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Home > General > Pakistan: Rationalism is alien to our papacy | Babar Ayaz

Pakistan: Rationalism is alien to our papacy | Babar Ayaz

23 March 2014

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Daily Times (Pakistan), 23 March 2013

The problem with the clergy is that they are caught in a seventh century time — and tribal Arabia space — warp

by Babar Ayaz

Like an astute trade union, recently the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) fired at their favourite target — women. Mark the timing. They are asserting pressure on the government while their militant flank — the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — is demanding the imposition of sharia at the point of a gun. The CII moved to declare that the law requiring a man to seek permission from his existing wife/wives to marry again is contrary to sharia and the law stating a girl cannot be married if she is under 16 years is also un-Islamic. Thus when the government says it will negotiate within the remit of the Constitution, the TTP can turn around and ask, “Okay, why don’t you first implement the recommendations of the CII, which is a constitutional body under Article 230?” Mind you, though the constitutional role of the CII is only advisory, the present government is susceptible to accepting recommendations that are anti-women and anti-child marriage. For other issues like abolition of interest, which is detrimental to the economy, the government can buy time by putting them in the deep-freezer of the Supreme Court. This is not a fantasy but could be the logical move of a government that wants to appease the militant Islamists. The liberal Bhutto also gave in to the many demands of the political Islamists thinking he would be able to win a second term on their agenda. This government has never claimed to be socialist or liberal in any case.
Coming back to the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, which later became an Act after braving a movement launched against it by religious leaders. This is what it says on the two issues raised by the CII: in a paper Family Laws and Judicial Protection written by noted Supreme Court lawyer Naheda Mehboob Ellahi, she explained that, “This law is based on the recommendations of the Commission on Marriage and Family Laws set up in 1955, which submitted its report on the matter in 1956. Five years later their recommendations were considered and the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance was promulgated. This Ordinance advanced women’s legal rights to some extent. For the first time, a uniform mode of divorce, marriage, etc, were prescribed. Khula and the delegated right of divorce for women were also recognised, the latter being incorporated as an option in the standard nikahnama. Secondly, polygamy was restricted, making it binding on the husband seeking a subsequent marriage to submit an application for permission to contract another marriage to the Chairman Arbitration Council, besides seeking the permission of his existing wives. In the event of the husband contracting such a marriage, the Ordinance made him immediately liable to pay the existing wife/wives her/their dower. In addition, the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance amended the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act by increasing the legal age of marriage for females from 14 to 16 years.”
The clergy in Pakistan obfuscates on the issue of polygamy while rejecting this view based on surah four, An-Nisa, which came after the Uhud War. According to Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthal’s translation of the holy Quran, verse three says: “And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two, three or four; and if ye fear ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or the captives your right hand possess. Thus it is more likely you would not do justice.” Further down in the same surah, verse 129 says: “Ye will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, how much you wish (to do so). But turn not altogether away (from one), leaving her as in suspense. If ye do good and keep away evil, lo! Allah is ever forgiving, Merciful.” This verse is often conveniently forgotten by the clergy who act like a Papacy, which has no place in Islam. In both verses the emphasis is on ‘justice’ and in verse 129 it clearly says that: “Ye will not be able to deal equally between your wives, how much you wish (to do so).” The clergy need to be asked how ‘justice’ will be done for an existing wife if the terms of her marriage contract are changed without her consent. Wouldn’t her share in love and physical assets be halved in the case of a second marriage, and quartered if her husband takes a fourth wife? Would not the share for her children, if she has any, be divided? Justice to the first wife cannot be done after a fait accompli. The clergy cannot quote a single verse that says permission need not be taken. They are also silent on the issue of taking slave women, knowing its present immoral status, but must dream of bringing back the age of slavery when after each conquest the women of the conquered were distributed among warriors as booty, just as the camels and goats were shared. Would this treatment of prisoners of war be acceptable to the international community? While proposing that marriage age restrictions should be abolished, they forget that the bride’s consent is necessary and a child is not expected to make the right decision, just as they would not permit a child to decide in other worldly matters. Pakistan is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says in Article 16(b): “Marriage shall be entered into only with free and full consent of the intending parties.” Early marriage takes away a child’s right to education, their right to be protected from sexual abuse and to “enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of health.” This right was already accepted in the 1929 Child Marriages Restraint Act. The problem with the clergy is that they are caught in a seventh century time — and tribal Arabia space — warp. They do not realise that social values have evolved. Polygamy is dying because the world has changed; the values of the knowledge age have evolved and so have economic and social relations between men and women. No rational religion can be static in its thinking. It has to shun bigotry and build on the spirit of reforms ushered in by its prophets. No society can prosper bypassing the age of reason. We are behind on that by almost 300 years as it is.


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