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Saudiisation of Pakistan where all discourse seems increasingly legitimised only through religious inferences

by Nazish Brohi, 2 July 2010

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Daily Times, 1 July 2010

Chairing the Council of Islamic Ideology

That the political party that drafts and proposes a law that the Supreme Court finds in conflict with other laws to be given leadership of an institution with the power to review all laws is a systemic short circuit

Pakistan has witnessed accelerated Saudiisation and all discourse seems increasingly legitimised only through religious inferences, so what difference does handing of the chairmanship of an Islamic review body, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), to a deputy of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) make?

The JUI-F is a political player whose influence is far wider than is reflected by its narrow vote share. While coalition acrobatics compel barters such as the nomination of Maulana Sherani to the CII, civil society groups such as Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and Insani Jamhoori Ittihad have cautioned against such utilitarian decisions. The alarm stems as much from the history of the CII rulings as from the track record of the JUI-F, providing a legitimate cause of concern at the conflation of the two.

The study of the time period in which the JUI-F formed the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in alliance with the Jamaat-i-Islami under the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal) in 2002-2006 is instructive. The outline of what the JUI-F considers as enshrining of Islamic law is evident in the Hasba Act proposed and passed by its provincial assembly, the implementation of which was blocked by the Supreme Court under Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who struck it down as unconstitutional.

The Hasba Act established squads for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Amar Bil-Maroof Wa nahi Anil-Munkar), with a broad mandate to “protect Islamic values and etiquettes” and to “discourage un-Islamic social values”, with ultimate arbitration by a Mohtasib (ombudsman), whose authority could not be challenged by any court of law in the country. Since values and etiquette are highly subjective and context-specific, a woman driving a car could constitute a violation, but the law went further to define as within its ambit enforcing of obedience to parental orders (Section 23[XXV]), so people could be jailed for arguing with their parent. While this stipulation conjures absurd situations, it was in effect a roundabout way of legally instituting a Wali (guardian) of women, a move that women’s groups have been battling against in Pakistan and other Muslim majority countries.

That the political party that drafts and proposes a law that the Supreme Court finds in conflict with other laws to be given leadership of an institution with the power to review all laws is a systemic short circuit.

Another legislation passed by the JUI-F government replaced the then-existing NWFP Prohibition of Dancing Act 1974, which banned women from dancing in public for remuneration, with a new Prohibition of Singing, Dancing and Performing Act 2004 that banned any person, not just women, from any musical expression, not just paid dancing, at any place, not just public places, giving police the authority to raid homes on the suspicion of music being played inside. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F stated on record at that point that “those who oppose the imposition of our Islamic system are terrorists” (‘All who oppose Islamic system are terrorists: Fazl’, Daily Times, August 30, 2004).

There are many other illustrations of what ‘making Islamic’ means for the JUI-F. They opposed and closed a shelter for women survivors of violence in Peshawar, Mera Ghar, with Siraj-ul-Haq stating that those who want to focus on violence against women want to destroy Islamic and Pukhtun culture. Their anti-obscenity drives in Khyber included burning posters and products of family planning — the pyres were lit by their Minister of Religious Affairs Amanullah Haqqani. They set up Salaat Committees, registered as NGOs, to round up people into mosques at prayer times, with attendance registers outside mosques. Many would remember the Marathon episode of 2005 where schoolgirls participating in a running race became a battle for the soul of Islam. The avowed aim of the MMA, according to their slogan, was: ‘Allah ki zameen per Allah ka nizaam’. With the JUI-F heading the CII, the rest of Pakistan can gear up for finding itself defending the status quo instead of pushing for progressive change.

The religious right-wing has had a troubled past with the CII itself, where Liaquat Baloch stated that the only legitimate body to decide on the Hudood Ordinances was the CII, and when the CII itself, under Dr Khalid Masud, a notable scholar, ruled that the Hudood laws and Blasphemy Laws were man-made and not divine, hence could be changed, the MMA said that the CII had bowed under US pressure and had therefore become its agent.

Then too, the MMA threatened to resign from the provincial and national assemblies if the Hudood Ordinances were changed. In 2006, Javed Ahmed Ghamdi resigned from the CII because the JUI-F and the MMA pressured the government to form yet another parallel body to review the Women’s Protection Act, not accepting the mandate of the CII to do so. Ghamdi stated that the Ulema Committee was a breach of CII jurisdiction while he categorically said, “I have completely disagreed with the MMA’s stance on the Women’s Protection Bill.”

More recently, once Sherani was on board, the CII went behind its chairman’s back and while Dr Masud was out of the country, gave a statement opposing the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, warning that it would push up divorce rates and fan unending family feuds, opposing the National Commission on the Status of Women. This was later retracted by Dr Masud, who said this was not the official position of the CII.

This article does not even begin to address the non-suitability with regard to the JUI-F’s positions on militancy. The political party that has selectively upheld, rejected and manipulated the CII to propagate and enforce their narrow vision of religious correctness is being offered stewardship of the institution.

Others continue to question that in face of the Federal Shariat Court, Shariat Appellate benches, religious referencing in judgements of all High Courts and Supreme Court, incorporation of the Objectives Resolution, constitutional provisions that every law must be in accord with Islam, seven religious political parties, 12 religious television channels, why do we even need the CII?

Nazish Brohi is a social activist and an author. She can be reached at nazishbrohi at hotmail.com