LAHORE: The Lahore High Court directed the religious affairs ministry on Monday to allow Shia women to perform Haj without mehram [a close male family member] this year.

Justice Ayesha A. Malik granted the interim relief to Shia women after the ministry’s counsel sought more time to disclose the name of the official who had decided to follow a 2013 recommendation of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to allow women pilgrims to perform Haj only with mehram.

The judge put off the matter till Oct 14. She was hearing a petition questioning the ‘discriminatory treatment’ meted out to Shia pilgrims, particularly women, during the process to go to Saudi Arabia for Haj.

In the previous hearing, the ministry had told the court that it had never sought advice from the CII on the issue. But a parliamentary committee had decided to follow the council’s recommendation to allow women to perform Haj only with mehram.

It said that the council’s recommendation was not mentioned in the Haj policy.

At this, Justice Malik asked the ministry to reveal the name of the official who had enforced the CII recommendation.

Barrister Maqsooma Zahra Bokhari, the counsel for the petitioner, argued that the role of the CII was advisory in nature and its recommendations could not be implemented unless they became law. She asked why the recommendation of the council was not followed before 2016. She pointed out that the CII members belonging to the Shia community had dissen­ted from the recommendation.

The counsel said that Shia pilgrims continued to face discriminatory treatment at the hands of the ministry. She said that Shia women were not being allowed to apply for Haj without mehram.

She requested the court to direct the ministry to provide facilities to Shia pilgrims as per their Fiqh as the ministry had already committed before the court.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2016

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