In Pakistan, women have historically been subjected to varied forms of discrimination, exploitation, denial of rights, and self-expression. The recent spike in murder, rape, and cases of victimisation is alarming as it violates women’s rights enshrined in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. Such a debilitating situation in the country somehow creates a perception that Islamic governance is inherently oppressive. Pakistan is one of the countries whose Constitution is based on Islamic principles and values developed by forging a consensus amongst key Islamic scholars of various denominations. Our system can be termed as a hybrid of western democracy and Islamic Sharia.
Different Middle Eastern and Sub-Continent Islamic revivalists, including Al-Farabi, Al-Tabari, Rifa’ah Al-Tahtawi, Jamal ad-Din Al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal, Abu’l ‘Ala Mawdudi, Muhammad Asad, Dr Fazul Rehman Malik, and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, have explained the key values of democracy in Islamic perspectives drawing references from Quran, Sunnah, Hadith, and practical life of four rightly guided Caliphs. Fundamental principles including sovereignty, liberty, freedom, the rule of law, and justice are supported by Islamic values of Shura, Ijma, and Majlis. The Islamic concepts of freedom (al-huriya) and rights (al-huquq) are also supported by democratic values and principles. They all agreed that women are entitled to equal protection and rights as per Islamic teachings.
Despite the fact that the government has passed several federal and provincial legislation supporting women socially, economically and legally, women continue to face institutionalised and communal discrimination at various levels. Moreover, the presence of radical groups in the country since its creation has significantly influenced the legislation and implementation in multiple regions.
In 2018, when minor girl Zainab was raped and tortured to death in Kasur, various political and religious stakeholders called for speedy justice. Later, the PTI government presented the Zainab Alter Bill, which was passed with a large majority. But members of religio political parties opposed the bill and demanded amendments related to Qisas and Diyat in the proposed act.
Domestic violence bill was also termed un-Islamic by religious quarters.
Pakistan is a neighbor of Afghanistan, which has now been taken over by the Taliban. The Afghan Taliban share radical ideology with the extremist groups that operate on Pakistani soil. The instances of attacks on citizens including the one targeting girls rights activist Malala Yousafzai, acts of setting fire to girls’ schools, and torturing women were witnessed when the Taliban were strong. However, the kinetic actions by the Pakistan Army dismantled these violent groups, but their ideology can still be found in various corners of the society.
The recent announcement by the Taliban to enforce strict Sharia in Afghanistan will have its ramifications in Pakistan as they have social and religious connections in the bordering areas of Pakistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. On the one hand, the radical elements have expressed full support to the Taliban, and on the other, these elements have started showing their strength by carrying out fresh attacks. Ultimately, it will weaken fundamental democratic values as these elements will call for strict enforcement of Sharia law, leading to further deterioration of women’s rights in Pakistan. Historically, various Islamic scholars discuss women’s rights in the Muslim world and their compatibility in a democracy which can provide a good starting point.
The scholars need to dig deep into the Islamic scholarships on women, Islam and democracy, including its computability and endorsements by leading scholars. Women are already mistreated by religious groups, which will likely be more radical in the coming years due to the growing influence of the Taliban on our Pakistani society.