passivity to islamic law

I remember back in 1997 when the whole country was awaiting the LHC judgment on the Saima Waheed case. The LHC bench ultimately ruled in her favour, but in the September of the previous year, a Justice Cheema of the LHC had ruled, in two cases, that a woman cannot marry without the consent of her wali or guardian, under any circumstance.

I was in the 9th grade then and I remember that this case was discussed in some detail one afternoon in one of our classes. Now this was an all-girls school, one of the best schools in Karachi — the most liberal city of Pakistan. In that first discussion, I don’t remember a single girl voicing the opinion that Saima Waheed should not be allowed to marry without her father’s consent. Anyway, we all went home and some of us asked or read up about what Sharia says about marriage without the permission of ones guardian. As it turned out, three of the four major school of Sunni Fiqh absolutely require the Wali’s permission for a marriage to be valid, and the fourth one, the Hanafi school, strongly discourages marriage without the permission of the Wali. It is backed up by some pretty strong Hadiths. Now at the age of 14, not many of us knew this when we first expressed our opinions on the case (overwhelmingly in favour of Saima Waheed), but the next day after reading up about it, the silence in the classroom was deafening. I remember asking a friend why she had changed her mind and she said, simply, that her grandmother had read the following Hadith to her:

“No marriage except with a guardian and the ruler is the guardian of she who has no guardian.” (Reported by Abu Dawud & others and classed as Sahih)

And that was the end of that.

The point is that in the face of Sharia, all Pakistanis, even the most liberal, are passive. There are many reasons for this. First, we are Muslims, second, the ideological nature of the Pakistani state unfortunately magnifies this passivity immensely.

So when conservative Pakistanis in Swat were initially confronted with militancy, it is not surprising that the fact that they came carrying the slogan of the rule of Sharia significantly weakened the initial resistance to them. But there is an argument put forward by many that since Maulana Sufi Muhammad’s TNSM movement originated in Malakand division,( of which Swat was a part until the devolution of 2002), the people of Swat are merely getting what they asked for. There are two problems with this argument. The first is that it ignores the role of the intelligence agencies in the creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the parallel rise of TNSM activity in Malakand. It ignores Sufi Muhammad’s connection with and contacts made through the Afghan Jihad:

Failure of the Pakistani state to tackle these issues in a timely manner created political confusion and religious groups found an opening for their agendas. Sufi Mohammad, an activist of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), followed the situation closely. After returning from the successful Afghan jihad in the late 1980s, he was more convinced of his religious ideals. His exuberance, according to Pakistani journalist Amir Rana, led him to create TNSM on May 10, 1989. The very name of the organization framed its manifesto and agenda in unmistakable terms. His networking and experience in Afghanistan meant that on top of his battleground experience, he had no dearth of resources or religious motivation.

In short, this argument ignores the fact that Sufi Muhammad’s movement was part of a concerted effort of radicalization of the region on the part of the security establishment, and there are quite a few reasons why this radicalization was in the interest of the establishment, and many argue, still is.

The second problem is related to the beginning of this post — all Pakistanis are passive when confronted by any invocation of Sharia. This passivity is not just limited to the people of NWFP and FATA, but exists within all of us. So we can either sit and do nothing except make blase judgments about what the savage tribals really want (which courtesy we oddly never seem to extend them when it comes to their demands for more provincial autonomy) or we can address this very serious problem within our own societies and stop pretending that it won’t affect us when an extremist group attempts to establish its authority over us which, by the way things are going, does not seem to be a remote possibility anymore.

In any case, Muridke, home of the Lashkar-e-Taiba with membership allegedly in the thousands, is a mere 30 kilometers away from Lahore. Will the people arguing that the people of Swat are getting what they deserved by virtue of being in the same vicinity as Sufi Muhammad’s TNSM movement argue that the same is true of the residents of Gulberg and Defence? I doubt it.

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8 responses to “passivity to islamic law

  1. Publius

    “The point is that in the face of Sharia, all Pakistanis, even the most liberal, are passive”

    I have long believed that true reform in muslim societies will only come when liberals base their appeals on Reason/Morality rather than faith.

    In other they should adopt the position that Reason is an independent source of moral/truthful opinion and that because the right of a woman to marry out of her own will (and other such rights) can be vindicated by reference to independent political/moral reasoning they do not need the sanction of faith/religious law.

    Otherwise the liberals will remain the prisoners of their religious tradition and the prospects of reform will remain dim.

  2. gtr

    Publius,
    You are right, there is indeed a very good argument for liberals to appeal to another moral tradition for their liberalism since reform attempts within the religious framework are not usually very successful.

    Rabia

  3. Zoobee

    “I have long believed that true reform in muslim societies will only come when liberals base their appeals on Reason/Morality rather than faith”

    Since Islam, which asks for total submission, does not really encourage reasoning in it’s truest sense, expecting things to change by mere reason is akin to expecting Obama to cure US of A of all or any ills (I wanted to come up with a wittier comparison but for now this’ll do).

    What needs to happen though, immediately, in order to save the humanity from the tyranny of religious zealots, is the separation of articles of faith from the articles of governance. Now the question is if, when, how, and by whom??

  4. people often talk about giving women equal rights. what about drastically reducing the power of men in muslim societies? considering the insane amount of power tilt in favour of men in contemporary muslim societies, trying to make women equal would only breed catastrophe. it would be far better to cut men down to size, make them more responsible.

    i am not going to suggest how such a reality would affect the instance the post talks about. i suppose a more emancipated society might view it differently.

  5. Rabia

    KK,
    yeah, that LHC ruling about guardians seemed like a clear case of expanding the power of men beyond what the civil code says…. I think it actually took like 6 years for the Supreme Court to rule against his appeal… you have to be amazed by the sense of entitlement of this guy. I think his daughter ultimately ended up seeking political asylum in Norway.

  6. Publius

    “does not really encourage reasoning in it’s truest sense,”

    Correct Zoobee which is why I was suggesting that muslim liberals should argue from outside Islam. i.e in open defiance to it if necessary but from the premise of independent justification in any case.

    For instance when you say ” is the separation of articles of faith from the articles of governance”

    you will have to argue for such a separation. Now what will you base your appeals on. Will you say

    a) Islam requires such a separation. Hence we should have it.

    or

    b) our actual welfare as a country requires it and even if Islam itself doesn’t our welfare is an independent justification and that is enough for us to implement it.

    If you argue a) you will be held hostage to what the actual structure and nature of Islam is ( which is not separation but conjoinment).

    To be effective ( and truthful also btw) you have to argue b) not a).

    That was my point.

  7. Zoobee

    “you will have to argue for such a separation. Now what will you base your appeals on. ”

    Publius – for me answer to this is a no brainer. I think religion is irrelevant outside of personal/spiritual realm. Now, when thinking of governance of citizens, in order to ensure fair treatment one must remove as many biases as possible. Of several biases, religion appears to be one of the biggest source of bias. Therefore, yeah, for the welfare of humanity, a man or a woman, which translates by default also as the welfare of a country, one must wake up and let go of the idea of Islam being this magical solution to problems that can very well be taken care of by simple act of better planning…

    In short – I get your point.

    -Zoobee

  8. Zoobee

    “it would be far better to cut men down to size, make them more responsible.”

    And none better equipped in ensuring this than is a mother. A mother who raises her son by instilling a value system that’s based on gender equality etc. etc. The question is are there mothers bold enough to break away from the status quo?

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