Islam and it’s Fundamentalist Affect on Public and Women’s Affairs in Pakistan
Since Partition, Pakistan has experienced periods of industrial and infrastructural prospering. Yet among such growth, there have also been schemes stirred by corrupt politicians and religious strifes. Religious-affiliated stirrings and their public effects are especially prevalent with women and their civil and sexual rights are both clear yet secluded. Pakistani national identity is rooted in religious and cultural roots, which have been influenced by dark sentiments.
The Culturally Islamic identity in Pakistan is founded since Partition. In summary, the Partition of the British Raj (British India) was caused due to religious division. A division seeded by a diabolically genius divide and conquer’ strategy devised to control the Indian subcontinent after The Indian Mutiny in 1857. It seems that after 90 years filled with strife and subjugation, and the loosened grip of the now broken British Empire; the divisions put in place nine decades earlier were still silently present (Khan, N., 2017).
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On August 14th, 1947, led by Jinnah and The Muslim League, Pakistan gained independence from the British Raj and formed the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan is officially recognized as The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan is a parliamentary republic, where all adult citizens have the right to vote. Pakistan is a republic, but it’s laws are theocratic in nature; especially judiciary laws. When the Muslim League was drafting the documents for the future creation of the Islamic Republic, they used Sharia interpretation from the Ulama (recognized group of Islamic scholars and Imams) at the time.
Sharia means way’ in Arabic and is best defined in judiciary terms as scholarly interpretations of divine laws from the Quran and Hadith (oral accounts from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or his followers) (Ahmed, H., 2009). It is also noteworthy to account that Sharia laws’ are highly debated among scholars, so making singular claims is nearly impossible.
Judiciary systems in Pakistan that involve sharia systems are mostly implemented on a state and city level, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu, and Kashmir; with differing implements. What unites these three states is that they are all in the north, and are geographically located in areas where local land is disputed, and secluded by mountains. (Constable, P., 2017)
It should also be noted that these areas, especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are close to Afghanistan, and have a history of some locals affiliating with the Taliban. Sharia courts were first introduced by Zia ul-Haq and made far-reaching changes in the criminal justice system. He established a sharia court with the power to put any law or government action under trial if suspected to be against Islam (Talbot, 1998).
The Islamization of Laws and judiciary systems was expanded upon in the 70s, where the introduction of blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code gave a big boost to the religious parties (most of which adhered to the Sunni branch of Islam) that were unpopular at the time. Those political parties were influenced by militant radicals who had been relentless on asserting political Islam as a national lifestyle over the nation.
Dr. Nasir Khan in his article Islamist Radicalism in Pakistani Politics, he writes “Thus, a coercive brand of Islamism replaced an old, tolerant, and all-inclusive brand of Sufi Islam… gradually came under increased pressure from the politicizing activities of an anti-egalitarian, anti-socialist and anti-democratic Islam… renowned and influential ideologue of a totalitarian Islamic ideology’, or Islamism.” (paragraph 7). As a result of the imposition of the blasphemy laws, the militants were free to also impose their power and influence over civil society, and ultimately into day-to-day public and intimate affairs (Khan, N., 2017).
In the Quran, women are regarded as equal to men in the eyes of God. And sometimes Islam glorifies women to be in some ways greater than men, yet misogyny is highly prevalent in many Islamic’ countries. It should be noted, that it is not necessarily the religion in of itself that is the source of misogyny, but the interpretation of divine texts through biased perspectives based on one’s cultural reality. In the case of Pakistan, political and legal representation of women is underwhelming.
In the implemented sharia courts, established by the state, women in almost every case scenario are expected to prove and show more evidence than men. And this extends from marital right to sexual abuse claims. Until 2006, rape in Pakistan was a crime that was largely dealt with under Shari’a. Women had to produce four male witnesses to support the legitimacy of the crime. The failure to do so could mean being charged with adultery, which could lead to severe capital punishments.
Even though the strictness of such laws have been loosened, many women still face shunning and humiliation for being raped, and are told to repress all things sexual; including speaking up on sexual and pedophilic harassment (Shah, N., 2006). ul-Haq’s imposition of Islamization led to numerous incidents of open sexual harassment by strangers towards women; especially in the streets of Lahore and in other major urban centers. These incidents became normalized and were openly called spectator sports’ by the government, and were generally directed towards lower-class women (Burqi, S., 2016).
Recently in Pakistan, due to rising exposure to the prevalence of misogyny and sexual harassment, writers and journalists are openly coming out with research and experiences. These experiences expose the misogyny, sexual harassment (both physical and verbal), and gender discrimination in the workplace. Many women are coming forward and scolding their workplaces and communities for being blind to an injustice which is hidden in plain sight. Dawn, an accredited Pakistani journalism and news organization, recently conducted a survey of 300 women.
They were asked whether women were told to stay silent about workplace harassment, and 61% said their employers did not coerce them to keep quiet, but a significant 35% were forced to remain silent by their colleagues and bosses (Sethna, R., Masood, T., & Jahangir, R. 2018). The study showed the significance of harassment of women in the workplace by means of gender discrimination is prevalent. One of the more recent, and impactful demonstrations of misogyny and gender discrimination can be found in the story of Malala Yousafzai, who took a bullet to the head and survived in an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012.
Though her fight was not towards discrimination in the workplace, but rather in the education system; especially in northern Pakistan. The Taliban is notorious globally for their zealous and fundamentalist perspective on Islam, and their brutally hegemonic imposition of it. Their influence in northern Pakistan stretches from women’s segregation enforcement to reducing women’s rights and voices in both civil and private affairs.
This includes that a woman’s voice is worth half as much as a man’s in a sharia court (Sanford, C., 2015). Malala in an interview once said “Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran. We should focus on practical issues. We have so many people in our country who are illiterate.
And many women have no education at all”. These bona fide words are coming from a teenage girl fighting for her human right to education, and it is that fact which is what makes the issue heavier many others. Misogyny in Pakistan can also be found to be rooted in an orientalist perspective through the cultural, almost hegemonic view of life. Ergo, there is a shared ideology of the assumption of an us’ versus them’.
Such a strong sense of ideological identity mixed with a presence of zeal-like religious interpretation can lead to perverse views on human inequality. This creates a majority in the country wrapped up in a dominant ideology’ that expresses itself through routine presence in media as a part of legitimate public debate. Also, the dominant ideology can also express itself through the subtle everyday form of talk that appears natural in social situations (Rahman, H., 2014).
Such views on national dominant ideology can be used by perverse and zealous Islamic ideologies to subtly suggest norms. And these subtle suggestions, as shown in northern Pakistan, can change the entire view of a population in a matter of a few years; and stay integrated for long periods of time. Misogyny is also extremely prevalent in religious minorities, perhaps more or so than Muslim women. Pakistan is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Has declared Islam as it’s official religion.
The best example to provide detailed evidence into The prevalence of discriminatory misogyny of religious minorities in Pakistan is to diverge into the story of Asia Bibi. Bibi was charged with blasphemy when in 2009, she allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Her conviction stemmed from an incident in 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while working out in the fields. When she came to the well, Muslim women laborers expressed disgust to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim. A fight erupted, and later a local Imam claimed Bibi insulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Bibi was tried and sentenced to death, and she spent the last eight years on death row.
However, Bibi’s conviction was overturned in October of this year, and she was pardoned of her crime by new Prime Minister, Imran Khan (Gulf News, 2018). Her conviction united several religiously-based political parties and private groups, that lead to increased anti-religious minority sentiment, and increased the discrimination against religious minorities. In Pakistan’s founding, religious minorities were declared to share equal rights among Muslims by Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
On 11 August 1947, in a speech to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Jinnah said “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State … We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State”. Islamic religio-political parties emerged later on under the influence of Wahhabi (anti-Sufi Islamic fundamentalist) beliefs from Saudi Arabia.
The original political character of Pakistan was perverted by ul-Haq and his Islamization regime. Originally, and before any semi-modern constitutional changes, religious minorities are protected under the law (Malik, I,. 2002). However, with the rise of ul-Haq’s blasphemy laws and further influence of radical Islamic beliefs, religious minorities lost favor in the Pakistani government and were persecuted by fundamentalist religious groups.
There is still hope, for a new and progressive Pakistan; with the election of the new Prime Minister, Imran Khan. Khan is the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf party and was elected on July 25th, 2018. In PM Khan’s inaugural address, he made 20 promises to the nation. Some of which are implementations of judicial reforms, government school sector to be reformed, to stay out of all business ventures throughout his tenure. The speech exceeded expectations, however, there was no mention of religious minorities, marginalized communities, attacks on women, and religious intolerance (Tribune Correspondent, 2018).
It should be noted that the PM’s inaugural speech was on the 18th of August; but as mentioned before, Imran Khan pardoned Bibi of her blasphemy conviction in October of this year. This action taking place post-inaugural speech has struck out the red flag brought up by the lack of mention of religious minorities and religious intolerance. This is because, the PM showed an example of intention; and though it is just one example, it is still a significant example.
Such an act has never been seen In modern Pakistani politics and shows that the new prime minister and his party are bent on ensuring a progressive future for Pakistan. In conclusion, Religious-affiliated stirrings and their public effects are especially prevalent with women and their civil and sexual rights is both clear yet secluded. Pakistani national identity is rooted in religious and cultural roots, which have been influenced by dark sentiments.
The culturally Islamic identity of Pakistan has been influenced by zeal and has manifested from an egalitarian and free-thinking Islamic identity to a staunch totalitarian culturally Islamic identity. The influence has stirred Pakistan into an inflexible ideological identity, one that is dominant and has wrapped the country into a narrow view of life. Misogyny, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination have plagued the women of Pakistan; having being forced to repress uncontained experiences of abuse and discrimination.
Religious minorities are discriminated, for the country has strayed from its original View on religious populations; that in the Islamic state of Pakistan, you are free to practice your religion and to be treated as an equal to the majority of Muslims in the country. However, hope Has emerged, with the election of the new prime minister, Imran Khan; Who shows a drive to progression and potentially social liberalization through his monumented us public declarations and first acts as PM.
- Scholarly Talbot, Ian (1998). Pakistan, a Modern History. BY: St.Martin’s Press. p. 251. Shah, N. A. (2006). Women, the Koran and International Human Rights Law: The Experience of Pakistan. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=CuSwCQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=Pakistan%20misogyny&ots=nJaTA1nCXt&sig=WYSXd7ZgEiXN7tDl0E7g-PRvrWg#v=onepage&q=Pakistan%20misogyny&f=false
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- Constable, P. (n.d.). Pakistan is making concessions to religious extremists. What’s the cost? Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistan-is-making-concessions-to-religious-extremists-whats-the-cost/2017/12/01/ce5f7122-d3b8-11e7-9ad9-ca0619edfa05_story.html?utm_term=.9564b41602f2
- Khan, N., Dr. (n.d.). Islamist Radicalism in Pakistani Politics. Retrieved from https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2017/12/18/islamist-radicalism-in-pakistani-politics/
- Sethna, R., Masood, T., & Jahangir, R. (n.d.). Sexual Harassment in Pakistan: Misogyny in the workplace: Hidden in plain sight. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/1396333/special-report-sexual-harassment-in-pakistan-misogyny-in-the-workplace-hidden-in-plain-sight
- Pakistani cleric who led Asia Bibi protests charged with terrorism. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/pakistan/pakistani-cleric-who-led-asia-bibi-protests-charged-with-terrorism-1.60705561
- Tribune Correspondent. (2018, August 20). A list of promises: Will Imran’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ formula work? Retrieved from https://tribune.com.pk/story/1785039/1-list-promises-will-imrans-naya-pakistan-formula-work/