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Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Brunei Are Caught In a Fundamentalist Storm

By Farzana Hassan

April 11, 2019

A series of regressive acts in parts of the Islamic world in recent weeks shows how much hold a doctrinaire brand of Islam has on the minds of people. Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Brunei are caught in this fundamentalist storm.

There is a tinge of irony in all this. Saudi Arabia, which originally exported these medieval ideas, is adopting measures that point toward moderation, at least superficially. On the other hand, Indonesia and Brunei – thus far considered havens of Islamic moderation – have become increasingly fundamentalist in the last few years, leading to these measures.

Nominally tolerant Brunei has just passed a law prescribing death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery. The attention of some prominent people, notably Sir Elton John and George Clooney, has led to demonstrations to boycott London’s Dorchester Hotel, which the Sultan of Brunei owns. But no one in the Islamic world has uttered the faintest squeak against Brunei’s action.

In Indonesia, a hitherto moderate Muslim country, there has been a trend toward criminalizing the minutest deviations from perceived Islamic principles. The Supreme Court of Indonesia rejected the appeal of a woman incarcerated simply for complaining that a mosque was too loud. The ethnic Chinese Christian woman was sentenced to an astonishing eighteen months’ jail for her complaint, which was deemed blasphemy.

It started with perceived insults to Islam and the prophet Muhammad, but now even activities by ordinary Muslims in a mosque have come to be regarded as sacrosanct. All the woman had asked for was the mosque loudspeakers to be turned down. However, the fanatical zeal that has taken over Indonesia gave rise to rumours that she wanted to ban the call to prayer.

In Pakistan, English professor Khalid Hameed from the Southern Punjabi city of Bahawalpur was recently stabbed to death by a student who objected to the professor organizing a co-ed reception. He said this was against Islamic principles. This happened while another professor, Junaid Hafeez, remains in solitary confinement in prison over trumped-up blasphemy charges.

Iran is not immune to this fanaticism. Iranian women who have publicly removed their headscarves in protest against draconian Iranian laws on female attire have been given stiff sentences. Some languish in prison over blasphemy charges.

These human rights abuses are becoming much more common in the Islamic world, and almost no one protests against them. In fact, some in the public appear to support such action. Masses of people remain illiterate in many Muslim-majority countries, which makes it hard to stem the tide of a dangerous mob bigotry.

Of course, all Muslim nations have an enlightened minority, but they lack the power and the numbers to bring about positive change to repeal such laws, let alone the ignorance that underpins them.

Civil society in such countries is minuscule and afraid to take action or speak out against such travesties. Even among those who do not passionately advocate incarceration and stonings, there is at best indifference towards victims.

Therefore there is little hope at least for now that the Muslim world will take action. If any progress occurs, it will come from human rights agencies and from committed high-profile individuals in the West. Full credit goes to Sir Elton John and George Clooney for taking a principled stand.