A few days before this year's Valentine's Day, a couple of billboards began appearing in Karachi asking young people to say no to Valentine's Day because it promoted obscenity and contradicted the teachings of Islam.
The anti-Valentine's Day campaign is the brainchild of the cultural wing of an organisation called Tanzeem-e-Islami (TI).
TI is a non-political Islamic organisation that was formed by Islamic scholar, Dr. Israr Ahmed, in 1957 when as a young member of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI) he resigned from the party after it had decided to take part in Pakistan’s mainstream politics.
The TI functioned as a conventional religious organisation sharing Dr. Israr’s commentaries on the Quran and Hadith with the few followers that it had gathered between 1957 and the late 1970s.
However, TI’s following began to grow after General Ziaul Haq pulled off a reactionary military coup in July 1977.
In 1981 the state-owned Pakistan television channel, the PTV, was asked by Ziaul Haq himself to give Dr. Israr a weekly show.
The show became one of the first in Pakistan in which an Islamic scholar would sit in front of an audience and deliver lectures on Islam.
The first season of the show mostly saw Dr. Israr delivering lectures on his understanding of the Quran, Hadith and the Shariah.
But, alas, as can be expected from most famous religious personalities (of any faith), Dr. Israr too began to add moral and political dimensions to what were once strictly academic religious proclamations.
Since hijabs and burqas were not all that common among middle-class women at the time, in 1982 Dr. Israr approached his show’s producers and exhibited his irritation at seeing ‘uncovered women’ in the audiences that were selected for his TV lectures.
What’s more his irritation in this respect also became the basis for Zia’s Ministry of Information to ask women newscasters, and actresses in TV plays to be ‘modestly dressed’, and with the least amount of make-up.
This was also the period when various women’s organisations were pouring out onto the streets of Lahore and Karachi to protest against what they thought were the Zia regime’s discriminatory and misogynistic policies and laws against women.
But just when these women were being baton-charged by the cops, women newscasters on TV began appearing with dupattas on their heads and no make-up!
In TV plays women stopped being shown in western dresses or without a dupatta. In fact, western dresses were only allowed to be worn by men and that too by those playing villainous roles.
The farce did not last long, but Dr. Israr was successful in getting his female audience wrap their dupattas tightly over and across their heads.
In 1983, Dr. Israr began punctuating his lectures on Islam with his thoughts on what he believed was the need of the hour for Muslims around the world: A worldwide caliphate.
It is believed that Zia knew well about Dr. Israr’s ideas about the caliphate and gave permission to PTV to allow the scholar to relate his desire to see the enactment of a modern-day Islamic caliphate.
The idea was to Zia’s liking because it not only gave a kind of religious justification to a dictatorship supposedly based on the dictates of Islam; it also eschewed and undermined any call for restoring liberal democracy in Pakistan.
Emboldened by the fact that he was being given space and a countrywide audience to listen to his ideas about the caliphate, what Dr. Israr did next would put even the wily, Machiavellian Islamist like Zia in a quagmire of sorts.
After making his women audience to wrap their heads up with dupattas (hijabs were still a distant invention in Pakistan), he now wanted to see all women in Pakistan doing the same in public.
But since Zia’s Islamisation project was still relatively new, and Saudi and Iran funded Islamic outfits in Pakistan had yet to develop the kind of roots they did from the late 1980s onwards, the Zia regime could only play around with the convoluted idea of ‘female modesty’ on TV, and that too not without facing constant resistance.
As mentioned earlier, women organisations were protesting against Zia’s laws on the streets but a time came when some women employees of PTV also refused to follow the moral dictates of the regime.