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Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation

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Title: Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation  
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Subject: Khamosh Pani, Anti-India sentiment, 1995 Pakistani coup d'état attempt
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Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation

On December 2, 1978, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq delivered a nationwide address on the occasion of the first day of the Hijra calendar. He did this in order to usher in an Islamic system to Pakistan. In the speech, he accused politicians of exploiting the name of Islam, saying that "many a ruler did what they pleased in the name of Islam."

After assuming power and arresting former leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on charges of murder, the task that the government was facing was how to gain legitimacy. Since the Islamist parties were already against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, they had the most influence on Zia-ul-Haq's government. It was announced the government would enforce Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic System), a 180 degree turn from Pakistan's predominantly British style secular law, as a preliminary measure to counter what he saw as a lack of true Islam in Pakistan.

General Zia announced the establishment of Sharia Benches. Speaking about the jurisdiction of the Sharia Benches, he remarked, "Every citizen will have the right to present any law enforced by the government before the 'Sharia Bench' and obtain its verdict whether the law is wholly or partly Islamic or un-Islamic." But General Zia did not mention that the Sharia Benches' jurisdiction was curtailed by the following overriding clause: "(Any) law does not include the constitution, Muslim personal law, any law relating to the procedure of any court or tribunal or, until the expiration of three years, any fiscal law, or any law relating to the collection of taxes and fees or insurance practice and procedure." It meant that all important laws which affect each and every individual directly remained outside the purview of the Sharia Benches. However, he did not have a smooth sailing even with the clipped Sharia Benches. The Federal Sharia Bench declared rajm, or stoning, to be un-Islamic; Zia-ul-Haq reconstituted the court, which then declared rajm as Islamic.

A referendum about the Islamization program was held in 1984, with a reported 98.5% voting in favor.

Hudood Ordinance

Under Offenses Against Property (Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance 1979), the punishment of imprisonment or fine, or both, as provided in the existing Pakistan Penal Code for theft, was substituted by the amputation of the right hand of the offender from the joint of the wrist by a surgeon. For robbery, the right hand of the offender from the wrist and his left foot from the ankle should be amputated by a surgeon. Hudood (Arabic حدود, also transliterated Hadud, Hudud; plural for Hadh, حد, limit, or restriction) is the word often used in Islamic social and legal literature for the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

In legal terms (Islamic law being usually referred to as Sharia, شريعة) the term is used to describe laws that define a level of crime classification. Crimes classified under Hudud are the most severe of crimes, such as murder, theft, and adultery. There are minor differences in views between the four major Sunni madhhabs about sentencing and specifications for these laws. It is often argued that, since Sharia is God's law and states certain punishments for each crime, they are immutable. However, with liberal movements in Islam expressing concerns about hadith validity, a major component of how Islamic law is created, questions have arisen about administering certain punishments. Incompatibilities with human rights in the way Islamic law is practised in many countries has led many to call for an international moratorium on the punishments of Hudud laws until greater scholarly consensus can be reached.

Prohibition Order

Drinking of wine (i.e. all alcoholic drinks) was not a crime at all under the Pakistan Penal Code. In 1977, however, the drinking and selling of wine by Muslims was banned in Pakistan and a sentence of imprisonment of six months or a fine of Rs. 5000/-, or both, was provided in that law. Under the Prohibition Order, these provisions of law were replaced by the punishment of eighty stripes, for which an Ijma of the Companions of Muhammad ever since the period of the Second Caliph Umar, was cited. However, the law does not apply to non-Muslims, which can possess a license to drink and/or manufacture alcoholic beverages from the Government. The most famous of these is the Murree Brewery.

Adultery (Zina) Ordinance

Under the Zina Ordinance the provisions relating to adultery were replaced as that the women and the man guilty will be flogged, each of them, with a hundred stripes, if unmarried. And if they are married they shall be stoned to death. It was argued that the section 497 of the Pakistan Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery provided certain safeguards to the offender in as much as if the adultery is with the consent or connivance of the husband, no offence of adultery was deemed to have been committed in the eye of law. The wife, under the prevailing law, was also not to be punished as abettor. Islamic law knows no such exception.

Women bore much of the burden of Zia's Islamization and its inconsistencies. The Zina Ordinance prompted bitter international criticism about the perceived injustices and miseries brought about by the Zina Ordinance. Women's rights groups helped in the production of a film titled "Who will cast the first stone?" to highlight the oppression and sufferings of women under the Hudood Ordinances. In September 1981, the first conviction and sentence under the Zina Ordinance, of stoning to death for Fehmida and Allah Bakhsh were set aside under national and international pressure.

In many cases, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq put more than 15,000 rape victims in jail because they could not comply with the Islamic condition requiring them to have numerous male witnesses of their victimization. They were charged with fornication and their rapists were let go free,[1] a woman who made an allegation of rape was convicted for adultery whilst the rapist was acquitted. This led to a growing demand by jurists and women activists for repealing the Ordinance. In 1983, Safia Bibi, a 13-year-old blind girl, who alleged rape by her employer and his son was convicted for adultery under the Zina Ordinance whilst, the rapists were acquitted. The decision attracted so much publicity and condemnation from the public and the press that the Federal Sharia Court of its own motion, called for the records of the case and ordered that she should be released from prison on her own bond. Subsequently, on appeal, the finding of the trial court was reversed and the conviction was set aside.

In early 1988, another conviction for stoning to death of Shahida Parveen and Muhammad Sarwar sparked bitter public criticism that led to their retrial and acquittal by the Federal Sharia Court. In this case the trial court took the view that notice of divorce by Shahida's former husband, Khushi Muhammad should have been given to the Chairman of the local council, as stipulated under Section-7(3) of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961. This section states that any man who divorces his wife must register it with the Union Council. Otherwise, the court concluded that the divorce stood invalidated and the couple became liable to conviction under the Zina ordinance.

The International Commission of Jurists mission to Pakistan in December 1986 alled for repealing of certain sections of the Hudood Ordinances relating to crimes and "Islamic" punishments which discriminate against women and non-Muslims. The commission cited an example that a Muslim woman can be convicted on the evidence of a man, and a non-Muslim can be convicted on the evidence of a Muslim, but not vice versa.

Blasphemy Laws

The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code were amended, through ordinances in 1980, 1982 and 1986 to declare anything implying disrespect to Muhammad, Ahle Bait (family of the prophet), Sahaba (companions of the prophet) and Sha'ar-i-Islam (Islamic symbols), a cognizable offence. Blaspheming Muhammaad is punishable with "death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine." (Act III of 1986, Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, Section 2) while disrespecting the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment, and disrespecting the family of the Prophet or the Companions of the Prophet is punishable by prison up to three years, or a fine, or both.[2]

Religious Offences and Punishments

PPC Description Penalty
298A Use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of holy personages 3 years imprisonment, or with fine, or with both
298B Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places, by Ahmadis 3 years imprisonment and fine
298C Aka Ordinance XX: An Ahmadi, calling himself a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim 3 years imprisonment and fine
295 Injuring or defiling places of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class Up to 2 years imprisonment or with fine, or with both
295A Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs Up to 10 years imprisonment, or with fine, or with both
295B Defiling, etc., of Quran Imprisonment for life
295C Use of derogatory remarks, etc.; in respect of Muhammad Death and fine

These laws to this day are controversial and under fire by human rights organizations all over the world and have been questioned by Liberals and Moderates in Pakistan as well. The US Assistant Secretary of state, Robin Raphel, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee, on March 7, 1996, said that the United States recognize that the religious parties in Pakistan have "street power" and not "ballot power" and this is a major constraint for the Benazir Bhutto's government to repeal blasphemy laws. She revealed that more than 150 blasphemy cases have been lodged in Pakistan since 1986. Most of these have been brought against members of the Ahmadi community. None of the cases against Ahmadis have resulted in convictions. During the same period, at least nine cases have been brought against Christians and nine against Muslims. There have been convictions in some of these cases, but no one has been executed under the law's mandatory death penalty. Some convictions have been overturned and several individuals are currently appealing their convictions.

The Lahore High Court, on February 22, 1995, acquitted Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih of blasphemy charges. They were sentenced to death by a Sessions Judge on February 9, 1995, for allegedly writing blasphemous words on the wall of a mosque in 1993. The death sentence was quickly overturned following an international uproar. During the appeal hearings there were almost daily demonstrations by small religious groups demanding that the sentence should be carried out. After the judgment, all religious groups observed a protest day throughout Pakistan to protest against the acquittal.

The year 1995 also witnessed a ghastly incident of religious frenzy, when Dr. Sajjad Farooq was beaten to death by people outside a police station in Gujranwala. He was declared an apostate and accused of having desecrated the Qur'an. Dr. Farooq, who was later reported by the press to be a staunch Muslim, was dragged out from the police station where he was lodged and stoned to death by frenzied mobs. On the basis of a rumor, apparently circulated by someone out of personal enmity, he was proclaimed to be a Christian through the loud-speakers of the mosques in his locality.

Prayer timings

Instructions were issued for regular observance of prayers and arrangements were made for performing noon prayer (Salat Al Zuhur) in government and quasi-government offices and educational institutions, during office hours, and official functions, and at airports, railway stations and bus stops.

Reverence for fasting Ordinance

An "Ehtram-e-Ramazan" (reverence for fasting) Ordinance was issued providing that complete sanctity be observed during the Islamic month of Ramazan, including the closure of cinema houses three hours after the Maghrib (post-sunset) prayers.

Zia's Islamization of Economy

Main article: Islamisation of the economy in Pakistan

Within the framework of Islamization of economy, the National Investment Trust and the Investment Corporation of Pakistan were asked to operate on equity basis instead of interest as of July 1, 1979. Interest-free counters were opened at all the 7,000 branches of the nationalized commercial banks on January 1, 1980.

Zakat and Ushr Ordinance

The Zakat and Ushr Ordinance was promulgated on June 20, 1980 to empower the government to deduct 2.5% Zakat annually from mainly interest-bearing savings and shares held in the National Investment Trust, the Investment Corporation of Pakistan and other companies of which the majority of shares are owned by the Muslims. Foreign Exchange Bearer Certificate scheme that offered fixed interest was exempted from the compulsory Zakat deduction. This ordinance drew sharp criticism from the Shia sect which was later exempted from the compulsory deduction of Zakat. Even Sunnis were critical of the compulsory deduction and the way Zakat was distributed.


Interest on loans or riba in Western-style banks was banned under Islamization. Zia enforced a blanket ban on interest based financial systems and the military under its own special investigative division conducted research and checks on business individuals suspected of indulging in interest/usury. Heavy punishments were often implemented upon offenders, with massive jail terms totalling years being standard practice.

Land Reforms

On December 13, 1980, to the surprise of General Zia, the Federal Sharia Court declared the land reforms of 1972 and 1977 as eminently in consonance with Islamic injunctions. Then the Ulema were brought in who traditionally supported the landlord class. Three Ulema were inducted into the Federal Sharia Court and two into the Sharia Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court which reversed the FSC judgment in 1990. After the imposition of martial law, many landlords were reported to have told their tenants to seek the protection of their benefactor, namely, Bhutto. Thousands of tenants were forcibly evicted from the land in various districts. The martial law regime made it clear that it was not committed to redistributive agrarian policies and described the land reforms as ordinary politics to reward supporters and punish enemies.

General Zia's advice to the deprived was that "It is not for the employers to provide roti (bread), kapda (clothes) aur (and)makaan (homes) (referring to a well-known PPP slogan used by Bhutto). It was for God Almighty who is the provider of livelihood to his people. Trust in God and He will bestow upon you an abundance of good things in life."

Demands for higher wages, better working conditions, social security, old age benefits and compensation for accidents, were no justification for protests and strikes. Industrialists were assured that any kind of industrial unrest resulting from strikes or any other trade union activity would be suppressed. Maximum punishment to the offenders was three years rigorous imprisonment and/or whipping. On January 2, 1986 police mercilessly killed 19 workers as the management of the Colony Textile Mill in Multan sought assistance from the police in its dispute with the striking workers.

Qisas and Diyat Ordinance 1990

With the passing of the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance in 1990, the victim (or heirs of the victim) of a crime now have the right to inflict injuries on the offender identical to the ones sustained by the victim. The law also allows offenders to absolve themselves of the crime by paying compensation to the victim or their heirs if, and only if, the family of the victim is willing to accept it.this was also made compulsory that any blasphemy done would lead towards 10 years of imprisonment.


Islamization was sometimes used as a political process. Zia's interpretation of Islam may have contributed to the rise of fundamentalism, obscurantism and retrogression. Since the death of General Zia in 1988, inconsistency and instability has prevailed in Pakistani laws.

Instability means that the law is frequently changing or is under threat of change because of differences of opinion among the ruling factions. Three of the most obvious inconsistencies in Zia's Islamic law are:

  • Those between legal norms and socially observed norms;
  • Those between statutory legal norms and the norms applied in practice in the courts (e.g. Hadd is difficult to implement as confession, retraction of confession and strict standards of proof make it difficult to execute);
  • Those between different formal legal norms (e.g. non-compliance with the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance is compromised by the courts but is strictly punished under the Zina Ordinance). Another example of this contradiction is that the constitution assures women equal status on the one hand but, on the other hand, they are greatly discriminated in criminal law.

See also


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