By Duriya Hashmi
29 November 2012
It is not surprising then to find some 'modern' Pakistani Muslims coining contradictory catchwords like 'Muslim Feminists' or 'liberal Hijabi' to explain or perhaps justify their preferred social and religious behaviours
One cannot help but wonder how come people establish their social identities on the basis of a trail of oxymorons. But Pakistan is a country where rhetoric pulls more crowds than reason - which has no fan-base in the land of the pure. It is not surprising then to find some 'modern' Pakistani Muslims coining contradictory catchwords like 'Muslim Feminists' or 'liberal Hijabi' to explain or perhaps justify their preferred social and religious behaviours.
The predetermined role of women within the parameters of Islamic doctrines (or any other faith of the world) and the objectives of modern feminism are, to say the least, quite inconsistent with each other. Yet 'modern' Islamic scholars in Pakistan rave a lot about the 'freedom and respect' Islam has bestowed upon women in comparison with other religions, which are completely misogynist and oppressive. But these scholars – bent on elevating divine decrees into scientific theories - fail to justify the encouragement of polygamy for Muslim men or the prohibition of marrying a non-believer for women. Neither can they explain those Quranic verses portraying women as ‘docile’ companions who should be reprimanded or punished physically by their ‘guardians’ i.e. men, if they display ‘disobedience’(Nisa:34).
This ideological mumbo-jumbo of Muslim feminism - a product of Pakistan's 'educated urban' minds, addicted to drawing relentless parallels between western knowledge and Quranic revelations - may not be very convincing for the 'real feminists' or cultural theorists, but the notion is catching on with the radical Islamists, since it allows them to popularise a gender-friendly religiosity that has a far-reaching political and social impact.
So-called 'Islamic feminism' in Pakistan can only be deciphered as a current of feminised fundamentalism flowing through the patriarchal politicisation of religion. Personal choices and philosophies of Muslim 'feministsoras', as most of them like to call themselves - the ‘liberated Muslim women’ of Pakistan - are borrowed heavily from the dogmatic interpretations of (semi-literate) ulemas, state-sponsored scholars and demagogic televangelists, who all happen to be males. These empowered women regularly demand their ‘right to wear the hijab’ during demonstrations, while chanting slogans such as 'an attack on hijab is an attack on Islam’. Basically manipulating the sexual exploitation of western women, this wave of women's emancipation and liberation stresses reviving Islamic values in the country. In addition, the rhetoric fed to the ‘empowered’ women lays special emphasis on Sharia enforcement, the long cherished ideal of orthodox Islamists. In short, the equation of women's liberation with the fundamentals of Islam is heading towards the Talibanisation of Pakistani women.
On November 21 Qazi Hussain Ahmed, former head of right wing political party Jamat-e-Islami, escaped a suicide attack in Mohmand Agency, in the tribal belt of Pakistan. The attack on the pro-Taliban religious leader was allegedly carried out by a burqa-clad female suicide bomber who attempted to assassinate Qazi - himself a die-hard supporter of the hijab and the exclusion of women.
Whether the assault was an American or Zionist conspiracy is a question better left to the inquisitive Jammatiyas [members of Jamaat]. However, the induction of a female bomber to hit a high-profile target points to the equal opportunity makeover of Pakistan’s jihadi networks, and therefore should not be underestimated by the government or by civil society. The phenomenon of female suicide bombers is closely connected with the emergence of radical female seminaries like Jamia Hafsa and Al Huda Foundation, which are engaged in the indoctrination of women. The moral police of Jamia Hafsa, which kidnapped a woman in 2007 on ‘charges of promoting obscenity’ while vandalizing private property and torturing many residents of Islamabad, is a sharp reminder of how female empowerment is actually perceived by the rightwing Islamists in Pakistan.
Owing to the mind-blowing rightist propaganda about anti-Islam global conspiracies, more and more women are falling into the trap of proving their worth by wearing their Islamic identity on their sleeves.
According to a research conducted by Pathways of Women’s Empowerment South Asia Hub, the number of Pakistani women attending religious classes (i.e. Dars) to authenticate their beliefs is increasing.
Another survey reveals that Pakistani women tend to blindly follow their religion and don’t bother to question their faith. This has made the job of those selling emancipation, feminism or political Islam to Pakistani women very easy. The seeds of moral subjugation are planted with the assistance of the country’s utterly chauvinist and conservative broadcast media. Religious symbols extensively used by TV channels dictate moral subservience and nurture religious fervour but discourage rational thinking. From cooking shows to prime-time entertainment, the mind of Pakistani women is captured with the blitz of references taken from Quran, Hadith, Sunnah, and punctuated with Alhamdulilahs , Mashallahs, Allah Hafizs. Those Muslim women who feel more protected by a male-dominant Islamic system than the independent western woman who is sexually abused are themselves intellectually abused and brainwashed - which allows them then to be deployed as the ideological foot-soldiers of religious extremists. These slaves of faith, eulogising the power religion gives to them, need to alternatively delve into the abuse of this power as well.
Duriya Hashmi is a passive activist, blogger and aspiring film maker who writes to vent anguish and believes in art as a catalyst for change. Her cyber self can be followed at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org