WELL-KNOWN cleric Maulana Tariq Jameel has made a disturbing assertion that Covid-19 has been unleashed on humanity because of the ‘wrongdoing of women’. During a televised prayer, the maulana condemned women for dancing and for how they dress, saying these “immodest actions” have brought the Almighty’s wrath upon the country.

These misogynistic remarks were made during the Ehsaas Telethon fundraising event, in the presence of the prime minister and top broadcast journalists.

In the same prayer, the maulana also cast aspersions on the media for “disseminating lies”, but later apologised for that particular remark on account of having “spoken too much”. No such apology was made for his offensive comments about women.

For the maulana to claim that women should be blamed for a global pandemic is not just ill-informed but also inflammatory. The statements are troubling; not only do they betray a deep-rooted misogyny, they were also aired, unchallenged, from a very high-profile platform.

This mentality is reflective of society’s unfortunate tendency to marginalise women simply because social power structures allow them to be viewed as ‘lesser beings’. The remarks also reinforce a dangerous yet normalised idea that targeting women is permissible.

The reality is that women in Pakistan, and elsewhere, face systemic discrimination and violence. During this pandemic, domestic abuse cases have soared as women are forced to stay home for extended periods with their tormentors. Despite these challenges, women strive to be recognised and shatter glass ceilings — as evidenced by the effective response of global women leaders in this pandemic.

Given that the ruling PTI is lauded for its inclusion of women in political rallies and for celebrating their lively participation, it is a shame that the maulana was not corrected when he made these offensive comments.

Later, however, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, without directly naming the maulana, rightly criticised such thinking as ludicrous and ignorant. The maulana must apologise for his unsavoury remarks, and accept that while prayers are always welcome, the nation can do without scorn and misguided views.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2020

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