Our stunted society

Published: May 11, 2012
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

There is so much that needs to be done in Pakistan that one does not know where to begin. The country is currently suffering through the worst energy crisis of its history; food security is lacking like never before and almost half of the country’s children are malnourished. In short, we are teeming millions of people who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy and will be dumber and weaker in the future because of the stunted mental and physical growth of our children due to the lack of education. At such a juncture in history, amongst us are individuals who issue fatwas and promote misogyny and obscurantism against hygiene, education, health and progress.

The latest fatwa is one issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman came up with a series of misogynist fatwas clearly detailing what the priorities of his political and religious followers should be. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be un-Islamic. As if declaring the act of going to school and getting an education irreligious was not enough, he also reprimanded the parents in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohistan district who send their daughters to school and asked them to terminate their education. He also strictly told them that failure to do so would earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.

The fatwa goes on to declare all NGOs working in the region as “hubs of immodesty”. He first blamed the women working in those NGOs for mobilising the local women on health and hygiene issues and then called on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers — forcefully, if they have to — to make them stay at home.

In short, a former legislator issues fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting an education for half of the population forbidden and no one, barring a few bloggers and tweeters, raises even an eyebrow. A non-issue like memogate, which does not affect the life of the average Pakistani other than our former ambassador to the US, gets yards of column space and thousands of minutes of airtime but a religious decree that can affect the lives, livelihoods and the futures of many Pakistanis is not worth protesting against.

Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, perhaps, we could have ignored it. However, unfortunately, we churn out one edict after another without realising what the rest of the world may think of us. If declaring hair implant services and vegetarian items, such as potato chips, halal is considered a viable marketing gimmick, then the abduction of minor girls from minority communities also gets legitimised through decrees by half-literate mullahs. Fatwas are so commonplace that even a power utility company resorted to seeking one a few years back to get people to pay for their electricity. Since that utility is still burdened with thousands of unpaid bills, we know how useless that fatwa turned out to be.

A country like ours can ill-afford adventurism of any kind but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to a fatwa to get a point across. Not only does this breed a narrow and rigid view of issues, it also leaves no room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an increasingly ‘stunted’ and intolerant society.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Abdul...Basit
    May 11, 2012 - 11:36PM

    I don’t understand why maulvis are so obsessed with women and their clothes.Is the greatest threat to Islam the length of women’s clothes?
    Control of women seems to be the top priority of the religious fanatics in our society.Any way they can dominate women,they try it.Stopping girls from getting an education,preventing women from working,imprisoning them behind the chaar diwari are all the favourite pastimes of the religious lobby in pakistan.
    These threats to female activists shows the fear these mullahs have of strong,independent,working women because these women represent the worst nightmare of a religious man: women who earn their own living,who are not dependent on their majazi khuda for their survival,women who have the education and world exposure to make decisions for themselves.This is something the religious fanatics cannot tolerate so they hurl threats at women.


  • Owais Khan
    May 11, 2012 - 11:41PM

    This is nothing surprising,ulema and mullahs have always been against women.They try to legitimise their misogyny by giving it religious cover so that women get intimidated.Men have for centuries used religion as a way to keep women under their feet.Teaching girls to be ashamed of their bodies and to be ashamed of their gender,teaching them that they are inferior to their brothers and husbands and that the relationship between husband and wives is essentially one of slaves and masters.The mullahs excel in all forms of misogyny.They just exploit religion to give their misogyny societal acceptance.


  • ashar
    May 12, 2012 - 12:25AM

    If the above written is true, the would any body tell me what philogyny is. Recommend

  • Rana Shabbir
    May 12, 2012 - 12:34AM

    Country head on toward TOTAL DESTRUCTION! No chance of rectifying the wrong path.Recommend

  • Shankar Deb
    May 12, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Controlling women’s sexuality has been the age old remedy for inadequate men. Even in USA there are various attempts to control women’s bodies as exampled by the raging debate about abortion. Yet in America, gender equality, is perhaps most progressed. One of the outcomes of this basic sexual insecurity in men, and the increasingly demanding and confident women, is the increasing frequency of same sex activity.

    Is it therefore surprising that inadequate men would like uneducated women, with little or no exposure to the outside world? Women who will never have the competence or the courage to question or voice an opinion contrary to the leading men of the household? Women who would accept rape and bondage without question? After all how many Mukhtaran Bibis are there?

    Inadequacy is deeply felt specially by those who are deeply conscious of a perceived non standard education and upbringing, and this can propel them into ever more hostile pronouncements.

    So what is happening is not unexpected. This injustice will reduce only when the ordinary people say that enough is enough, and get ready to pay for change with blood.


  • Schabboo
    May 12, 2012 - 4:03AM

    Google it, brother


  • May 12, 2012 - 5:54AM

    Dialogue, debate and consultation are indicators of a civilized society. The civilized world has given up all hope as they consider us a people beyond redemption. Memo gate scandal or resignation of US ambassador to Pakistan definitely finds a lot more space in our press and the electronic media, as we are not concerned with the ills of society emanating from perpetual Fatwa Factories. Our dilemma is that on the one hand we want to progress as normal human beings and on the other want to maintain rather put more restrictions on woman, than the one’s described in The Behisti Zaiwar “Ornaments of Jannat by Late Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi.”Recommend

  • Anonymous
    May 12, 2012 - 5:11PM

    @ owais khan

    Dear watch movie “dangerous method”based on psychoanalysis of Freud that I think is still true for our societies though its implication has decrease in liberal world.


  • S.Murthy
    May 12, 2012 - 6:49PM

    It seems that when the rest of the world is going forward, Pakistan, thanks to the Mullahs, is travelling back towards the medieval times. Women don’t deserve to be treated as human beings but consumable goods, going by what the Mullahs tend to believe.Recommend

  • kaalchakra
    May 12, 2012 - 10:12PM

    Dear Author

    Fatwas are just opinions. Just like the opinions of all other religious leaders in other countries and societies. Furthermore Islam has no priesthood. So you and I are perfectly free to ignore these opinions if we don’t agree with them.

    The ‘sky-is-falling’ tone of this article along with misprepresentation of Islamic opinions is unfortunate. Would you rather that Islamic leaders and scholars have no opinions at all?Recommend

  • leila rage
    May 14, 2012 - 3:33AM


    Your comment is beyond absurd. Yes, Islam doesn’t have priesthood. but a fatwa is NOT just an opinion. You are misinformed. A fatwa is a DECREE that is issued, and what these “leaders” are doing is dangerous because their illiterate followers will believe them blindly and do whatever they say. It would be better if these people truly learnt Islam and then called themselves scholars of faith, because right here they’re contradicting the Prophet (PBUH) who said that to get an education and gather knowledge is the FARZ or duty of every muslim, man or WOMAN. they are not credible scholars at all if they dont even know something so basic that a 5 year old child could tell them.


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