Custodians of public morality

Published: January 3, 2011
The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London [email protected]

Pakistan has several unsung heroes. One such gentleman, a Pakistani doctor from Birmingham, about whose post-earthquake and post-flood efforts I had written at length in a previous column, told me his vacation time to Pakistan is spent travelling the length and breadth of the country, providing healthcare and rebuilding infrastructure in the remotest of villages. He also told me that one of his assistants — a Pakistan-based expert on water resources who is responsible for much of the legwork in installing water purification units — narrated a hadith, according to which the Holy Prophet (pbuh) once asked the angel Gabriel what work he would do if he lived on earth. Gabriel responded by saying, “I would provide people clean water to drink.”

What a pity then that the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis go without clean water, while only a few of us are able to afford Nestle. And yet this acute breach of civic, moral and religious obligation provokes no outcry from our ulema or the religious and political parties that support them. There is no strike called when typhoid, cholera and dysentery spread because of lack of clean water. There are no concerted efforts to rectify this major societal ill. Instead, the entire focus of religion is thrust upon persecuting women and minorities. This is not to say that all religious-minded people are turning religion on its head to achieve political ambitions. There are those like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi who have tried to prioritise the edicts of religion and stress upon our obligations towards humanity, but not only have such learned religious scholars been marginalised, but also terrorised into exile by a majority that is perhaps under-confident of its own Islamic knowledge and thus unable to challenge the arguments presented by Ghamidi.

As a result, we are browbeaten into submission by unruly crowds that are unable to secure a majority at the ballot box and unable to engage in intelligent debate on Islamic jurisprudence. Their only hope of consolidating power is by employing fear and relying on parallel centres of power such that our mainstream institutions are constantly undermined, threatened and distracted. In the eighties, they found an ally in General Ziaul Haq, during whose rule a plethora of so-called “Islamic” legislation was passed and parallel courts set up which did no good to humanity but served as tools for harassment of the weak and oppressed, ironically the very groups Islam had sought to protect.

Once put in place, these draconian laws and parallel structures have proven extremely difficult to undo. Neither Musharraf’s government nor the ruling PPP have been successful in overturning this dark period of our history, in spite of wishes to the contrary. Musharraf tried to undo the blasphemy law but backtracked. He must be credited, however, with the Women Protection Act, as should the PPP for supporting it in full force, as I have it on good authority that several members of the PML-Q, including the Chaudhrys and Legharis, did not show up to vote that day. It is a small wonder then that  the PML-N, PML-Q and PTI are united on this bigoted and opportunistic front. As we stand at a point in time where not only is our religion being used for ulterior motives, but women stand to lose the gains made in 2006 and minorities continue to be maltreated, where are the liberal parties that Pakistanis elected to fight this mess?

The welcome efforts of Sherry Rehman (PPP) and Bushra Gohar (ANP) are simply not sufficient. They need to be supported by their parties unequivocally and openly. Although civil society and sections of the media have promoted this cause, the responsibility ultimately rests on the ruling political coalition. Now that the JUI-F is out, let’s keep it that way and forge ahead with undoing Zia’s legacy. Appeasement will not only weaken democracy but also erode the message of Islam and Jinnah’s legacy.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • yousafzai
    Jan 3, 2011 - 10:48AM

    for the record the hadith narrated above should be validated one cannot just write something and then label it as a hadith. as far as ghamidi is concerned well he is a non believer of hadith and a follower of pervaiz. ghamidi is extremely popular in the so called intellectuals of our country. may Allah have mercy on all of us. i would simply advise ayesha to do some background check on ghamidi and then portray him as a saint or a true interpretor of islam or put him on a pedestal.Recommend

  • Maaz Khattak
    Jan 3, 2011 - 11:56AM

    Great words for someone in London who is not aware of anything happening here. And a nice ploy, calling thousands of disciplined protestors unruly crowds. What about the thousands of shops that were closed across the country?Recommend

  • khurram zaman
    Jan 3, 2011 - 1:24PM

    well elaborated article i must say it is but at the same time we need to understand the motives of political leadership. it is beyond iota of doubt that our political parties has their own ulterior motives behind supporting each of the Law of the country.
    Having said so the brighter side of the picture is that at least now our young generation is educated and they are getting awareness of what is going on. I m hopeful change would come. Lets pray change would come soon. Recommend

  • parvez
    Jan 3, 2011 - 2:04PM

    Nice sounding article, but thats about it.
    Always like reading your stuff but this time something did not click.Recommend

  • Advocate+My+Foot
    Jan 3, 2011 - 4:00PM

    @maaz Khattak so you mean to weigh down opinion on the basis of geographical limitation?? so apparently according to you England or I am assuming has no access to media mediums through which they can see or read what is going on in this country…
    and yes our “protests” our mobs of unruly crowds who have no idea as to why they are protesting or more so why they are even there.Recommend

  • Rana Amjad
    Jan 3, 2011 - 4:24PM

    Mullah’s will not allow to let anything change for better in this country! Mullah’s have made Mullustan instead of Pakistan. No end in sight unless an Ata Turk is born in Pakistan.Recommend

    Jan 3, 2011 - 4:30PM

    wow Excellent very nice keep it up !Recommend

  • liyaqat
    Jan 3, 2011 - 5:24PM

    totally illogical and ful of intrigues.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Jan 3, 2011 - 6:33PM

    @ Writer,

    Totally pathetic piece of writing, Govt is on the verge of falling, and you are asking the rulers to draft such laws which will accelerate its down-fall. Madam, with due respect, the majority in this country does neither believe in violent version of Islam, nor in your secular ideology.Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Jan 3, 2011 - 7:33PM

    Excellent analysis in this article – keep it up.

    @yousafzai — You said Ghamidi is a non-believer of hadith. That is NOT TRUE. You can say you don’t agree with him but no point in writing lies about a great scholar of Islam.
    @Khattak —- I have seen the demonstations by JUI-F and its allies. They are anything but peaceful. They use violence and fear to force shops to shut down. I have seen it with my own eyes. You have either never seen any of their rallies or are their supporter.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jan 3, 2011 - 8:43PM

    These demonstrations of full of voilence. Members of religious parties carrying guns were roaming aound in the streets and no sane individual would risk to open his shop.

    Yesterday on Samaa TV, the anchor (asma something) had invited eunuchs to discuss their problems. The eunuchs were describing how on their way to the tv studio, they were pelted with stones by mullahs of pro blasphemy law rally.

    Religious parties have never taken more than 5 percent votes. They dont represent the majority. Recommend

  • R S Johar
    Jan 3, 2011 - 11:00PM

    Beautiful article like the writer herself. It is a historic fact that Gen Zia era brought social injustice, rise of terrorism, religious intolerance and sectarian violence in the country and since then Pakistan graph is on the decline in almost all fields. Religious intolerance leads to hatred and results in violence and bloodshed. This is exactly happening in Pakistan and time has come to undo the wrongdoings as brought out by the writer otherwise the country is likely to be labelled as a failed state.Recommend

  • AM
    Jan 4, 2011 - 8:05AM

    It is important that we learn and understand Islam,its principles,its teachings about women and minorities, to counter the illiterate and ignorant “custodians”. The lawyers with knowledge of Islam should study and scrutinize the Zia laws on the books and recommend changes to make them true Islamic. Panel should include capable Muslim women lawyers.Recommend

  • TKhan
    Jan 4, 2011 - 12:36PM


    Which set of hadiths? Barelvi, Deobandi, Salafi or Ahle-Tasheh? And then which interpretation? You do know that so far thousands if not hundreds of thousands are killed for my-Islam-is-better than-your debate?

    Let everyone have their own Islam, let everyone relate to their God the way they want to. State, Mosque or Mullah should not imposed any religion/sect on us; let it be our choice please.
    Trust me, we are doomed otherwise…. Recommend

  • Imran siddiqui
    Jan 5, 2011 - 3:29AM

    We, the Pakistanis are in a state of denial that nothing is happening but the fact is our country has been hijacked by Mullahs. Their emotional speeches can easily turn any person into a real extremist. You can only save yourself when you read and research the beautiful religion. Blind faith on Mullahs will not only harm you but your family, your friends and your country will suffer too.

    I was in my primary class when I read the beautiful act of my beloved Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H that how he had forgiven the old-lady who used to throw the rubbish on him and how she accepted the Islam when Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H went to visit her during her illness. I also remember the act of Taif’s naughty kids who stoned the Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H to the extent where his shoe was filled with the blood but he made the supplication for them.

    Did these things really happen? Are these events not ideal examples of blasphemy? Are these above mentioned events not crystal-clear about the Sunnah of my Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H? How Javed Ghamidi’s any statement is contradictory to Prophet’s Sunnah? Why Salman Taseer shot to death?

    I salute Mr Javed Ghamidi the way he is preaching the contemporary interpretation of Islam with the retention of its true essence despite the huge resistance in the form of extremism and madness of mullahs.

    Despite all my political conflicts with Mr Salman Taseer I also salute him the way he took the stand for a poor Christian lady who is behind the bar for nothing. May Allah rest his soul in peace. Ameen!Recommend

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