WEB DESK: Covering face, hands or, feet by women is advisable but not mandatory in Islam, says chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology, Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani – certainly an improvement over his earlier take on the same subject. Last year, he had proposed that while in courts the female judges should be obligated to cover their face and wear ‘niqab’ (face veil).
Being essentially a political animal – elected on the JUI (F) ticket he is member of the National Assembly – Maulana Sherani wants to help families whose women folks do not want to be photographed for the computerised identity cards and thus fail to cast their vote. The question whether will it help JUI (F) retrieve some of the vote bank lost to its rival the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has no easy answer.
But this is certainly a clear departure from Maulana Sherani’s earlier interpretations of Shariah law, triggering hope he would like to revise some of his earlier rulings on issues like child marriage and divorce, which had attracted ire by the civil society and human rights organisations. Beyond this flexibility, Maulana Sherani doesn’t seem to be conceding anything worthwhile.
He remains stuck to his ruling that co-education is un-Islamic; the Pakistan Protection Ordinance, which is now the Protection of Pakistan Act and the National Security Policy militate against Islamic injunctions; and that “Black Days and Days of Mourning’ have no place in an Islamic polity. What an anomaly; he is under oath as a member of parliament to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the constitution, but as head of CII, he insists that ‘there is a gap in the Pakistan political system as Islam and democracy cannot go together’.
We believe he should have resigned from either of his positions as chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology and membership of the elected National Assembly. But he will not, as he did not last year when the Sindh Assembly rejected his ruling on the child marriage stoutly upholding the Muslim Marriage Law 1961 and also demanded dissolution of the Council.
The Council of Islamic Ideology was formed in 1962 to advise parliament on the compatibility of laws with Sharia. But what had happened over the last half a century is that the Council’s rulings and observations could not impact in any manner the nature of legislation by the elected houses who found them to be too antiquated to fit the dictates of time the people lived. The impression endures that while making its recommendations on issues needed to be advised upon, the CII failed to exercise ‘ijtehad’ and ‘qiyas’, the two other recognised sources of Islamic jurisprudence beside the Holy Quran and Sunnah.
In fact, some of the Council chairman’s observations were too offensive to the good sense, particularly his rulings on child marriage at the age of nine and second and subsequent marriages without wife’s knowledge, and therefore rightly rejected by independent ulema and religious scholars. How irrelevant to the needs of the time is the CII thought process, its inability to speak clearly on the cases of blasphemy is an instance. It was expected to have spoken on the application of the blasphemy law which was being misused as a tool of settling people’s personal scores.
But the CII did not; a gap now filled by a clear verdict of the Supreme Court as to what constitutes the offence of blasphemy. Then there is a problem with the composition of the Council of Islamic Ideology – it is an 11-member body of equally competent scholars but it is its chairman’s opinion that prevails. Although the Council’s rulings and observations are not mandatory to legislative business of the elected houses, these do carry the potential grist to fuel unwanted and undesirable controversies on issues long settled. Just think of the havoc it would have created if Maulana Sheraniwas allowed to take up three ‘incendiary issues’: whether Ahmadis are non-Muslims or ‘murtids’ liable to be put to the sword; imposition of ‘jizya’ on non-Muslim Pakistanis; and which of the sects are Islamic or non-Islamic.
He hopes to take up these issues at the next meeting of the Council, hoping his colleagues’ resistance to be over by then. Knowing full well how in our prevailing socio-political ambience, the controversies overtake the legalities, it is advisable that this so-called advisory council is counselled to stop indulging in obscurantism and raking up unnecessary controversies that would only result in creating further fissures and divisions within our society.