BY IRFAN HUSAIN
I don’t understand why the Taliban are killing and maiming thousands in their quest to impose their version of the Sharia on us when the Council of Islamic Ideology is doing their job without firing a shot.
In a spate of rulings, the venerable Council has done more to push Pakistan back to the sixth century than all the TTP suicide bombers put together. Just recently, it decreed that there should be no minimum age for girls to get married as long as they waited until the onset of puberty before being handed over to their husbands.
This means that a girl of, say, eight can be bound in matrimony to a man four or five times her age, and be forced into his bed at around 13. The point here is that she has obviously no say in the matter as a child cannot make such an important decision.
Physical maturity is not so much an issue as is the ability to choose her life partner for herself. A child bride is clearly unable to exercise this right granted to her in Islam.
In another retrograde ruling, the CII has challenged the current law requiring the first wife to give written permission before her husband can take another spouse.
This law has been continuously flouted in spirit as the senior wife is often coerced into giving her written agreement to bigamy. Nevertheless, this Ayub-era provision in the Family Laws Ordinance did provide a theoretical safeguard to women, and was a progressive, pro-women piece of legislation.
A few months ago, the CII ruled that DNA tests could not be used as primary evidence to convict rapists.
Apparently, the learned clerics of the Council continue to insist on the scriptural requirement of four male witnesses to the act. As the vast majority of rapes take place away from prying eyes, it is small wonder that rapists are seldom tried, leave alone convicted.
When public outcry against the increasing tendency to accuse members of religious minorities of blasphemy resulted in a proposal to give false accusers the death penalty, some learned members of the CII opposed it tooth and nail.
One can only hope that this new respect for human life will also be reflected in greater compassion among our learned ulama for those unjustly accused of blasphemy, and who thus face the death penalty.
Then the CII has opposed the Women’s Protection Act of 2006. This progressive legislation had sought to protect women from the horrors of the Zia-era Zina Ordinance under which they could be — and were — accused of fornication when they had actually been raped.
We all recall the dreadful case of the young blind woman who became pregnant after being raped in the Zia period, and was actually found guilty of fornication as she could not identify her rapists.
The Domestic Violence Bill, passed by the National Assembly, has been shelved in the Senate, partly due to criticism by the learned Council. All these religious interventions and opinions reinforce the impression that the CII is an anti-woman body of poorly educated men with little knowledge of anything but the literal rendering of the scriptures.
Consider their ruling on underage marriage as an example. By reducing the legal age of marriage from 16 years, where it is currently, to around 13, they are effectively increasing the child-bearing years of women.
The world over, the trend is for women to marry later, thus lowering the birth rate. Pakistan, with its high population growth rate, hardly needs more children.
This, of course, is quite apart from the cruelty inherent in depriving young women of the right to choose their husbands, or, indeed, the right to pursue an education and a career. Who gave these clerics the authority to snatch away the right to choose given to women by Islam?
Bigamy was permitted in a period when perpetual warfare created many widows, and so it made sense to permit four marriages as a means of providing single women protection and shelter. But surely, this is scarcely the situation today. To insist on a return to a medieval era shows just where the CII stands on the issue of women’s rights.
In world rankings, Pakistan is rated at just about the bottom in terms of how difficult it is to be a woman. Half our population is denied the most fundamental facilities and rights. In the same family, girls are at a disadvantage when it comes to food, medicines and education, with boys being given preference.
Given all the discrimination women face in a very brutal, male-dominated society, should we not do away with a body that makes their lives even more miserable?
-by arrangement with dawn.com