Country Profile: Pakistan

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Jamhuryat Islami Pakistan), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under Pakistan’s Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) is a principal source of legislation.

Country Background

Pakistan is located in South Asia bordering the Arabian Sea to the south. Pakistan's border countries are Afghanistan and Iran to the west, India to the south and east, and China to the north. The country is divided into four provinces—Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan. The tribal belt adjoining Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa is managed by the federal government and is named FATA (i.e., Federally Administered Tribal Areas). Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan each have their own respective political and administrative machinery, with some influence from the federal government. The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad. The official languages are Urdu and English. The country’s population in 2016 was approximately 202 million. Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country, with about 97% of the population Muslim (85-90% of whom are Sunnī and 10-15% of whom are Shīʿī). Pakistan is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Constitution & Legal Structure

Pakistan is referred to as a federal parliamentary republic. Pakistan, formally known as West Pakistan, was created under the Pakistan Independence Act of 1947. Although Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, intended the country to be a secular state, at present, Islam is the religion of the republic and the legal system is based on sharīʿa, codified systems, and English common law. Sharīʿa is the major source of legislation, followed by custom, natural law, and principles of equity and good conscience. The first Constitution of the country was secular in nature and approved in 1954, but it was replaced by 1962 by a new Constitution that incorporated sharī'a. When East Pakistan (known as Bangladesh today) separated from West Pakistan (contemporary Pakistan) in 1973, a new Constitution entered into force that is still used to this day. The 1973 Constitution was briefly suspended in 1999 by Pervez Musharraf, who declared himself the Chief Executive of the country, and in 2001 resigned from that position and appointed himself President instead. Musharraf then reinstated the 1973 Constitution in 2002, although it was heavily amended with the Legal Framework Order. Pakistan's Constitution was amended again in 2015. The legal system of Pakistan is a common law system with Islamic law influences.

Constitutional Status of Islamic Law

Islamic law is referenced throughout the Constitution of Pakistan, including Islam being the official religion and sharīʿa a principal source of legislation.

Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law

The Courts applying sharīʿa have the jurisdiction to settle all cases related to the personal status of Muslims. Additionally, Pakistan has a "Federal Shariat Court," which is comprised of eight Muslim judges appointed by the President, including a Chief Justice, four others who are qualified to be judges of the High Courts, and three ʿulamāʾ (scholars well versed in Islamic law). The Shariat Court has original and appellate jurisdiction. The Shariat Court may examine and decide whether a law or provision of law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Qurʾan and Sunna (traditions) of the Prophet. If so, the President (in the case of federal law) or the governor (in the case of a Provincial law) is required to take steps to amend the law so as to bring it in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. The Shariat Court also has exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals from the decisions of criminal courts under any law relating to enforcement of ḥudūd laws, i.e., laws pertaining to offenses of intoxication, theft, zināʾ (unlawful sexual intercourse), and qazf (false imputation of zināʾ)

Dominant School of Islamic Law

The civil and criminal legal systems consist of a complex mix of courts based on diverse legal sources, including both the Mālikī (Sunnī) and Jaʿfarī (Shīʿī) schools.

Sources of Law for Legal Research

Official Publications

 Unofficial Databases


For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English and Arabic translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].