May 11, 2012 - published work, religion, Society    3 Comments

The fatwa factory

There is so much that needs to be done in Pakistan that one does not know where to start. The country is suffering the worst energy crisis of its history; it is food insecure like never before and almost half the children in the country are malnourished and stunted. In short, we are teeming millions who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy and will be dumber and weaker in future because of stunted mental and physical growth of our children. At such a juncture of history, what is it that we do most? We issue fatwas promoting misogyny and obscurantism; against hygiene, education, health and progress.
The latest in the line of outrageous fatwas is issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem, of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman, came up with a series of misogynist fatwas, clearly detailing what should be the priorities of his political and religious followers. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be unIslamic. As just declaring the act of going to school and getting some education irreligious was not enough, he also had to reprimand the parents who send their girls to schools in Kohistan and asked them to terminate their education. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that failure to do so will earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.
The fatwa does not end here. It goes on to declare all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region as ‘hubs of immodesty’. He first blames the women working in those NGOs for mobilizing local women on health and hygiene issues and then calls on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers – forcefully if they have to – to make them stay at home. Maulana Haleem’s religious credentials are dubious at best as this is the guy who thinks growing poppy for heroine production is shariah compliant. 
In short, a former legislator issues random fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting education for half the population haram and no one barring a few bloggers and tweeters raised an eye brow. A non issue like memogate which does not affect the life of any Pakistani other than our former ambassador to USA, gets yards of column space and thousands of minutes of airtime. A religious decree that can affect life and livelihood and future of many Pakistani is not worth pondering or protesting.
Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, we would have had the luxury to ignore it. Unfortunately we churn out one religious edict after another for most ludicrous of purposes. If declaring vegetarian items like potato chips and hair implant services halal is considered viable marketing gimmick, then abduction of minor girls from minority communities also get a sanction in a fatwa (and a court judgment). Fatwas are so commonplace than even KESC had to resort to seek a fatwa a few years back to get people pay for the electricity. As KESC is still laden with hundreds and thousands of unpaid bills, we all know how effective that fatwa turned out to be. 
A country like ours can ill afford adventurism of any kind, but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to fatwa to get a point across. Not only it breeds a narrow and rigid view of the things, it does not leave any room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an even more intolerant bunch. 

Written for Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
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3 Comments

  • I agree completely.

    What I find odd is that even after hearing such ridiculous Fatwas we continue to support Pakistan being an ‘Islamic’ state. You can say all you want that these fatwas do not represent Islam but no one can argue that these fatwas do represent the religious views of a portion of our population. No matter how we use religion to form law and policy we will always base those laws and policies on religious views. The question is: Whose religions views?

    By representing the religious views of one segment of the population, you ignore the others. It is time that the people of Pakistan wake up and accept that the best base for law and policy is logical human reasoning and this base can only be used if we become secular.

  • Bonjour Tazeen,

    Just one comment, people with guts, galore.

    As I see it from far away I think your country is ill with religion overdose. Kind of metastasis that seems to have entered every nooks and crannies.

    We had the same situation here several hundred years ago and it took the Age of Enlightenment to put religion into the corner it deserves.

    Georg

  • I believe it was reported, with much hype, that the women had been murdered. Subsequently, to date, a couple of the ladies have been produced in court, proving the media reports false. I understand the cleric in question has stated he never issued such a fatwa in the first place! Such reporting has become typical of our irresponsible media, which unfortunately places ratings in front of credibility. It was a nice story while it lasted: everyone did good business. TV channels got quality prime time, newspapers nice sensational headlines, bloggers got something to blog about and we, the market, got a product we wanted, to gossip.

    Seriously though, when I read content about the backwardness and stupidity of the mullahs, I wonder are we to blame? I mean what have we the educated, enlightened folks of this country done to study and interpret Islam? It is a reality that the overwhelming majority of this country (not the one limited to twitter or reading dawn) considers Islam as an important influence on their daily lives. Have we not created the mullahs ourselves by leaving a vacuum, which was filled in by people who are not educated?

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