ISLAMABAD: Possibly taking advantage of the controversy around the hijab in parts of India, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri has requested the prime minister to declare March 8 — International Women’s Day — as International Hijab Day, claiming that the Aurat March held across the country on the day goes against the principles of Islam.
The minister has written to Prime Minister Imran Khan suggesting a regressive measure to alter the status of a UN-designated international day that aims to celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”. This is a critical juncture in history, when women’s rights movements are gathering momentum not only in Pakistan but around the world, in the wake of increasing gender-based crimes and injustices.
The letter, dated Feb 9, highlights the importance of International Women’s Day in creating awareness about the rights of girls and women, adding that rallies and programmes were organised the world over to shed light on social injustice and a lack of implementation of laws to protect women.
However, it later states that in Pakistan, Aurat Marches were held on the day across the country where participants raised slogans and carried placards and banners that went against Islamic teachings.
Noorul Haq Qadri terms slogans raised in women’s day events ‘un-Islamic’
“We all accept that Islam offers a complete code of life and there is no alternative to it. No organisation should be allowed to question or ridicule Islamic values, norms of society, hijab or the modesty of Muslim women at the Aurat March or any other event held in connection with International Women’s Day as these acts hurt the sentiments of Muslims in the country,” the minister writes.
Noorul Haq Qadri has requested the prime minster to observe March 8 as International Hijab Day, proposing that the occasion be used to call on the international community to check India’s treatment of Muslims and protect their religious freedom. The day could also be used to express solidarity with Muslim women across the world who struggle for their religious independence and basic human rights.
He said observing the International Hijab Day would also help draw the attention of the global community, including the UN, to the maltreatment of Muslim women and students in India as well as India-held Kashmir.
The letter concluded that programmes should be held on the proposed hijab day at the official level and by all citizens across the country. It also asked the PM to direct the religious affairs and information ministries to chalk out a strategy in this regard.
Reaction and clarification
Meanwhile, the letter drew the ire of various quarters on social media, including politicians, which led the minister to issue a statement on Thursday evening. Senator Sherry Rehman tweeted that the minister’s letter to the PM was “concerning”.
“Such a statement from a federal minister is strange,” she wrote, adding that March 8 was celebrated across the world as women’s day. “What will you gain by imposing a ban on a march by unarmed women?”
She further said no one had restricted women in Pakistan from celebrating a hijab day. “On the one hand, we condemn India’s attitude, but on the other you talk about banning a women’s march.”
The PPP senator said International Women’s Day is dedicated to women from all walks of life, adding that the day was meant to raise awareness in society regarding gender stereotypes and discrimination against women. “You are conspiring to deprive unarmed women of their freedom and rights on International Women’s Day,” she tweeted.
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi also expressed disappointment at Qadri’s letter. “Unbelievable. And unfortunate. Noorul Haq Qadri asks PM Imran Khan to ban Aurat March,” she tweeted.
Later in the day, the minister was compelled to clarify his intentions. “Obscenity and hooliganism in the name of rights should not be allowed under any circumstances,” he said, adding that the contents of the letter were clear and “reflected the collective thinking of the Pakistani society”.
He also said some political leaders were trying to spread negative propaganda without reading the letter, referring to the tweets by Senator Sherry Rehman. The minister said the Muslim girls in India were psychologically and physically being tortured due to wearing Hijab, and in order to express solidarity with them he had proposed marking the International Women’s Day as Hijab Day.
He said he had urged the human and women’s rights organisations working in Pakistan to raise their voice against the burgeoning extremism and Islamophobia in various states of India.
Women rights, Qadri said, were equally protected in Islam and the Constitution, but no one would be allowed to spread obscenity.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2022