Why is it that any narrative for women empowerment always happens to come from the liberal quarter?
By : H. A. Kay
What is the status of women in Islam?
Picture this: She is 9 years old and unfortunately got her first period, a totally natural thing to happen in which she herself had no say. But now, she is eligible for marriage and since Abba thinks she should be married off, she is. Her husband’s age is irrelevant. He could be anywhere from 15 to 95 or even more. Since she is old enough for marriage, she is obviously old enough for motherhood. Yes, by age 10 she’s already a mother, a child responsible for taking care of another child.
Her tender age, her own childhood, her health are of no consequence. Then, one fine day, her husband decides he wants to have another wife. She can’t object because that would be un-Islamic. She can’t ask him to divorce her because that would be un-Islamic. She cannot exercise her right for khula either because that’s un-Islamic. In a fit of rage, the husband divorces her, then retracts and forces himself over her. She cannot file her case for rape because that’s un-Islamic. He beats her, abuses her, turns her out, then takes her back in but she cannot complain against any of this because that would be un-Islamic. The only Islamic thing for this woman to do in this scenario is to bear through her tortuous life silently and patiently and die.
According to Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), this is the status a woman ‘enjoys’ in Islam.
CII is a constitutional body of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, responsible for giving legal advice on Islamic issues to the government and the Parliament. The body was founded in 1962 under the government of Ayub Khan. It will not be wrong to say that this body is the face of Islam in Pakistan. Among the recent rulings the Council has endowed the public of Pakistan with, the following are the most noteworthy:
· In 2006, CII declared Women’s Protection Act as un-Islamic because it brought rape under the Pakistan Penal Code, which is based on civil law. The Bill removed the right of police to detain people suspected of having sex outside of marriage, instead requiring a formal accusation in court. Please note that under the changes, adultery and non-marital consensual sex is still an offence but now judges would be allowed to try rape cases in criminal rather than Islamic courts. That did away with the need for the four witnesses and allowed convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.
· In 2013,CII decreed DNA tests unacceptable as primary evidence in rape cases, but said they could be considered as supporting evidence. It ruled that four witnesses was the way to go – a major reason why it vetoed the aforementioned WPA (2006). Apparently, CII makes no distinction, like the law does, between fornication and rape. Instead of realizing that anyone witnessing rape and not reporting is not a witness but an accomplice to the rapist, CII wants to burden the victim with providing acceptable evidence for the crime.
· In 2014, CII said a Muslim woman cannot object to the second or subsequent marriages of her husband, could not demand divorce if her husband married a second, third or fourth time, and CII demanded that the government amend relevant laws where a person has to seek prior permission from the existing wife/wives to remarry.
· In 2016, the bill to prohibit underage marriages was withdrawn from the National Assembly after the CII declared it un-Islamic and blasphemous. In May 2014, the council had already endorsed its earlier ruling that girls as young as nine years old were eligible to be married “if the signs of puberty are visible”.
· In 2016, CII declared it was un-Islamic for courts to use ‘khula’ (right of a woman to seek divorce) without the consent of a husband to dissolve a marriage. If he did not approve, the court couldn’t grant khula regardless of pleas and charges and the plaintiff’s wish to not continue the marital contract, and the wife would have to go home with her husband regardless.
Let’s add to this our culturally patriarchal mindset that’s very clear in where a woman stands or should stand in a man’s life – beneath him, forever at his service. We laud men for talking down to women, for keeping them in their place. It doesn’t need to go as far as physical abuse because verbal abuse and mental torture do the job quite well without being obvious. A man who is good to his wife, who doesn’t shout at her in private nor in public whether it’s in front of his family or hers; who doesn’t use the threat of divorce to make her compliant; who prefers to talk out his differences with his wife rather than enforcing his will over her by overriding her wishes because of his status as ‘the man’; who shares his income with his wife rather than hand her a monthly stipend or not even that; who values her opinion in every major life decision because she is his life partner; who helps out his wife around the house and who is openly appreciative of her talents – is what we call a ‘zunn mureed’ in our society. A slave to his woman. He isn’t a good, strong example to be a male role model for anyone. He is weak and he isn’t the one you’ll see any religious scholar hailing as someone our men should follow; no father will point him out to his sons and say, be like him. Even the women mock him and constantly doubt his manhood because he isn’t assertive enough to charm them.
At this point if you – the devout believer – are thinking but why hail and exemplify an average man like him and blah when we have such a glorious example in our Prophet – I want you to stop right there because you’re mentioning the holy personage only as a talking point, to discredit the argument. Little would you probably know that men like our hypothetical guy here, rare as he is, is the closest thing to being the kind of man the Prophet would approve of. And if you truly valued the Prophet, you would hail this guy too. How many men do you know to stitch their own clothes, do their own laundry, do not demand to be fed first thing they come home without a care as to how the wife’s day went, help their wife in the kitchen, and do not demand that the wife be at her inlaws’ beck and call to be of any value to the family she’s married into? In case you’re wondering, this is the kind of husband the Prophet was, and the kind of husband you most probably are not/don’t have/never seen.
Since this is how we treat our men who want to be good to women, one can well imagine what we make of the women who have the audacity to demand respect or recognition for being human. It is no wonder that a woman who is treated well by her husband is accused of witchcraft (no, this isn’t a joke – ullu ka gosht, taweez…?), is dubbed too sharp to be trusted, and she is forever cautioned via direct or snide remarks to enjoy her luck while it lasts because obviously she has done nothing to deserve the goodness in her life. Since no woman ever deserves that. I bet if you asked the CII, it would tell you just about how un-Islamic that goodness is!
I’m not pushing forth any opinions here. So far I’ve only stated facts as they are put forth by the Council of Islamic Ideology, and by our culture and the picture they form is grotesque. So, I ask – is this really the way Islam wants women to be? Down-trodden, without any value? Then, what is all that claim that oh, but Islam gives women the most rights ever! I’m sorry but no, it does not. It gives us no rights whatsoever. No rights at all. Looking at CII’s version of Islam, women have no rights. A she-camel might fare better compared to a woman under Islamic law pushed by the CII and the loud-mouthed scholars given ample airtime to spew their hate against women (cue: Mufti Naeem of Jamia Binoria to whom any woman arguing with him is a fahisha and a jahila).
Is there a counter-narrative to what CII claims to be the Islamic way for women to be?
If there is, where is that narrative? Why do we never hear of it? Where are the muftis, the molvis, and the scholars who will show us the other side, the real side of Islam that does give women rights? Why is it that any narrative for women empowerment always happens to come from the liberal quarter? It is always women like me – the ones who don’t wear their religion on their sleeve by way of a hijab or a niqab, the lesser Muslims, the not-so-good-women, Satan’s little helpers – that bring to light issues that plague the women of our society, and then we are mercilessly dishonored for doing so. It is either us or men who are just as corrupted as us. For every CII scholar beating down on women in general, why is there no scholar telling him that’s not how it’s supposed to be? Is it because there is no other side to our religion that is merciful to women? Is it because women really have no worthwhile place in an Islamic society other than to be breeding pods and slaves to the wishes of their husbands?
I certainly don’t want to believe that.
I refuse to believe that CII’s version of Islam is the actual version of Islam. But it doesn’t matter what I believe. Until and unless we have decorated scholars who believe so too and who voice that belief just as loudly as the CII to counter the edicts of this body, we are left at the mercy of these misogynist men who are too small-minded and insecure to be otherwise.
I am reminded of a little gem of a Hadith I learned of recently. It is no secret that the Prophet was polygamous but none of his wives hailed from the Ansars of Medina. When asked why that was the case, he replied it was because polygamy was not looked upon favorably by the Ansar and he did not wish to be in a situation with regards to the tribe that might hurt their cultural values. Hence, instead of forcing polygamy on them, he gracefully refrained from putting them in a tough spot.
If the Prophet can be mindful of the cultural norms, the need of the time, the feelings of the people in question, the well-being of the men and women who believed in his wisdom, why can’t the followers return the favor by paying that kindness forward?
I bet if the CII existed then, it would’ve dubbed this entire episode as un-Islamic too…