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VIEWPOINT: Give them an inch and they will take ten miles: Religious parties’ threat

Leaders of various religious parties and groups who met at the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Mansoora headquarters in Lahore on Tuesday have threatened the government to do as they want or be prepared to face a country-wide protest movement. A joint declaration issued after the meeting, while giving an ultimatum to the government to withdraw the “un-Islamic” Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2015, by March 27 and condemning the execution of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, tried to lend credibility to its demands by accusing the government of taking steps against Sharia and the Constitution.

Notably these parties wouldn’t lift a finger when a poor peasant woman, Mukhtaran Mai, was subjected to gang rape on the orders of a village punchayat or when Baloch leader Akbar Bugti took a stand in defence of a rape victim, Dr Shazia Khalid, leading to a bloody clash with the then military ruler General Musharraf’s men in which several tribesmen lost their lives. Surely there is no acceptance of such crimes in Islam. There are numerous other instances where heinous crimes were committed against women and these religious leaders uttered not a single word of condemnation, let alone making a demand for justice. It is worthwhile to note that they have also been consistently opposing the 1961 Family Laws that provide such mild protections as proper registration of marriages and divorces, and safeguard women’s rights to divorce (khula) and maintenance, etc. They are fixated only on controlling women in ways that have nothing to do with Islamic teachings and everything to do with a desire to treat them as mere possessions which can be used and abused at will.

As regards the issues at hand, the government took both steps staying within the ambit of the Constitution. The provincial assemblies have the prerogative to legislate on any issue they deem necessary. Similarly, Parliament is the supreme law making authority on subjects within the federal purview. No individual or government holds the right to interpret the Constitution. Only the Supreme Court can decide whether or not a particular law is in accord or in conflict with the Constitution. And as per the law of the land the self-confessed killer of Taseer was given, like any accused, the right to defend himself through due process all the way from trial courts to the highest appellate authority, the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In condoning Qadri’s act what the religious parties are saying is that they do not care for the rule of law, and that anyone from among them can act as the judge, jury and executioner.

The declaration also rubbishes the political consensus-based 20-point National Action Plan, calling for a stop to arrest and ‘harassment’ of ulema, seminary students, and release of all those detained by the law enforcement agencies. Maulana Samiul Haq whose seminary, Darul Uloom Haqqania at Akora Khattak – which produced alumni like the Afghan Taliban’s late emir Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani of the powerful Haqqani network, and chief of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, Asim Umar – also took the opportunity to castigate the government for giving up its earlier attempts to negotiate with the Taliban fighting the state. The demand to stop the ongoing security operations amounts to asking for freedom to spread more bigotry, hatred, and violence in this society.

A particularly interesting part of the Mansoora meeting declaration is the assertion “all official announcements about a liberal, secular Pakistan and against Islamic inunctions are a revolt against the Constitution and betrayal of the founding fathers of the country.” Somewhere in it the participants also termed the women’s protection law and religious vigilantism as negation of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. The claims call for jogging their memory. The three parties at the forefront of this move, namely the Jamaat-i-Islami, JUI (F) and JUI-S, headed by Maulanas Fazlur Rehman and Samiul Haq, respectively (note that these Maulanas parted ways to form their own factions because they couldn’t get along on account of worldly considerations) had vehemently opposed this country’s founding fathers’ struggle for a separate state for the Muslims. Here are some nuggets from JI’s founding ideologue Maulana Moududi’s pronouncements about Pakistan and the Father of the Nation: “Establishment of Pakistan is akin to the birth of a beast”; “Mohammad Ali Jinnah is the founder of a fool’s paradise and a sinner”; “Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s place is not of a leader but that of a traitor in the dock”. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind of which the two JUI factions are successors, along with all other religious parties, except for the Khaksars, had opposed the creation of a new Muslim homeland with equal vehemence, employing a religious argument that Islam being a universal religion could not be confined within the boundaries of a nation-state. It is worthwhile to recall too that the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ never found a mention in the national discourse until the information minister of General Yahiya Khan’s regime (notorious for his drinking habits and womanising) coined it for whatever purposes.

If they have the fear of God in their hearts our religious parties’ leaders should stop distorting history and claiming to be the keepers of the conscience of a country they had made every effort to prevent from coming into being. They have no locus standi to tell this state what it should or should not do. The founders had envisioned a modern, pluralistic state, and Jinnah had clearly stated it will not be a theocracy. That is the direction it must take. As it confronts the challenge religious parties have thrown its way the government would be wise to learn from a previous example when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took various steps to placate the religious right and ended up losing both power and his life. Any concession to them at this point in time will lead to more regressive demands. It must refuse to give in. Retreat can lead to rout.

Saida Fazal, "VIEWPOINT: Give them an inch and they will take ten miles: Religious parties’ threat," Business Recorder. 2016-03-17.
Keywords: Political science , Religious aspects , Organized crime , Marriage law , Religious right , Constitutions , Pakistan , Lahore , Afghan , JUI-S , Jamat-e- Islami