By Hasnain Iqbal
Well for our clerics, women certainly do. How else can you explain their obsessive, relentless musings on the fairer sex? There is no facet of their lives that is beyond the cleric radar. Be it marriage or education or the issue of work or the most popular punching bag — the ideal attire of modest women.Corruption, adulteration, power outages simply pale in comparison before the monstrous women. That extremism is tearing our society apart, that corruption is eating into our value system suffocating society to a slow death are hardly problems worthy of rumination and decrees. When was the last time you saw a fatwa or a public rally urging the state to fulfil its commitments to the citizens? Now count the instances of women-centred statements and rallies, and you will be amazed at the attention clerics have been lavishing on women.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has been hyperactive lately, sensing the looming threat that wanton, unshackled women pose to men, Islam and our culture. Composed of academicians from diverse backgrounds, armed with intimidating grounding in human history and evolution, the CII clerics have been issuing groundbreaking decrees aimed at reforming Pakistani society. Only if wishes were horses. From the issue of how best to beat wives to determining the marriageable age of women, from rejecting DNA evidence as un-Islamic to pronouncements on cloning and test tube babies, the CII fatwas are mindboggling for their sheer range. I will try to deconstruct their edicts using rationality and common sense as these issues have little to do with religion and everything to do with the cultural milieu, traditions and of course science.
Take for instance the issue of marriageable age for women. As per the CII, nikah (marriage contact) can be executed at any age while rukhsati (formal departure of the girl with the groom) can only happen once the girl hits puberty and which is the responsibility of her guardian. Can’t imagine a more primitive statement utterly devoid of any appreciation of how over the last few centuries, the role of women has evolved, and so has the psychological and physical understanding of human body. The CII’s verdict seems to treat a woman as a mere body ready for rukhsati once it shows signs of pubescence, while completely ignoring the immaturity of the young mind to comprehend the social and personal implications of the choice being imposed on her or him. This is like asking someone who is addled, blind and mute to sign a bondage contract for life.
While light beating of wives has become a butt of social media jokes for understandable reasons, there is indeed a Quranic verse that suggests shunning of the defiant wife followed by husband’s withdrawal from the bed, and in case the defiance persists, light beating that does not leave any mark on the body. The popular interpretation of this verse, in my opinion, is a classic case of misguided exegesis, Arabic being a language with words bearing multiple meanings and hues. Secondly, the issue of understanding the context is extremely important as literal interpretation of a verse in isolation can potentially wreak havoc. For instance, a certain Arabic word in the verse in question that has been interpreted to mean ‘strike’ has multiple meanings. Language experts say that if the meaning intended is indeed ‘strike’ then the typical usage of this word warrants clear identification of the body part to be hit and the object with which to hit. Which, however, is not the case. I leave the academic debate to scholars who are willing to reinterpret with an open mind. Rationally speaking, striking her with a handkerchief, as Maulana Sherani put it, will hardly bring the defiant wife to her knees if shunned conversation and physical intimacy have already failed. Clearly, reinterpretation is in order.
The DNA evidence in case of rape is acceptable the world over as a critical piece of incriminating evidence. Here again, the CII resorts to a chauvinistic, misogynistic interpretation that treats the testimony of four mature people as primary proof to establish the occurrence of rape while DNA evidence as supplementary proof. This conveniently corners the complainant (rape victim) as it is rather rare for a rapist to rape in the presence of four consenting voyeurs.The issue of cloning is no different. Both DNA testing and cloning are marvels of human ingenuity and scientific progress. Here comes the need for Ijtihad (learned consensus).