“Morality is doing what is right regardless of what we are told. Religious dogma is doing what we are told, no matter what is right.” — Elka Enola
ON social media, letters and articles in the vernacular press and statements by politicians and police officials, it has been said that the series of rapes and anti-women crimes that are being committed are the result of mentally deranged individuals, failure of society to follow Islamic values, of woman not staying at home; and wearing revealing clothes. The issue regarding clothes is also endorsed by our prime minister who also blames Western values and culture for the crimes that have been committed.
So, how does one explain the incident that occurred at Minar-i-Pakistan on Aug 14 when 400 persons attacked a “decently dressed woman”, stripped her and threw her up in the air and in her own words, “played with her”. Were all 400 men mentally demented and were all of them defending Islamic values? That is not possible and so, an understanding of the situation is required.
The structure of the Islamic family is to a great deal determined by mediaeval Islamic scholars such as Imam Ghazali. He is considered a great scholar and in his book, Adab al Nikah, he describes the role of men and women in a marriage and the values that constitute the structure of a Muslim family. His views have been echoed and expanded upon by subsequent scholars. According to him, a Muslim woman has to be completely subservient to her husband both materially and sexually. The only education that she is permitted to have is religious, as all other types of education endanger society. Also, she cannot leave her home alone and without permission from her husband. She must not speak to a friend of her husband even if in need. Mediaeval scholars also caution men against the guile and mischief of women as they are ill-spirited and immoral. Ghazali apologists point out that his words should be seen in the context of his times. Also, he himself mentions that his views are based more on an interpretation of tradition rather than religion and that similar views have been held by other societies. All these are valid observations
How does one explain the Minar-i-Pakistan incident?
However, the message of the mediaeval Islamic scholars on how women should behave is conveyed to the people of this country through Friday sermons from almost every mosque in Pakistan and as a result these values are deeply ingrained. They have been added to by additional post-mediaeval literature by persons such as Ashraf Ali Thanwi, the author of Bahishti Zewar, which explains the necessity of a woman being completely subservient to her husband and his family. This book was, and still is, often presented to the bride on her wedding day. The Muslim working classes of South Asia, however, did not have the luxury of following the advice of mediaeval scholars or of Ashraf Ali Thanwi. With urbanisation and upward mobility mediaeval religious values have infiltrated, through the middle classes, working-class family structures and the concept of izzat has surfaced as an important issue.
In my opinion, the emergence of woman in public and professional life is the most important change that has taken place in Pakistani society. This is something that I have pointed out consistently in the last decade and a half with statistics. This change has been accompanied by the breakdown of the clan and extended family and the demise of institutions of local self-governance such as the panchayat. This has resulted in a major conflict between deeply ingrained mediaeval values and emerging behaviour patterns. This conflict has produced a collective schizophrenia whose natural result, in the absence of rationality, is narcissism. If we are to overcome this schizophrenia and narcissism we have to create a society where value systems do not conflict with behaviour patterns. But if we are to create such a society then we have to challenge or put into context the teachings of our mediaeval scholars and their students.
There are two ways to do it, one we promote the thinking behind the statement of Elka Enola, given at the beginning of this article, or alternatively we work towards discarding those aspects of tradition that conflict overtly with our emerging behaviour patterns. For that we would have to create an alternative to the Council of Islamic Ideology which could help remove the conflict between mediaeval thinking and societies present-day necessities.
This requires a commitment from the state which unfortunately does not exist. On the contrary, the recent changes in school curriculum promoted recently by the federal government do exactly the opposite. A large network for a more rational Pakistan that takes into consideration the burden of the past is essential, without which change will be slow and increasingly painful.
The writer is an architect.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2021