Recently, we saw a video go viral on the internet, in which a so-called Islamic scholar enticed men to heaven by saying “Let me tell you about the virgins you will meet... Forget about your filthy wives”. We can only hope that perhaps that scholar wasn’t well-known enough for too many people to take seriously his utter lack of knowledge of the religion he was preaching which would never, for starters, use such words to describe women. However, now the head of one of the country’s largest religious parties seems to have made equally distasteful remarks in a recent interview. The head of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Syed Munawwar Hassan, said that if a woman is raped but cannot produce four male witnesses, she can be imprisoned for false accusation, based on the Hudood Ordinance and Sharia. So a woman who has been raped should suffer in silence and not file an FIR unless she can provide four witnesses — which is next to impossible. Already, many women who have said they were raped have ended up in jail for charges of adultery while others have had to deal with the social stigma attached with such cases. Mr Hassan’s irresponsible interview will further exacerbate the problem by discouraging even more women from speaking up.
Incidentally, one of the authors of the Hudood Ordinance has said on record that even if four witnesses are not found, the victim can have a case with one witness plus a medical examination and DNA testing. But it seems that the JI chief seems to know little of this. What kind of barbaric, misogynist society are we living in where we ask rape victims to come with four witnesses who must have seen the act of rape take place? Wouldn’t such witnesses be of low moral standing for not stopping the act from happening in the first place? Such words and actions reflect most poorly on our religious parties who seem to have a mindset that sees women as nothing more than mere animals. Clearly, this mindset needs to change and for that, civil society needs to make itself heard.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2011.