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Islam and Politics ( 16 Apr 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Casting Of Vote Mandatory under the Islamic Injunctions



Finally, a ‘Fatwa’ To Like

By Tallat Azim

April 14, 2013

 In the recent years, any fatwa announced by an individual religious scholar or a body of scholars in the Islamic world has been held up by the other side as proof of how incompatible the Islamic faith is to the prevalent norms of today’s ‘civilised’ world.

While it is definitely unfair to stereotype, the extremist elements in our midst have given plenty of cause to be fearful of the Fatwas, announced at random, as they have often been (fatwa being a legal opinion or decree handed down by one individual or group of religious scholars against which there is no appeal) against Pakistan’s acceptable way of life. There have been examples of throwing away of televisions and burning down of video shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which demonstrate the point.

There is, however, news of a very encouraging fatwa this time that has been spearheaded by the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) led by its Chairman, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, and is about to be presented formally in a conference in Islamabad in another week. Most of our self-trained Ulema have always opted to keep women under wraps and away from the humdrum of everyday life, without recourse to any mainstream activity, unless fully invisible barring two slits for eyes, under billowing black or blue tents. In a drastic departure from this wont as many as 73 muftis of the country have issued an edict that declares non-casting of vote as a sin and confers equal rights of voting to women.

The Chairman of the PUC apparently sought out authoritative Islamic references and the result will be presented in a booklet comprising 40 pages. The main focus of research was the work of globally recognised religious scholars and Ulema. This one fatwa will definitely help in showing the Ulema in a positive light as compared to the consistently bad image that has developed for them, with a particular reference to being anti-democracy.

By declaring the casting of vote mandatory under the Islamic injunctions, on the basis of solid authorities and references, the Ulema have given an excellent message to everybody.

The fatwa has elaborated the concept of essential voting and stated that that the vote can be likened to a testimony, which must not be avoided under all circumstances. “Votes must be cast even if one has to vote for the lesser evil, rather than avoiding vote casting” is the essential message.

While the Ulema have recognised the right of women to cast their votes along side of men, they have not really become overly excited about it either; so do not think we have had a total paradigm shift here. This can be felt in the endeavour further from the fatwa in which they will ask the political parties to print their manifestos without any photographs so that the women do not have to set eyes on na Mahrams.

I did not quite get this because I thought it were the men, who were not supposed to see the women. Women could always see the world from behind the veil when they stepped out, with their Mahrams as it were and it were the na Mehram men, who could not quite make out what or who was behind the Purdah. 

Maybe, I am getting too technical here.

For the moment let’s be happy in a fatwa that endorses and compels all men and women of Pakistan to step out and cast their votes. This is particularly encouraging in the light of the rumours that continue to insist that something or the other will delay the elections.

The army too has discussed and debated all issues pertaining to the security and safety of the voters during the elections. It is reassuring because, somehow, the bulk of us still believe that when the army makes up its mind about what it wants to do, it does it well and thoroughly.

While there is intense activity among the parties, and banners and posters have started displaying candidates, it is imperative that issues are also discussed intelligently and commitments sought from the heads of parties in TV programmes.

Television, radio and the print media must step up to replace the Jalsas, which are no longer such a safe idea so that even the undecided or unmotivated people can also make up their minds. We must have direct debates too between heads of parties.

And of course, the extremely irresponsible and partisan statement from the caretaker Interior Minister about how well he thinks about one particular party was very annoying. He definitely crossed the line and must be seen to be making amends if not out rightly removed.

Postscript: There were two news items juxtaposed to one another in yesterday’s paper. Both related to Pakistani children. One highlighted how an educational institution had completed its silver jubilee and proudly listed the many high achievers it had nourished and produced in those years who had also gone on to get more laurels from global universities and were successful individuals. The other one was about it being the World Street Children’s Day, and how some organisations and individuals celebrated it by doing special things with some of the children born to abject poverty and having perforce to battle life as underprivileged street children. That is a gap we have to bridge. Not by bringing the successful ones down, but by providing fairer opportunities to all our children to realise their full potential. That is another fatwa I would not mind at all.

Tallat Azim is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.