Thursday, December 06, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
read more | digg story
Monday, November 19, 2007
The country is normal
PUBLIC response to protest calls of political parties against the imposition of emergency and the PCO is ridiculously poor. Common man’s life in the country is unaffected. Marketplaces are wide open, public transport plying in full and shoppers are busy buying what they need unhampered. Similarly government offices as also private sector organizations and schools, colleges and universities are functioning normally.
So, a handful of lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and hired workers of political parties, I understand, cannot make any difference to President Pervaiz Musharraf’s programme of what he calls smooth and peaceful transition to democracy. More..
Friday, November 09, 2007
read more | digg story
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Here are some highlights from various sources on the question of what and why.
Musharraf tries to stifle outcry over emergency rule
By Simon Cameron-Moore and Zeeshan Haider Sun Nov 4, 6:18 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Police detained hundreds of Pakistani opposition figures and lawyers on Sunday as military ruler President Pervez Musharraf tried to stifle the outcry over the imposition of emergency powers. Read more
Times of India
US prepares to live with another Pak coup
4 Nov 2007, 2250 hrs IST,Chidanand Rajghatta,TNN
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has signaled that it will be business as usual with Pakistan despite the declaration of emergency and a crack down on civil liberties by its military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
The US provides almost $ 2 billion in annual aid to Pakistan, including of lethal weapons systems like F-16s fighter jets and Cobra helicopter gunships, ostensibly for the war on terror. Pakistan is now Washington's third largest overall aid recipient in the world after Israel and Egypt.
Daily News (Pakistani Newspaper)
Musharraf’s second half-baked martial law
By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: General Pervez Musharraf has earned the dubious distinction of being the first-ever Army chief in the country’s history to have suspended the Constitution twice and imposed a half-baked martial law against his own government.
Interestingly, on both occasions he took this extra-constitutional step to secure his own office — previously as the Army chief and now his Presidency.
No matter what justification he offers, everyone knows that Saturday’s suspension of the Constitution was aimed at countering the anticipated judgment of the Supreme Court against his re-election as the President of Pakistan. All and sundry, he was sure that the 11-member larger bench headed by Justice Javed Iqbal was all set to nullify his October 6th re-election for the next term. Read on
Dawn Editorial on the 4th of Nov., 2007
Another move towards absolutism
SO we are back to square one. Back to Oct 12, 1999. All the gains over the years have gone down the drain. All this talk about the forward thrust towards democracy, about the impending 'third phase' of the political process and the lip service to the sanctity of judiciary turned out to be one great deception. The people have been cheated. In a nutshell, one-man rule has been reinforced, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel — a tunnel that is dark and winding with an end that is perhaps blocked. The reports about emergency rule were denied umpteenth times by President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The denials were bogus. From now on it would simply be a waste of newspaper space and channel time if ever a denial by this government is printed or aired. Read on
Daily Dawn, Cowasjee Corner on 4th Nov., 2007
Law, order and justice
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
DAY after day it is becoming increasingly obvious — to ourselves and to the rest of the world which has any interest in us — that we have recently climbed down from the treetops but have yet to lose our tails.
Power and pelf remain the name of the game — the order of the day. Our ‘leaders’, those who assume power unto themselves utilising whatever means may be necessary, lose little time in deciding that they are the ‘chosen ones’ (some even invoking the name of the Almighty).
Friday, November 02, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The What Should I Read Next? website suggests items you might like reading based on real readers' recommendations.
I searched for The Kite Runner and these
were the results:
The Bookseller of Kabul
- Asne Seierstad
- Rohinton Mistry
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- Lisa See
House of Sand and Fog
- Andre Dubus III
Year of Wonders
- Geraldine Brooks
The Amateur Marriage
- Anne Tyler
Strange Fits of Passion
- Anita Shreve
Snow in August
- Pete Hamill
- Donna Woolfolk Cross
Shes Come Undone
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The government is declaring all of its own casualties (army, rangers etc) as shaheed and anyone who is killed from the Lal Masjid/Jamia Hafsa side as "killed".... And, of course they have to do it, otherwise how can they justify their actions....
But, thinking philosophically and religiously, how do we know who is really a shaheed and who is not!!! In this scenario, at least the media should not take government's side in ''judging' who is really a shaheed..... Because, according the my observation, so far the media has emerged as the strongest voice for common people's sentiments and is the only source of any credible information...... but by doing so, they act like a mouthpiece of the government, rather than an independent entity..
May be we can leave it to history to decide that who was a martyr in this battle....
Some News Pieces
12 July: 73 bodies recovered at end of mosque siege, (Guardian)
Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's prime minister, declared victory in the fight for the Red Mosque yesterday as commandos gained control of the compound after a 36-hour battle.
"The operation is over," he said after the last rattle of gunfire echoed from the Islamabad mosque. Civilian casualties were lower than expected, he said, and no women or children had been killed.
12 July: Bodies found at Pakistan mosque (BBC)
Soldiers overran the mosque amid fierce gun battlesThe Pakistani army says it has found 73 bodies inside a mosque compound in Islamabad, after fierce battles between soldiers and gunmen inside. Officials said the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, complex had been cleared of militants but troops were combing the area for booby traps and explosives.
10 July: Seeing red in Pakistan (The Hindu)
Once the dust has settled on the violent Lal Masjid episode, many will argue that Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf could have handled things differently. Already a 37-party political alliance, comprising among others, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N and Imran Khan's Tehreek e-Insaf, has been set up which has condemned Operation Silence in which the Pakistani army has taken on fundamentalists holed up in the mosque. More than 50 militants and at least 10 soldiers have been killed so far.....
July 4 morning
According the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP):
“The government has set the Wednesday [4th July] 1100 hours deadline for Lal Masjid student to surrender their weapons, said Secretary Information and Broadcasting Syed Anwar Mahmood.Briefing media, the Secretary Information said, the government has offered a safe passage to women and children of Jamia Hafsa and has ensured them full protection.”
4th July 2007 : Massive Street Battle in Pakistan's Capital
Army versus Muslim Militants (http://www.juancole.com/2007/07/massive-street-battle-in-pakistans.html)
The following video is embedded in the above blog:
March 31, 2007
Pakistan: "Moral" Muslim Women Kidnap And Tie Up Baby http://www.westernresistance.com/blog/archives/003668.html
(historical context of the rise of the Jamia Hafsa)
Fact Box from Reuters
(Reuters) - The head of a radical Pakistani mosque at the centre of a stand-off with security forces, Abdul Aziz, was arrested on Wednesday while trying to escape clad in a woman's burqa, officials said.
Here are some facts about the mosque, where hardline Islamist students have been confronting the government since January:
- Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, is regarded as a symbol of radical Islam in Pakistan. It was established in 1965 by Muhammad Abdullah, a cleric believed to have had close ties to dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.
- About 5,000 students study at the two madrasas (seminaries) attached to the mosque.
- The mosque is well known for its criticism of the government and anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban sentiments. Abdul Aziz took over as the chief cleric after the assassination of his father, Abdullah, in 1998.
- He issued a fatwa, or religious decree, in 2005 declaring that Pakistani soldiers killed fighting militants in the northern tribal areas could not be given Muslim funeral rites.
- After the July 2005 bombings in London, police attempted to raid the mosque and the adjoining seminary to investigate its link with one of the bombers. Security forces were prevented from entering the compound by baton-wielding women.
- The mosque has been at odds with the authorities since January when female students occupied a library next door to protest against the destruction of mosques illegally built on state land. The students also pressured owners of music and video shops to close.
TIMELINE OF RECENT EVENTS:
March 27 - Burqa-clad female students from the mosque's Jamia Hafsa school abduct three women they accuse of running a brothel. The women are released after they "repent".
Background story of the Red Mosque from Guardian (Western and Modern Version)
The Red Mosque is at the heart of fears that "Talibanisation" is spreading in Pakistan. Its students have tried to violently impose their strict social code on the capital by abducting prostitutes, threatening CD shop owners and defying police. They are led by brothers Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Abdul Aziz, who boast of meeting Osama bin Laden. Until Tuesday Musharraf was reluctant to take them on, saying he feared violence could spread. But critics accuse him of manipulating the crisis to bolster support among Western allies. - Guardian Unlimited ©
A brief timeline of the Jamia Hafsa from Geo website http://www.geo.tv/important_events/lalmasjid/pages/urdu_news.asp
10th July, 2007
Probe into Lal Masjid bungling must
LAHORE: A high-level, independent inquiry into the Lal Masjid operation, the clumsy manner in which it was carried and the deaths of an as yet undisclosed number of persons is essential.
HRCP is appalled by the killing of so many, by the disproportionate use of brute force and the arbitrary action taken to deal with the situation.
The question of the long delay in the conduct of the Lal Masjid operation, the confusion over the game plan under which ulema and government members conducted negotiations with Lal Masjid clerics and the lack of a clear-cut strategy regarding those who voluntary surrendered must also be probed. The absence of a coordinated plan in this regard hampered the operation and added to the confusion prevailing amongst people across the country. The homage paid by government members and others over the last many years to clerics such as those running the Lal Masjid and the obsequious manner in approaching them has also quite obviously emboldened them.
The situation at the Lal Masjid did not crop up overnight. The build-up of arms and the training in their use imparted to students had obviously continued for years, with the help and connivance of authorities. It also defies belief that the authorities learnt of the presence of alleged militants within the masjid only hours before the operation. The whereabouts of these individuals should not have been unknown to the vast intelligence network based in Islamabad.
Even now other seminaries exist, where militants are trained and arsenals of arms stocked. The existence and location of these seminaries are well known to authorities Indeed, the violent events seen at the Lal Masjid are an outcome of the collusion between the military and militants backed by the clergy that has continued for decades.
The allegation that women and children were used as a human shield by militants at the Lal Masjid is appalling. Such exploitation of children by seminaries must end and an investigation made into the exemption granted to the seminary from regulating and monitoring its pupils.
The government, with its ham-handed handling of the situation, has in fact created the potential for further problems ahead. The deaths of so many at the hands of State forces may act only to pave the way for greater extremism in society and support for the violent cause militants espouse.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
During these last 12 days I went through totally different set of opinions and solutions for the so called problem... Initially, when the Lal Masjid issue started in the afternoon of the 3rd of July, I thought it is just a minor skirmish between the government and the 'militant' students of the attached seminary Jamia Hafsa.. I was totally with the government and passionately advocated for eradicating militant Islam from Pakistan and was of the view that who are these people to start self policing the nation, when we have fully functional state to do that.. And, that the state has right to establish is writ, whenever and wherever someone tries to create a state within state...
However, with the passage of each minute, hour and day the situation became worse and worse and the fact and figures muddier and muddies... In the beginning, I was really angry at the government for allowing the problem to grow at this proportion that and not taking any severe action early on, like in February when the students took control of the adjacent students library and later in March their attack on a brothel racket run by "Aunty Shamim" and on 23rd (?) June the abduction of 6 Chinese women from a massage parlour which proved to be the straw that broke the back of the camel. In this context, the government deployed rangers (late June ??) in the nearby areas of the mosque and the madrassa (I saw the rangers and student militants holding their positions on 1st of July (from the Sunday Market) and after another incidence of the seminar students' snatching of guns from some policemen from a nearby area, the government launched its retaliation with tear gas... The others answered with their Kalashnikoves.... Exchange of fires continued off and on.. the whole G-6 sector was under curfew all of a sudden, giving no chance to the residents to prepare for emergency or leave the area, if possible....During the stand off of 10 days, the government lost some of its precious officers, unknown number of students died, ~1200-1400 students surrendered (many of whom were taken to adiala jail and unknown places)....
... However, 10 days down the line and a faithful reporting of the private television channels, Geo, ARY and AAJ I am angry at government only and want to really believe in the conspiracy theory that this was all a sham to divert media attention from other burning issues affecting Pakistan, like the case of Chief Justice, pre-monsoon floods devastating Balochistan and Sindh, and most importantly the All Parties Conference (APC) which was held in parallel in exactly those days on the Lal Masjid operation was on its peak.
I don't have any questions to the Officials of the Lal Masjid, and assuming they were militants, I absolve them from any responsibility of answering the nation. However, I want to question the government of Pakistan (and I am not alone in this), that how come they had no clue about the collection of such huge level of artillery and armaments in Lal masjid and Jamia hafsa complex, located in the heart of Islamabad.... How come they did not know anything about the movement of foreign militants living there and where was government when they built this sophisticated seminary for girls, on an illegal land, fitted with its own underground bunkers and underground cells which are inter-connected and further connected with the top minarets... This construction, collection of arms and training of students in warfare did not take place in days... I cannot believe that Pakistani intelligence was not aware of it!!!!
The issue started on 3rd July and continued in a stand off situation till the night of 9th of July when the government was apparently trying to break a deal with the deputy Khatib of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi (shaheed now).... and somehow a twist in the negotiations happened in the late hours and around 3.30 am the government decided to declare that the negotiations has failed and launched "Operation Silence" against Jamia Hafsa... The building stated collapsing under heavy shelling and firing of bullets... The mother of Maulana Ghazi died around 7-8 am and he himself parted with life around 11 am..
The so called operation is complete now.. Now the government is "washing" the seminary to remove all traces of atrocities and innocent lives gone... The media is still not allowed to go there as the government is fully aware that the sentimental nation of Pakistanis may revolt against the state if they 'see' all that blood and body pieces.. I think this is the saddest period in history of Pakistan, not in terms of casualties, but in terms of the treatment of our government of the ordinary people. At the moment, the media seems to be very neutral and is challenging the government on its intelligence failure and collateral damage, and government is blatantly avoiding answers or accepting the fact that they were really unaware of such level of sophistication warfare machinery in the heart of the capital.
Let's see what happens now... I am not very hopeful.. Already many of ordinary people think that "this was done" to make the USA and UK happy.... And, to prove those people right, 2 F-16 fighter planes reached Pakistan exactly the moment when the death news of Ghazi Abdur Rashid was announced on television. There are many other events which people correlate and in the absence of a credible source of information, I don't blame people believing in conspiracy theories... While there are many who are appalled at the attack of a mosque and seminary, at the same time there are others who firmly believe that government should crush such movements so that in future no one should dare to stand against the state. I think this event has created the biggest chasm in the civil society of Pakistan and may escalate into a full fledged civil war.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
World Bank Reproductive Health Strategy
The Bush administration has gained notoriety for using women's health as a pawn in catering to its ultra-conservative political base. Particularly noticeable is its attempts to narrow the scope in which international agreements and agencies address sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as attempting to remove references to reproductive rights and access to reproductive health services in UN documents, cutting off U.S. funding for UNFPA, and trying to restrict WHO positions on abortion and generic drugs. To this administration, women are always dispensable.
Read the complete blog:
You can access the final HNP Strategy document here:
http://www.genderhealth.org/pubs/FinalHNPStrategy.pdf . The report Annexes
can be accessed on the World Bank website .
The failure of Pakistani feminism, by Rafia Zakaria
The pictures of burqa-clad, baton-wielding women of Jamia Hafsa have made it to the newspapers and TV channels across the globe. For those Pakistanis who do not support their militant brand of vigilante justice (and there are many), these women are a bold and taunting illustration of the increasing Talibanisation of Pakistani society.
The association of women’s empowerment with wealth and moral laxity is a disease that has afflicted Pakistani feminism for decades, the founders of it being women from the elites, who needed a social cause to ease the boredom of long days spent in luxurious villas. In recent years, with the advent of the NGO boom, Pakistani feminism has to some extent redefined itself and expanded its denizens to include liberal, educated middle-class women in urban areas. Despite this, it still remains largely limited to those who can speak the language of women’s rights as a result of English-medium education and the freedom afforded by liberal middle-class families who do not frown on co-education or working outside the home.
But few within the liberal NGO cadres have attempted to challenge the virulent combination of Islamic literalism and traditional patriarchy or engage with women from religiously conservative families. Also, disturbingly absent from the NGO discourse are uneducated women; women who work as maids in urban homes, poor women, rural women and those who have to wear the burqa so they will be permitted to get an education.
When these poor, rural or religiously conservative women do appear in the discourse of Pakistani feminism they appear always as the victim, being defended or empowered by their more educated, liberal counterparts. Other categories of women are somehow never envisioned as the stalwarts of the struggle towards women’s empowerment. Indeed, many women who professionally champion feminist causes never seem to realise the relevance of issues of economic equality and human dignity when dealing with their own female domestic workers. This double standard of who defines Pakistani feminism was most evident in the wake of Mukhtar Mai’s ascendance to fame and popularity. Many “empowered” Pakistani women spoke publicly about how they were offended by the fact that Mukhtar Mai, a rural and uneducated woman, was representing
This double standard and the resulting elitist and exclusionary concept of Pakistani feminism that emerges from it, is in many ways at the heart of the Jamia Hafsa issue. In narrowing in on women excluded from the discourse of the NGO-brand of Pakistani feminism, Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi and his brother Abdul Aziz have accomplished a number of things.
First they have, by manipulating the religion, provided these women with a moral vehicle through which they (women) can transcend familial objections and partake of social and political activism. Second, through the use of Islamic doctrine, the Lal Masjid agenda is making a compelling critique of the economic disparities in Pakistani society and capitalising on the belief that women’s empowerment is a cause only for the wealthy and irreligious.
What is often critiqued as “immoral” is the economic exploitation of those who are neither members of the feudal elite nor the political and military classes bestowed with favours. The recent fatwa against Nilofer Bakhtiar, federal minister, is an apt illustration of the strategy. While aimed at the immorality of hugging her French coach, it also makes a compelling statement about the disconnect between a minister for women’s affairs who can go paragliding in
This analysis is not meant to illustrate the viability of radical Islam as a vehicle towards women’s empowerment. If anything, I have taken pains to show the tragedy of how the Lal Masjid clerics have manipulated the powerlessness of women to further a grotesquely extremist agenda whose ultimate goal is to subjugate these women even more. The purpose is to show how current discourses in
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the
full text is avialble on Daily times.
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
Pakistan - a state at war with itself The situation in Pakistan is marked by the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, the insurgency in Balochistan, the nationalist movement in Sindh, the rise of fundamentalist terror, suicidal attacks, bomb blasts, female Islamic fanatical vigilantes challenging the writ of the state, cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, serious suicidal attempts on Musharraf's own life, the crisis of the judiciary and now the beginning of the civil war in Karachi and elsewhere. This is to name just a few events in the ongoing turmoil in
After the derailment of the 1968-69 Revolution in
Faced with a rising mass revolt Zia used religious fundamentalism to prolong his reign of terror. In this he was fully supported by the Americans. In this period the CIA was involved in the counter-revolutiona ry "Jihad" against the left wing PDPA government in
In the 2002 elections the ISI had assured Musharraf of a friendly parliament and along with the newly fabricated Pakistan Muslim League (Q) they manufactured the Islamic Alliance MMA that was facilitated into getting into parliament. These mullahs later played a decisive role in getting the 17th amendment passed which legitimized Musharraf's presidency in military uniform. The military continued to patronize the religious right. This explains why veiled and armed women from the Jamia Hafsa can march into a children's library in
Apart from religious prejudices the Zia dictatorship and the ISI created other organizations along linguistic, ethnic and chauvinist lines to drive a wedge into the class unity of the proletariat. The most significant was the creation of the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) based upon the Urdu speaking immigrants who had moved to
The MQM and the Jamat-i-Islami are in the forefront of fomenting this reactionary frenzy. MQM is a coalition partner of the present Musharraf dictatorship, the governor of Sindh and other important functionaries of the government also belong to the MQM. Over the weekend of May 12-13 more than 40 people were killed and hundreds injured, one television office was ransacked and the city was under the control of an armed mob belonging to the MQM. This is not the first time that the MQM has been involved in brutal killings and genocide.
This ethnic chauvinist organization has neo-fascist tendencies like the Islamic fundamentalists, and has a history of involvement in extortion, robberies, crime, plunder and assassination in its power belts. Incidentally Musharraf is also a Muhajir (immigrant from
But the problem for the state is that the Frankenstein monsters that it has created are now getting out of control. Not only is the orgy of violence carried out by the MQM creating a serious law and order problem, but the stooges of the state, the Islamic fundamentalists, MQM and other reactionary outfits are now involved in bloody clashes between each other. The Chief Justice and the Supreme Judiciary who endorsed Musharraf's rule and who have been acting as a safety valve for the regime, now have also fallen apart and the important pillars of the state are colliding with each other.
The campaign around the suspended Chief Justice has attained such significance because there is a burning resentment against the regime throughout society. The dominant political parties are not offering any alternative economic programme. Hence, the vacuum. But historically, due to the corrupt character of the Pakistani ruling classes, they have had to rely on the state more and more to cover up their crimes and corruption. In this process the state, and especially the army, interfered in the economy more and more. Now the largest business entrepreneurs and tycoons in the country are the army generals.
The black money made from the drug trade and arms smuggling, the operations during the Afghan Jihad of the 1980s and later, all brought in large sums of finance capital into different institutions of the state, especially the army and the ISI. These different sections of finance capital represented within the state's military and civilian bureaucracy are now in conflict with each other. These contradictions have now exploded with such intensity that they have brought the conflicts within the state out into the open.
The tragedy is that the PPP is not offering the masses a clear way out from this atrocious situation. It is ironic that while being the traditional party of the masses, its leadership is afraid of the mass movement and is avoiding coming out with the radical socialist programme that is enshrined in its founding documents. Hence the flux and stalemate.
Lenin once said "Politics is concentrated economics". The turmoil and convulsions that have gripped the Pakistani state, society and politics are in reality the reflection of the terrible conditions of the economy itself. The present regime has been able to amass the largest trade deficit and the biggest current account deficit in
In the last sixty years of
The nationalists in Sindh,
When the working class moves it will be a decisive moment for the Marxists who have become a considerable force even at the present time. If the PPP leadership is forced to come to power through a movement that overthrows the Musharraf regime such a movement would be pushed radically to the left from its inception and the Marxists can become a major force during the course of such a movement. A PPP regime on a left basis would come into conflict with the state right from the beginning. And such a conflict could only be resolved through a revolution or a counter-revolution.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Further development of the story was that first his death was declared as a murder by strangulation and the first to be doubted were the Pakistanis team!!! However it took several months of investigation before they declared on 15th May, 2007 that:
"A UK government pathologist has concluded that Bob Woolmer was not murdered, according to the Times newspaper. Dr Nat Carey said after studying autopsy material that death was not by asphyxiation from strangling, it said."
The Pakistanis were jubilant but appalled at the same time on this team and several Pakistanis demanded the ICC and the govts of UK and West Indies to apologize for mud slinging Pakistanis in the murder case.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Magazine| Jan 22, 2007
Let's Burn The Burqa
The Quran does prescribe purdah. That doesn't mean women should obey it.
TASLIMA NASRIN My mother used purdah. She wore a burqa with a net cover in front of the face. It reminded me of the meatsafes in my grandmother's house. One had a net door made of cloth, the other of metal. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her conservative family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah. And if you obey Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her own father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she didn't wear the burqa. She was also afraid of the men in the neighbourhood, who could have shamed her. Even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him.
As a young girl, I used to nag her: Ma, don't you suffocate in this veil? Don't you feel all dark inside? Don't you feel breathless? Don't you feel angry? Don't you ever feel like throwing it off? My mother kept mum. She couldn't do anything about it. But I did. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it away.
The custom of purdah is not new. It dates back to 300 BC. The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used purdah. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed purdah. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a cloth or similar object. This purdah system was obviously not religious. The religious purdah is used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious purdah is not limited to specific rituals but mandatory for their daily life outside the purview of religion.
A couple of months ago, at the height of the purdah controversy, Shabana Azmi asserted that the Quran doesn't say anything about wearing the burqa. She's mistaken. This is what the Quran says:
"Tell the faithful women that they must keep their gaze focused below/on the ground and cover their sexual organs. They must not put their beauty and their jewellery on display. They must hide their breasts behind a purdah. They must not exhibit their beauty to anybody except their husbands, brothers, nephews, womenfolk, servants, eunuch employees and children. They must not move their legs briskly while walking because then much of their bodies can get exposed." (Sura Al Noor 24:31)
"Oh nabi, please tell your wives and daughters and faithful women to wear a covering dress on their bodies. That would be good. Then nobody can recognise them and harrass them. Allah is merciful and kind." (Sura Al Hijaab 33: 59)
Even the Hadis --a collection of the words of Prophet Mohammed, his opinion on various subjects and also about his work, written by those close to him-- talks extensively of the purdah for women. Women must cover their whole body before going out, they should not go before unknown men, they should not go to the mosque to read the namaaz, they should not go for any funeral.
There are many views on why and how the Islamic purdah started. One view has it that Prophet Mohammed became very poor after spending all the wealth of his first wife. At that time, in
This is the history of the purdah, according to the Hadis. But the question is: since Arab men too relieved themselves in the open, why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, Allah doesn't treat men and women as equals, else there would be purdah for both! Men are higher than women. So women have to be made walking prisons and men can remain free birds.
Another view is that the purdah was introduced to separate women from servants. This originates from stories in the Hadis. One story in the Bukhari Hadis goes thus: After winning the Khyber War, Prophet Mohammed took over all the properties of the enemy, including their women. One of these women was called Safia. One of the Prophet's disciples sought to know her status. He replied: "If tomorrow you see that Safia is going around covered, under purdah, then she is going to be a wife. If you see her uncovered, that means I've decided to make her my servant."
The third view comes from this story. Prophet Mohammed's wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with fascination. This clearly upset the Prophet. So the Quran has an Ayat that says, "Oh friends of the prophet or holy men, never go to your friend's house without an invitation. And if you do go, don't go and ask anything of their wives". It is to resist the greedy eyes of friends, disciples or male guests that the purdah system came into being. First it was applicable to only the wives of the holy men, and later it was extended to all Muslim women. Purdah means covering the entire body except for the eyes, wrist and feet. Nowadays, some women practise the purdah by only covering their hair. That is not what is written in the Hadis Quran. Frankly, covering just the hair is not Islamic purdah in the strict sense.
In the early Islamic period, Prophet Mohammed started the practice of covering the feet of women. Within 100 years of his death, purdah spread across the entire
Why are women covered? Because they are sex objects. Because when men see them, they are roused. Why should women have to be penalised for men's sexual problems? Even women have sexual urges. But men are not covered for that. In no religion formulated by men are women considered to have a separate existence, or as human beings having desires and opinions separate from men's. The purdah rules humiliate not only women but men too. If women walk about without purdah, it's as if men will look at them with lustful eyes, or pounce on them, or rape them. Do they lose all their senses when they see any woman without burqa?
My question to Shabana and her supporters, who argue that the Quran says nothing about purdah is: If the Quran advises women to use purdah, should they do so? My answer is, No. Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises, whoever commands, women should not have purdah. No veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf. Women should not use any of these things because all these are instruments of disrespect. These are symbols of women's oppression. Through them, women are told that they are but the property of men, objects for their use. These coverings are used to keep women passive and submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their self-respect, honour, confidence, separate identity, own opinion and ideals intact.So that they cannot stand on their own two feet and live with their head held high and their spine strong and erect.
Some 1,500 years ago, it was decided for an individual's personal reasons that women should have purdah and since then millions of Muslim women all over the world have had to suffer it. So many old customs have died a natural death, but not purdah. Instead, of late, there has been a mad craze to revive it. Covering a woman's head means covering her brain and ensuring that it doesn't work. If women's brains worked properly, they'd have long ago thrown off these veils and burqas imposed on them by a religious and patriarchal regime.
What should women do? They should protest against this discrimination. They should proclaim a war against the wrongs and ill-treatment meted out to them for hundreds of years. They should snatch from the men their freedom and their rights. They should throw away this apparel of discrimination and burn their burqas.
(Nasrin, a Bangladeshi writer, currently lives in Calcutta) __._,_.___