A series of paintings in Pakistan depicting Muslim clerics in scenes with strong homoerotic overtones have sparked uproar and threats of violence by Islamic extremists in the country.

The paintings by artist Mohammed Ali were published in the academic journal of Pakistan’s National College of Arts in the eastern city of Lahore last summer, but have now been withdrawn.

The Associated Press reported one painting titled “Call for Prayer” shows a cleric and a shirtless young boy sitting beside each other on a cot.

A second painting shows the same cleric reclining in front of a Muslim shrine, holding a book by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho in one hand as he lights a cigarette for a young boy with the other.

Another boy, who is naked with his legs strategically crossed to cover his genitals, sits at the cleric’s feet.

Verses from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, appear on the shrine.

The journal has since been pulled from bookstores and libraries, and its editorial board dissolved over the controversy.

A court is said to be looking into whether the school’s director and the paintings’ artist can be charged with blasphemy.

Shahram Sarwar, a lawyer representing the college’s editorial board, said his clients did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings and he was prepared to apologise on their behalf if they did.

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, and the majority of its citizens have long been fairly conservative.

But what has grown more pronounced in recent years is the power of religious hardliners to enforce their views on members of the population who disagree, often with the threat of violence.