A THRIVING, harmonious society is based on certain moral values that God has ingrained in human nature. When nations forgot or deliberately decided to forego these values, messengers were sent to remind and warn their people of what they had promised in their covenant with God and the repercussions of going back on their word. Every religion has a main purpose. For Islam, this is purification of the human soul, for the Prophet (PBUH) was sent as the best example of morality as stated in the Quran (68:4).
Islam divides moral values into three groups based on who they are directed at: towards God, towards other humans and towards oneself. Islam’s five pillars are not a mechanical routine that is followed but instruments through which moral values are developed and strengthened. They are embodiments of purity of heart as defined by morals (akhlaq),such as good manners, mercy and compassion towards all, kindness and fairness and efforts to develop a connection with God, staying away from acts that are forbidden and that lead to or are in themselves sins. According to Dr Khaled Abou el Fadel, “the essential objective of the five pillars of Islam (shahadah, salah, fasting, zakat and Haj) is to teach people to consistently work at developing a relationship with God; to learn piety, self-restraint and humility”.
Consider the responsibility that Muslims have towards each other. If they are to develop piety and humility and learn moral values from the Prophet, one of the first values to be developed is respect and humility towards others. Both men and women have the same spirit infused in them, both are vicegerents of God on earth, both have the same spiritual responsibility to develop piety (taqwa).Significantly, women and men are supposed to protect each other (9:71). Hence both women and men have a responsibility to interact with each other respectfully and with recognition of each other’s dignity.
The Prophet is believed to have said: the best among you are those who have the best manners and character. How deeply tragic and ironic then that the same people who claim to be followers of Islam are perhaps some of the worst examples of non-ethical and immoral behaviour, as demonstrated by the constant sexual harassment experienced in Pakistan by almost all women of all ages and social groups.
It was as if predators had been let loose.
What transpired on Jan 8 at the venue of the Karachi Eat food festival should make every Muslim question the male population of Pakistan: where is their innate (fitrah) morality and where has the avowed allegiance to God and the Prophet disappeared? As an unruly mob of males (the event was officially for families or women) overpowered security and barged inside, families were separated, women and children tried to flee and the tunes of a singer were drowned out by their screams. The imagination goes berserk, as one tries to think of the fear of and danger to the two most vulnerable groups in society: females and their young. It is not known if any further crimes were committed. That this happy, enjoyable annual event was thus invaded is enough. It was as if a crowd of predators had been let loose.
Many readers might immediately think: but what of the women’s responsibility? The modesty required of Muslim women has been written about and discussed ad nauseam; we hear very little of the behaviour and attitude men should adopt towards women; how men in our society should behave; the morals in which sons should be trained by parents and the introspection that male adults should carry out in terms of their responses to women in the public sphere. Do they show the kindness, reverence and quiet dignity they are supposed to? Do they play the role of a potential predator, or potential protector? Sexual harassment is a sin in the eyes of God, as well as a social crime. Yet, perpetrators and society at large take it to be naturally male behaviour.
The Quran says: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them...” (24:30). This instruction precedes a similar one to believing women. Men are to keep their gaze lowered and refrain from any act or word that could be disrespectful or bring embarrassment or shame to either gender, or that could be the precursor of sinful feelings. Compare this to how the men at the festival behaved: the leering, the catcalls, ogling, groping and other actions too shameful to mention here. The modesty that men have been enjoined to practise would lead to purity of their heart and enhance their relationship with God. But these men have shown that they would instead rejoice in evil and vicious deeds. What would the Prophet say were he to be an eyewitness to such shameful and ignominious deeds?
The writer is an individual contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2023