The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has spoken. Women should be kept in their rightful place. Their husbands are legally allowed if not obliged to ‘lightly’ beat them. What this mild beating would look like, the CII refrained from explaining. Whether dragging them by their hair, pulling their nails, slapping them or waterboarding them would fit the bill is not clear. Perhaps, the CII in its infinite wisdom should elaborate further. And there are other questions that merit an answer. For instance, why stop at beating wives? Shouldn’t the permission be extended to beating daughters, sisters and mothers? They are inferior, right? They asked for it by choosing to be born in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Muhammad Khan Sherani, the CII chairman, is the proverbial pound of flesh exacted by his party chief, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, that scheming master of manipulation, the powerhouse of political support. A few days before Sherani opened his mouth I was feeling sorry for Fazlur Rahman because Imran Khan always insults him by calling him names. Now, I don’t. I feel sorry for my helplessness and that of this country’s one half of the population. The better half.
If truth be told, the moment Sherani appeared on television to break the news, I could feel how disappointed the daughters of this nation must be. The heartbreak. The anger. The betrayal. They must be wondering how easily an elderly man had schemed to throw them all under the bus. Without even noticing the realities of life. The country that has the honour of electing the first woman prime minister in the Muslim world now sought to ban them from public life. From most professions. And legally allow one citizen of the country to torture the other.
The warped mindset of the CII
The sad thing is that he used our faith as justification. Little did he and his colleagues realise that if Islam has flourished for over 14 centuries, it is mainly due to its ability to mould to the realities of life without losing its core values. In Islam, this is called ijtihad or interpretation. The modern state, its constitutionalism, emphasis on gender and general equality have evolved recently. Sadly, Sherani’s thought has not. Otherwise how can one fail to see that beating wives, trying to domesticate women, blaming them for social woes can never be part of any great faith’s core values. If you ask me why the Muslim world is ailing today, it is just because of men and women like Sherani who play right into the hands of Islam’s detractors.
‘Gentle beating’ of wife is no violence, says CII chief
The only solace is that the CII’s recommendations are not binding. So I would have chosen to ignore them totally had it not been for the indecent haste of the electronic media to show Sherani’s unfiltered ramblings to the entire country. In this country where we have lost over 70,000 citizens to terrorism, this was a serious development. Such men are given time and opportunity to brainwash the country. It is as if none of the media decision-makers have daughters. Crime against women is already prevalent in our society. Make it legal in any shape and you will have countless deaths every single day. The second worrying reason is the rise of Fazlur Rahman in the wake of the Panama papers controversy. When the government felt that the entire opposition was ganging up against it, it sought the help of the man who was threatening to bring it down over the woman protection bill only a few weeks ago. He obliged. The head of Sherani’s party operates this way. That’s how he convinced former president Asif Ali Zardari to install Sherani as the CII’s head in the first place. That is how he convinced the current prime minister to give Sherani an extension. That is what I have been reminding the moderate forces throughout the Panama papers controversy. But nobody listens. Why would they? None of the opposition parties stood with the government to defend the women protection bill in the aftermath of Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging.
The opposition has the right to try bringing the government down. It is the government’s right to fight back. But no one should compromise on the rights of half of the country’s population. Whoever does that deserves a ‘light beating’ at the very least. Pakistan is signatory to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Any violation will not go unpunished.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2016.