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.