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COLUMN: Pioneers of women’s right

June 10, 2012

The autobiography of the retired chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court, Justice Haziqul Khairi, has been published by Ferozsons under the title Jagtay Lamhay. I stand in awe of Haziqul Khairi, more so because of his ancestry than his honoured profession. Perhaps the inspiration for this autobiography too came from the rare moment when he was thinking of his grandfather, Allama Rashidul Khairi, his father Raziqul Khairi, and mother Amna Nazli. What a trio of writers, with the grandfather Musawir-i-Gham Allama Rashidul Khairi devoted to the noble cause of women’s rights.

With reference to this noble cause, the year 1908 is marked in Justice Haziqul Khairi’s mind as a historic one. This was the year his grandfather started a journal under the name Ismat, which was destined to play a leading role in the movement launched for the emancipation of Muslim women in pre-Partition India. Historically speaking, three personalities emerged who were devoted to the cause of Muslim women. They bravely fought for this cause and bore the brunt of angry conservatives with courage. They were Sheikh Abdullah from Aligarh, who, going a step further from his murshid Sir Syed, laid the foundation of female education; Maulvi Mumtaz Ali from Lahore, who launched a journal for women, Tahzeeb-i-Niswan; and Rashidul Khairi, who started Ismat and Binat for the propagation of this cause.

Justice Haziqul Khairi, while talking about Allama, refers to an Indian Women Conference held in 1928. Allama addressed this conference and said: “I say it openly and plainly: let the Muslim men try to crush women to their hearts’ content, but the laws of nature lie beyond their control. A backlash on the part of women is inevitable. It will be a moment of crisis. Just in their reaction to the oppressive acts of Muslim men, the Muslim women will grow furious. That will be the sad end of what we call Namoos-i-Islam.”

Of course, while talking about his family Justice Khairi has gone beyond his grandfather and has traced the descent of his family from Maulvi Abdul Khaliq, who was his great, great grandfather and a scholar. But in this series of forefathers Allama Rashidul Khairi appears as a dominating personality, molding the family in accordance to his ideals. In fact, the man acted as a great influence within the family as well as in the wider Muslim social world. Under his influence and through the journal Ismat, quite a large group of women writers came up. They wrote novels and short stories and were recognised as feministic fiction writers.

Justice Khairi’s mother, Begum Amna Nazli, was also a part of this galaxy of female writers. He refers to her two early collections of short stories, Ham Aur Tum and Nangay Paon. Add to them her stage play Daushala, which was recently reenacted with the cooperation of Oxford University Press and the British Council. Khairi’s  family, as depicted by him, appears to be simultaneously deeply involved in literature and religion. And they all seemed to be contributing, in one way or the other, to the cause of women emancipation.

So Justice Khairi is justified in emphasising that the present movement of feminism in Pakistan owes much to these early protagonists of the women’s cause, who for the first time in the Muslim history of South Asia, raised a voice for women and worked for their rights, thus paving the way for the feministic movement as it has now emerged.

Justice Khairi, while discussing his own involvement in literature, says that from the age of 18 he started contributing to two journals, Ismat and Saqi, and his first collection of short stories came out in 1961. His family background helped him attract the attention of those who mattered in the literary world. So he made his appearance as a writer with a promise. But literature acts like a jealous partner, refusing to be accommodative to a rival. The writer and the jurist could not go together. So now Justice Khairi is known to us as a jurist. He also shares his experiences as a judge trying to act in accordance to his conscience.