, are often afraid to profess their
religious beliefs freely.
Freedom of speech is subject to “reasonable” restrictions in the
interests of the “glory of Islam.” The consequences for contravening
the country’s blasphemy laws are death for defiling Islam or its
prophets; life imprisonment for defiling, damaging, or desecrating the
Qur’an; and 10 years’ imprisonment for insulting another’s religious
feelings. These laws are often used to settle personal scores as well
as to intimidate vulnerable Muslims, sectarian opponents, and religious
minorities. Under the Anti-Terrorist Act, any action, including speech,
intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to 7 years of
imprisonment. Under the act, bail is not to be granted if the judge has
reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is guilty; however, the
law is applied selectively.
Any speech or conduct that injures another’s religious feelings,
including those of minority religious groups, is prohibited and
punishable by imprisonment. However, in cases where the religious
feelings of a minority religious group were insulted, the blasphemy
laws were rarely enforced and cases rarely brought to the legal system.
A 2005 law requires that a senior police official investigate any
blasphemy charge before a complaint is filed.
The Penal Code incorporates a number of Islamic law (Shari’a)
provisions. The judicial system encompasses several different court
systems with overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdictions that
reflect differences in civil, criminal, and Islamic jurisprudence. The
Federal Shari’a Court and the Shari’a bench of the Supreme Court serve
as appellate courts for certain convictions in criminal court under the
Hudood Ordinances; judges and attorneys in these courts must be Muslim.
The federal Shari’a court may overturn any legislation judged to be
inconsistent with the tenets of Islam. In March 2005, however, the
Supreme Court Chief Justice ruled that the Federal Shari’a Court had no
jurisdiction to review a decision by a provincial high court even if
the Federal Shari’a Court should have had initial appellate
Criminal law allows offenders to offer monetary restitution to victims
and allows victims to carry out physical retribution rather than seek
punishment through the court system. The law exists under the title
“Qisaas and Diyat” to provide money to the victim of the crime (“eye
for an eye”). However, this tribal law is rarely implemented except in
the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Religious minorities
claimed that minority offenders faced far higher, and minority victims
received far lower, amounts of monetary restitution than did Muslims.
In December 2006 President Musharraf signed into law the Women’s
Protection Bill of 2006, which amended the Hudood Ordinance and moved
cases of rape and adultery to secular rather than Shari’a courts.
Previously, the Hudood Ordinance, which criminalizes rape, extramarital
sex, property crimes, alcohol, and gambling, often relied on harsh and
discriminatory interpretations of Qur’anic standards of evidence and
punishment that applied equally to Muslims and non-Muslims. If Qur’anic
standards are used, Muslim and non-Muslim and male and female testimony
carry different weight. President Musharraf also ordered the release of
all women imprisoned under the Hudood Ordinance. Approximately 2,500
women have been released. Many were unable to return to their homes
because of social ostracism. A few others remained in custody, and most
were housed in Daarul Amaans (government-run group homes). The women
who were arrested under the Hudood Ordinance on charges of fornication,
adultery, and possession of liquor now have their cases heard under the
Women’s Protection Bill.
The Government designates religious affiliation on passports and
requests religious information in national identity card applications.
Citizens must have a national identity card to vote. Those wishing to
be listed as a Muslim must swear to believe that Prophet Muhammad is
the final prophet and denounce the Ahmadiyya Movement’s founder as a
false prophet and his followers as non-Muslims, a provision designed to
discriminate against Ahmadis. Before the 2002 general elections,
President Musharraf abolished the requirement to take this oath, but he
later reversed his decision, resulting in an election boycott by the
Ahmadiyya community. Initial voter registration no longer requires such
an oath, but the Election Commission claimed that any Muslim registrant
whose religious beliefs were challenged by the public would have to
take the oath. As a result, Ahmadis continued to boycott the elections.
No new policies based on religion were made for the February 2008
The Constitution provides for the “freedom to manage religious
institutions.” In principle, the Government does not restrict organized
religious groups from establishing places of worship and training
members of the clergy. In practice, however, religious minorities
suffered from restrictions on this right. The Government, at the
district level, consistently refused to grant permission to construct
non-Muslim places of worship, especially to the Ahmadiyya and Baha’i
communities, citing the need to maintain public order. There is no
official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of
worship; however, Ahmadis are forbidden from calling them mosques.
District governments often refuse to grant Ahmadis permission to hold
events publicly, therefore they hold their meetings in members’ homes.
The Government can shut down these gatherings if neighbors report
hearing the recitation of Qur’anic verses.
The Government provides funding for construction and maintenance of
mosques and for Islamic clergy. The provincial and federal governments
have legal responsibility for certain religious properties belonging to
minority communities that were abandoned during partition. Minority
communities claimed the Government did not spend adequate funds on
their protection and upkeep. The Government collected a 2.5 percent tax
(zakaat) on all Sunni Muslims, which was distributed to Sunni mosques,
madrassahs, and charities. No similar requirement was imposed on other
The Government observes Islamic holy days as national holidays.
The Constitution safeguards “educational institutions with respect to
religion.” No student can be forced to receive religious instruction or
participate in religious worship other than his or her own. The denial
of religious instruction for students of any religious community or
denomination is also prohibited.
Islamiyyat (Islamic studies) is compulsory for all Muslim students in
state-run schools. Although students of other religious groups are not
legally required to study Islam, they are not provided with parallel
studies in their own religious beliefs. In some schools non-Muslim
students may study Akhlaqiyyat, or Ethics.
The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory admission to any
governmental educational institution solely based on religious
affiliation. Government officials stated that the only factors
affecting admission to governmental educational institutions were
students’ grades and home provinces; however, students must declare
their religious affiliation on application forms. This declaration is
also true for private educational institutions, including universities.
Muslim students must declare in writing that they believe that Prophet
Muhammad is the final prophet, a measure that singles out Ahmadis.
Non-Muslims must have their religious affiliation verified by the head
of their local religious community.
Parents are free to send children to religious schools, at their
expense, and many did. Private schools are free to teach or not teach
religious studies as they choose.
Islamic schools known as madrassahs are traditional institutions for
Muslims seeking a purely religious education. In recent years many
madrassahs have taught extremist doctrine in support of terrorism. In
many rural communities, they are the only form of education available.
In an attempt to curb the spread of extremism, the 2002 Madrassah
Registration Ordinance required all madrassahs to register with one of
the five independent boards (wafaqs), cease accepting foreign
financing, and accept foreign students only with the consent of th