Promise of a People
By Saad Rasool
March 09, 2014
We live in the time of Mullahs. The Juma prayer sermon of a local Masjid, on Women’s Day, narrated the tale of how God created Adam first, the ‘hero’ of our continuing story. And then, almost as an afterthought, from the tip of Adam’s rib, created a companion for Adam (who still remains the focus of our tale). This second soul, a woman, the Mullah told his spellbound listeners – all sons of Adam – was created for Adam’s amusement and company. She was created to bear Adam’s children, and look after his belongings while Adam went out to command the vastness of his kingdom in this Earth.
As the biological and spiritual heir of Adam, the Mullah commanded his listeners to ensure that women – inferior beings – abide by the rules of their bondage. That they cannot leave the house without the presence of a male companion; that they be educated just enough to appropriately raise the sons; that their every action remain constraint to the strict bounds drawn for them; and that these ‘tenants’ of Islam be instilled in each woman, from the time of her birth.
So, on this day, I cannot help but wonder how we would describe Pakistan to a girl being born in our country today.
We would have to start with an apology. An apology for bringing her in to a society that measures humanity on the scale of anatomical differences, as opposed to the sanctity of a soul. We would have to apologize for having first created, and then tolerated, a world where she would have to claw for each inch of her freedom and dignity. We would narrate to her the story of our religion, the final and most perfect link in the chain of monotheistic religions, full of staggering tales of male conquests. We would describe to her the courage and audacity of Muslim empires – from Salahuddin, to the Ottomans, to the Mughals – scripted in the ink of male bravado. In our own land, we would boast about the unbroken script of male heroics – from Muhammad Bin Qasim to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – impressing their indelible male imprint on the fabric of history.
We would then turn to a personal story – the story of Pakistan. A story that started with a few dozen individuals – all men – coming together to create the Muslim League in 1906. We would tell her about the trajectory of the passionate pursuit of freedom by these men, and how it traced an improbable, yet intoxicating, path through the verses of Iqbal and the resilience of Quaid. Soon after the creation of Pakistan, we would describe how democracy suffered at the hands of the saviour instincts of successive macho generals.
We would have to be honest with her about how the Constitution of our great nation was written in the voice of men. That her kind, the women , were explicitly included in the protection of minorities. That her freedoms, the inviolable part of her human soul, were handed down to her as an act of grace, by the magnanimous sons of Adam. That the frail masculinity of her fathers and brothers could only see her as a lesser being, when viewed through the prism of a bigoted religious philosophy. As a result, we would tell her that we have written a law that considers her testimony to be half of that of men. That her share in her father’s property will be half that of her brothers. We told her that any time her body and respect is violated, her screams would only be heard by our courts of justice, if they are corroborated by four male witnesses.
Away from the constitutional and legal regime, we would have to sit at her new- born feet, and beg her forgiveness for allowing the mullahs and misogynists to kill her kind in the name of honor. For throwing acid to permanently deform her spirit. For having always made her walk one step behind the men. For never paying a heed to her muted whispers trapped under the facelessness of a Burqa.
We would also tell her, that her spirit, the strength of her humanity, and the courage of her being, is far stronger than all that the arc of history has burdened her with. That the echoes of her courageous soul continue to seep through the shackles placed upon her voice. That she represents poetry, in a world of prose. That she is music, in a nation of noise. That despite the countless male atrocities in this land, her heritage is that of Benazir Bhutto. Her audacity is that of Asma Jehangir. Her compassion is that of Bilquees Edhi. Her imagination is that of Sharmeen Chinoy. Her intellect is that of Dr. Shamshad Akhtar. And her courage is that of Malala Yousafzai that her limitless potential holds the key to our national reform. Where her fathers and brothers have failed to bring equality and justice in our land, she is all that now stands between the flickering flame of progress, and the sinister void of a new dark age.
We would tell her that she does not need any law to be equal in our society. There is no scream of any mullah that can drown the melody of her song. There is no ideological philosophy, no religious doctrine, no cultural nuance, no traditional bond, no historical burden that can suppress the strength of her spirit that her dreams are only bound by the reach of her own imagination. That her imagination extends to the fullest reach of her courage. That her courage spans the entire kingdom of His Kibriya. And that His Kibriya, and as a result, her courage, imagination, and dreams, know no bounds.
And so to a girl – nay a woman – being born in our country today, I would wish that she believes in herself before anyone else. That she finds her own feet instead of asking for help. That she discovers that her passions are stronger than the tide of history. That this world, and everything in it, is her kingdom. That she represents the best of that primordial promise that humanity made to its Creator: to uphold and fulfill the fullest measure of His faith in us. To vindicate divinity in its challenge to the angels. And in the process, I wish that she would restore our collective faith in humanity and ourselves.
Welcome to the world.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.