You cannot possibly allow yourself to be educated by a man living in a state of denial or, dare I say, fool’s paradise. Muhammad Khan Sherani, who is leading the move to religiously inform the Punjab Assembly’s Women Protection Bill, has categorically denied the fact that Pakistani men, God-fearing and religious-minded as they are, beat their women. Well, it would be flattering to be at that height of civilization at a time when Johnny Depp’s wife has moved the court with a domestic violence charge against her husband. Except, it is not true. Domestic violence is very much real and it is happening right now.
But here’s the thing: as far as the infamous ‘light beating’ clause is concerned, the CII recommendations actually draw on a verse from the Qur’an – verse 34, chapter 4. Does the Muslims’ God then call upon men to beat their wives?
Does the Muslims’ God call upon men to beat their wives?
I do not believe in liberal and conservative interpretations of the Qur’an. I believe that, if you open yourself to it, there can be only one. It may suit you and it may not, but the contextually informed interpretation is the only one that is. And that interpretation of the verse often cited as an endorsement of what we know to be domestic violence, does not support any such thing. Dig into the context and you will know for sure. There, then. Leave it at that. Quit treating sensitive matters independent of their context. Quit trying to force sense out of them. It is outright absurdity to accord violence legitimacy in the name of religion – no matter what that religion. There is an indisputable, unresolvable irony in it. Quit pretending otherwise. Also, quit the obsession with women-centric approaches to religion and society.
Quit the obsession with women-centric approaches to religion and society. That verse is about family and this bill is about society. It’s not about women
That verse is about family and this bill is about society. It’s not about women. The sanctity of a relationship is for both man and wife to guard and affects people beyond the couple, not least their children. It is not about the wife. Protection is not just the right of women; it is the duty of society. When we accord women human, legal and political rights, we call for the adaptation of the social structure to meet precisely these requirements. That done? Move on. We have bigger problems here.
I am surprised at how we continue to be oblivious to the larger danger this episode has exposed. Article 227 of the Constitution of Pakistan requires that all existing laws be brought in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Council of Islamic Ideology may be an advisory body – its recommendations not binding on the legislature – but, according to the Constitution, someone has to bring all laws in conformity with Islam. Unfortunately, when it comes to that, the one interpretation you can make of the Scripture and the Practice is not the contextual interpretation linguistically and historically informed. It is these people’s interpretation. People like Khan Sherani. Call them what you will.
What is our hope against these people? They have a strong legal case against us
So what is our hope against these people? They have a strong legal case against us. For me it underscores the obligation of the State to adopt a bottom-up approach to the incorporation of Islam in society – to ensure that this incorporation begins not as a set of punitive measures from the top, but as a set of educational reforms from the bottom. And when I say educational reforms, I do not mean religious-educational reforms. Not the kind that ban co-education and require boys and girls to adopt a certain dress code or follow a certain routine. No. I mean the kind that make lying difficult and corruption unthinkable, all the while teaching our children that it is the Self they should be policing rather than the Other.