What do you feel when you wake up one fine morning, pick up the newspaper and find a photo on the front page of burqa-clad women picketing in favour of discriminatory, distorted, so-called Islamic laws?
Your first reaction is to bang your head against the wall (in case you’re really worked up on the issue). As you don’t intend to do literally anything of the kind, you let the moment pass.
“No wonder it’s mentioned at one place in the Quran to take two men as witness; if not then one man and two women, women are that stupid,” comes a remark from a person whom you know is not a male chauvinist so you swallow it silently with a hurt pride wondering why he would say such a thing and is there any way you could reason with women who think their dead bodies are worth half the price of the dead body of a man and that alive they are half-wits?
So you reflect on the possibility of a dialogue between women who are religious in the sense that they accept without questioning the hand-me-down interpretation of Quranic verses by male clergy and the women who simply believe with good faith, and solid reason that Islam is a religion which is against exploitation, oppression, of human beings regardless of sex, race, age or whatever.
Thus I toyed with the idea of a face-to-face talk between Pak-Anjuman Khawateen-e-Islam who demonstrated at the Quaid’s Mazar in favour of the draft of Law of Evidence Ordinance 1982 (proposed by the council of Islamic Ideology) and the Women’s Action Forum who rallied against it at Lahore.
But let’s first see what the two parties think of each others. One thing is for sure: each party thinks the other is crazy. Khawateen-e-Islam consider WAFians as Maghrib zadah (bitten by a Western bug), enemies of Islam, clamouring for liberation (a word they equate with disintegration of the family and sexual promiscuity).
WAFians are certain that Khawateen-e-Islam are against women, and (paradoxically) not at all well-versed in the Quran and Sunnah, haven’t read Tafaseer of Muslim scholars belonging to different schools of thoughts (though most of the WAFians haven’t read these either), and are the victims of centuries of conditioning, like the classic case of the Pavlovian dog which salivated at the mere ring of a bell, whether or not accompanied by food.
As you can see it’s a tricky, all-or-none situation. With emotions running high on both sides, it’s a bit premature to believe a compromise can be reached through dialogue.
Now let’s see where does each party stand. On one hand, there’s the religious women faction. Whether you like it or not, baby, you’ve got to accept the fact that their number is strong: the majority of Pakistani women tend to be deeply religious (whether they practice it or not) and orthodox and believe in male supremacy. The number of the active orthodox (who would come out veiled on the street to picket) may be small but think of its potential passive supporters!
Thank goodness the strength of number is no power if it’s passive, if it doesn’t know how to use it self. WAFians have another kind of power: to reason, to argue, to shake up the high-ups, to make a hue and cry in the press, to challenge discriminatory laws in court. And it works. To the chagrin of the so-called Islam-pasand.
All this controversy on Islamic laws has done some good: it has awakened a desire among the educated women to know their religion beyond the surface of rituals, to understand the Quran. I don’t say educated women have now suddenly started reading Hadith and Tafseer. The presence of a desire does not necessarily transform itself into action. But a desire which may lead to some good (whether it’s acquiring knowledge or resolving a conflict) is definitely better than no desire at all.