When the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) ruled that, according to their interpretation of Sharia Law, rape victims could not use DNA reports as primary evidence, and instead rely on the testimony of four witnesses, it was obvious that they had only begun Marty McFlying Pakistani women’s rights back to the cavemen era.
Sadly, the CII have in the last few days delivered two more blows to Pakistani women’s rights.
The first was when the CII suggested that the Pakistani government should amend the national marriage law so that men interested in remarrying, no longer need the written permission of their first wives. The second and more shocking was when the CII ruled that Pakistani laws which outlawed underage marriage were not Islamic.
As many agree, the biggest problem with the CII’s interpretation of the rape law is that the Council is relying on a decree on adultery which ruled on consensual sex, not forced sex. Moreover, it was from a time when science did not have a better answer.
The first wife's consent
Allowing Pakistani men to take on more wives without the consent of their first wife is ridiculous for a wide variety of obvious reasons.
Marriage is a partnership, and allowing a man to be the sole decision maker in this regard means that a woman has no say in her life, hence opening up the field for a husband to abuse the law. Although, the caveat here is that the man must do justice to all of his wives by treating them equally, let’s be honest, how is that possible? Ask any mother, as much as she loves all her children, she has a favourite child.
Of course, a well-meaning man interested in taking on a second wife may, on some level believe that he will love all of his wives equally, but how is he expected to make this informed decision before the experience of actually having multiple wives?
What’s more, there is a grave psychological impact on any person asked to share their partner. Of course, if you ask the men of the CII if they would be willing to let their wives marry a second husband, they would respond with the typical counter-argument that this privilege should not be lent to their wives, as women with two husbands would be unable to tell who the father of their child is.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that these wives could take on second husbands in a marriage that was strictly platonic. With the father/child argument out of the window, would the men of the CII then allow their wives to enter second marriages? I suspect that they would not out of both jealousy and possessiveness.
Here, my question to the men in the Council of Islamic Ideology is, does a women not have a right to these feelings as well? Does she not also have a right to believe that her husband is only hers?
As for the CII’s ruling on underage marriage, this law benefits no one, except sick individuals who wish to sexually exploit minors.
Interpretation and education
I think it is important to swallow the hard fact that for many who identify with certain ideologies, interpreting the more ambiguous beliefs in these ideologies in a manner that suits their world view is instinctive. For example, for better or worse, some of the staunchest supporters of a political party will interpret their leader’s more controversial views in a manner that doesn’t offend them even if evidence is to the contrary.
From my research on Islamic laws on rape, second marriages, and underage nikkahs, I have noticed that the actual laws are ambiguous, and can be forcefully argued either way as to what is actually the correct interpretation of the law. I am neither religious nor an Islamic scholar, but I have had some educated well-meaning friends argue that these controversial interpretations are correct, even before the CII made public its views. So clearly, there are others also interpreting these rules in the same manner as the CII.
So, what’s the solution here?
I feel that the CII sincerely believes that their interpretation is in line with Islam. I also dare say that the outrage over this issue is absolutely useless, as it only preaches to the choir. No member of CII’s ruling body will be influenced, in the least by any outrage on the internet. Conversely, the CII’s rules will not cause most of the educated public to suddenly go out and marry underage girls without the permission of their wives. Essentially, we are like two bubbles with little crossover.
Yet, for us, the CII’s decisions are important, not because they influence the social media class, but because they influence the masses; the very people who form the roots of this country. This constitutional body is responsible for giving legal advice on Islamic issues to the Pakistani government, and although they don’t dictate government ruling by law, it is important that they interpret laws in line with the 21st century for the betterment of this nation.
Pakistan desperately needs its influential religious leaders to come from educated backgrounds, which is the only way to win the war against religious extremism. Of course, this won’t happen overnight, as our ‘extreme’ makeover didn’t happen in days, but decades.
Charity worker Greg Mortenson, who has been responsible for opening countless schools in the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan was witness to our nation’s careful religious indoctrination, which was boosted by wealthy Middle Eastern men. While there have been some unproven allegations against Mortenson for fabricating facts in his book Three Cups of Tea, I accept his accounts of Middle Eastern influence to be true, because they have been backed by similar accounts from others.
Mortenson told us how one of his employees explained why massive madrassahs were popping up in Pakistan’s remote locations, “The sheikhs come from Kuwait and Saudi with suitcases of rupees. They take the best student back to them. When the boy come back to Baltistan he has to take four wives.”
Mortenson added, “For the first time I understood the scale of what they are trying to do and it scared me. Every time I visited to check on one of our projects, it seemed 10 madrassahs had popped up nearby overnight…some of them seem to exist only to teach militant jihad.”
Journalist Ahmed Rashid noted in his best-selling book about the Taliban that students in these schools were not provided with a formal education, and that the Islamic education provided in these madrassahs was interpreted by barely literate teachers. What’s more, varying accounts state that there are between 20,000-30,000 such schools in Pakistan.
Regardless of how accurate these figures are, surely we need to take control of how religion is taught within our borders so that men can no longer abuse laws that harm Pakistani women.