by Najma Sadeque
For women the CII is symbol of the regressive status quo
The ushering in of the new government couldn’t have been more inauspicious for women. Days before it was sworn in, the Council for Islamic Ideology jumped the gun, announcing their latest stand on women – as contentious as ever. They won’t consider DNA as primary evidence in rape cases – although it might be used as secondary evidence.
Why they chose to bring up this issue at this stage raises eyebrows. It was more like a reiteration – to remind the country – that they considered themselves the last word in laws surrounding women, and intended to keep it that way.
Thirty-two years ago, people were thunderstruck on learning a couple that married of their free will were to be stoned to death! Simply because some crude cops determined they were not, despite an authentic Nikah Namah. Hauled before a low-level judge who knew nothing about Islam but sought to be more loyal than the king, there was no questioning the police, unauthorised to make decisions in family matters, or why the judge accepted the police for their word.
Women activists leapt to organise themselves against the sentence and Gen. Zia ul Haq, while the leading lawyer of the day, late Mr Khalid Ishaque, although a conservative and leaning towards the Jamaat-i-Islami, voluntarily stepped in to defend the couple. He proved, with his prodigious knowledge of Islam and Islamic history that not only was the punishment un-Islamic, it was no longer even practiced in Judaism where it originated. The case was eventually thrown out, acquiring worldwide notoriety for Zia’s regime in the most unflattering terms.
Such punishments were never again meted out, but since then, women have been harassed by hardening attitudes encouraged from the top as well as religious political parties. For every progressive youth we have today who believe in equal rights for women, there’s an extremist who doesn’t. Since then, a version of Islam perforce, constantly subject to reinterpretation, has come to stay. Islam is what the government of the day chooses it to be.
What did Zia ul Haq have against women? He was no different from other run-of-the-mill men whose upbringing kept women in second place. Did he take the so-called Islamization step, as some suspect, to eliminate his competitor, Benazir Bhutto, by declaring women ineligible for presidentship or prime ministership?
There has been little genuine Islamic justice ever since Zia ul Haq seized control through so-called Islamization – forcing Muslim citizens to adopt his brand of Islam irrespective of the sect or personal beliefs they adhered to. Minority sects firmly rejected his version and were too strong to be walked over. Ironically enough, it was the majority sect that got railroaded. He even managed to weaken the more just Family Laws enacted by a previous, but more liberal, military dictator.
While Zia ul Haq may be long gone, his legacy is not, his excessive number of ordinances incorporated and intact in a still imprecise Constitution, so that they can be sprung whenever to serve undue purpose. The last 30 years have seen women consistently dogged by both overt and not-so-subtle institutionalised repression in the name of religion.
This is already a Muslim majority country. There is a strong judiciary that seeks to extend social justice not coloured by sectarian or other bias, and in the process takes cognizance of Islamic principles. It is secularity that respects the rights and recognition of all. The judiciary makes the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) superfluous.
The CII is not representative of all colours of Muslims. It has failed to uphold even basic fairness. It determines women’s modesty, but not men’s. It has ignored some of the most horrendous crimes against women including honour killings and burying women alive. It is quick in doubting women’s intent; slow in questioning male predatory behaviour. For women the CII has proved to be lacking in empathy; biased, and more of a political tool, meant to thwart and retain a regressive status quo.
It is well known that there can be no compulsion in Islam; yet compulsion is the CII’s tool. There is no consensus, no all-inclusiveness, no ijtihad. Islam enjoins people to broaden their horizons and discover and apply new knowledge. Knowledge is exactly what the CII is trying to block by denying proven science such as DNA testing.
Religion is supposed to bring us guidance in living and peace of mind. The CII only brings divisiveness, stress and fear. Bandying with personal faith is violation of individual conscience. It not only undermines faith, but women and democracy as well, and makes hypocrisy of representation that parliamentarians boast of.
Women voters – better informed, more savvy, and with more fight in them – will be closely watching both the PML-N and the PTI. Today’s women can change loyalties accordingly.
Published in Pakistan Today – 5th June, 2013