Do we need to rethink segregation?

Published: December 10, 2010

The trend of paedophilia by religious clerics is increasing at an alarming rate, giving Islam a bad name.

We often hear rhetoric condemning western culture for being lewd and too open towards sexuality. We accuse it of objectifying women and accrue this as to why they have high cases of rape and child molestation. But take a look at the source of these accusations – the ones pointing the finger,  our religious clerics have made headlines of their own for all the wrong reasons.

Clerics and prayer leaders in Pakistan made news when they were found guilty of child molestation, victimising young boys and girls who were their students in madressahs. Although Islam strictly mandates harsh punishment to perpetrators, the trend of child molestation or paedophilia by religious clerics is increasing at an alarming rate, giving Islam a bad name.

Where does the fault lie?

Is our culture responsible? Some say the imposition of conservative rules in certain parts of the country (where there are extreme restriction on male and female interaction) lead to a prevalence of sexual crimes like paedophilia.

Child sex abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests resulted in an uproar across the globe. Members of the inside Catholic church, have begun to ask whether the tradition of celibacy in the priesthood has contributed to child abuse.

Islam does not have the concept of celibacy but these incidences occur in our society. Do we need to rethink the rigid culture of segregation?

Not all religious clerics are paedophiles but the issue is serious and should be pondered over from a larger perspective.

Another common perception is that homosexuality is unusually prevalent in the tribal areas of Pakistan. If it is to be accepted that segregation can lead to sexual frustration than this too could be an outcome of a limiting, ultra conservative culture.

In a country like Pakistan, where religious intolerance is growing, society and needs to be moderate. Perhaps, healthy interaction between men and women may help to avoid incidents of child molestation.  The country needs to practice Islam in moderation, now more than ever.


Tanzeel Ahmad

A UAE based marketing professional who is interested in politics and cultural issues. He blogs at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    The degree of child sexual abuse in Pakistan has never been thoroughly examined, though our wildest guesses are probably gross underestimations. Thank you for taking up the topic. Adults, whether they are religious teachers, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, enjoy a asymmetric relationship with children. They can take advantage of children and get away with it. Hiding behind religion, culture or claims of moral superiority is a disgusting obvious of ethical values. Recommend


    Actually we have made the Halal thing which is marriage too complicating and expensive that person has to wait for its financial condition to improve before taking a concrete step towards marriage. It is difficult to curb you desire which lead to such cases. I think we have to bring down our criteria for Marriages Recommend

  • Rehan

    A good perspective but instead of abolishing segregation why not make laws and also implement them. Let us demand a system of check and balances in the seminaries we send our kids to.

    On the context of homosexuality, is it a case of conservative societies or is it prevalent in the open western culture too? Are the numbers of homosexuals not bigger in the western world than in Islamic conservative societies.

    We really need to ponder on the root causes. Recommend

  • Moazzam Salim

    In fact these unforgivable acts of certain imams and other religioius activists must be abhored with extra venom as in case of Christian Priests there is a restriction of celebacy but there is no such restriction in islam. And I do not think that segregation is a problem. In my opinion these Imams etc. indulge in such activities because they think of themselves as untouchables. Its a case of corruption originating from unrestricted power. It is a taboo to talk about an imam in this manner and to accuse him of something like this is altogether unthinkable in the conservative portions of our society. Islam is actually the only religion in which there is no religious office bearer but over the time a whole institution of these imams and maulvis has been developed. Unfortunately, there is no criteria for entering this institution and persons of dubious characters have managed to take up positions which they do not deserve. Vested interests and the assertive power of these gentlemen mean that firstly, such cases are not brought to light and secondly if they do then most of the times enough “religious” pressure is exerted to exonerate the accused. Ultimately it is not the case of rethinking segregation but to rethink our religious hierarchy. Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    O boy…you will cop so much flak for this….Recommend

  • Shane

    There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that celibacy actually increases the likelihood of child abuse. Catholic priests are no more likely to commit abuse than any other men.

    The real problem was that the Catholic Church was HIDING the abuse that was going on, trying to protect abusive priests.

    Every society probably has lots of abuse going on in private that nobody knows about. In recent decades many Western countries became more liberal and open and these abuse stories started to come to light. But it’s not clear that there really was MORE abuse, only that it was more visible. I would predict that as a conservative culture becomes more liberal and open, many more stories of sexual abuse will come to light. But abuse itself may not be rising.

    Actually there is one theory that increased access to pornography actually reduces sexual violence! Since the rise of the Internet, reported rapes have fallen in several countries: some people suggest that rapists are substituting high-risk rape for low-risk masturbation to online porn. Recommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    @Rehan: How do we know whether they are more homosexuals in Western societies than in Islamic societies? The most populous region in the world is Asia, with China and India both having a population of over a billion people. How can they not be gay people? The fact is that no one knows. There is no information, just perception.

    Either way, none of that really matters. People who abuse children dont do it because they are straight or gay. The psychological processes that allow for such behaviour are more complex than an individuals sexual orientation.

    Obviously child abuse is prevalant beyond seminaries, whether violent or sexual abuse. Child domestic workers are particularly prone to abuse. Take the case of the young domestic worker who was abused by a lawyer and his family in Lahore, who got away with it. Recommend

  • Asad

    This article has mixed up issues which have some apparent resemblance. Well first of all the writer shouldn’t be saying Muslim clerics. I would suggest “Teachers for basic Islamiat” and “Prayer leader” (who could be any one of us) were the appropriate terminologies that he could have used. The reason is simple, they aren’t clerics, these teachers just start teaching madressa children after learning Quran by themselves and learning here means only Arabic, mostly don’t even read the translation completely, they don’t learn jurisprudence and other courses which are offered by the Grand Islamic Institutes. So one shouldn’t expect that high moral values which is expected from a student of notable Islamic institutes (an also from a priest of Vatican). In short, it would be unfair to associate this disgusting crime with those people who have knowledge of Islam and from whom we expect some ethics and even spirituality. These teachers are just like any one of us and are also more vulnerable than clerics in catching those activities of society which are ideal to nurture corrupt minds. Another point which I couldn’t understand from this post is that the writer have tried to link Catholic Priest’s rule of segregation with Tribal Areas culture of segregation which is totally incorrect and illogical, priests aren’t allowed to marry where as in tribal areas there is no such restriction and; the culture of segregation in tribal areas that has been referred by the writer if changes, doesn’t guarantees that child molestation will stop because around the world there are thousands of places where this crime exist despite the fact that at such places men approaches women quite often for illicit relations. And I really couldn’t understand how come child molestation problem will stop if segregation rule is eased? Are you implicitly saying that such perverts (who can marry) will then stop child molestation because they will then start raping women or will be having consensual engagements? and if the restriction of segregation is to be blamed, then why such cases don’t happen in Saudia or Iran (Am not a promoter of the policies of these two countries, just stating merely a fact)? In my opinion child abuse is happening everywhere, even in buses, mechanic shops and perhaps in schools and there is no difference between the molesters of madressa and molester of other places. So it is not appropriate to analyze this problem with a biased agenda and picking only religion. Also, the writer says that homosexuality is common in tribal areas because of strict religious culture, that is again wrong because homosexuality is also seen common amongst the secular people of tribal areas, who doesn’t live in religious environment and can be found Peshawar, Karachi and in Afghanistan and if religious segregation was to blame for homosexuality then what about the homosexuality phenomena of west? (Im neither a blind critic of west nor a blind follower of Mullas).
    I believe that we should not rule out the scientific reason of this crime. What I mean to say that any one who is sexually hyper active has more chances to behave in unusual way and it is widely believed that the people of tribal areas are sexually hyper active as compare to the people of other region. (For example it is widely believed that non-vegetarians are more sexually active than vegetarians) and yes lesser faith in and fear of God is the reason that supersedes the first reason. So anyone who is hyperactive (because of multiple reasons, genetic, nutrition or even suppression of desires as in the case of priests) will definitely think about other ways of satisfying his urge. Also,we should see if these molesters are married or not? What was their background and past life? In which environment they are living in? We shouldn’t be dragging the religion in all the issues without looking into all the possible causes of the problemsRecommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Sex is too much of a taboo in our society, and now free mixing or socialising of genders has become a taboo in many homes even in Pakistan’s urban centers thanks to rising religious sentiments, all this needs to come to an end.Recommend

  • Hafsa Zubair

    I don’t doubt for a second that the extreme frustration that’s prevalent in so much of our society is at least in part, linked to the almost unnatural segregation of the sexes. Even on a relatively benign scale this shows; if you’re a woman, or have ever travelled with a woman you’ll notice this.

    In our culture, despite our supposed religious beliefs (the Quran clearly calls upon both men and women to lower their gazes and guard their modesty), men feel entitled to leer and stare to an extent that’s tantamount to harrassment. Go elsewhere in the world (and I’m sure there are other cultures where similar problems occur, but I’m talking about the ones where they don’t), and you’ll see men and women walking around in public places, going about their business, and no one is particularly bothered by anyone.

    It stands to reason that if you make something taboo, it will become all the more enticing, especially when this taboo is shrouded in the psychologically powerful mantle of religious morality, mixed with a healthy dose of chauvinism for good measure.

    Segregation is completely unnatural. Men and women were created to live together, and while I’m obviously not advocating that we go to the other extreme, a healthy amount of interaction is not only neccessary to keep society sane, but also actually promotes respect for, and understanding of, the other sex, as opposed to viewing them as exotic, mysterious creatures to be either owned or shunned. Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Very nice post.Recommend

  • Shane

    I sometimes see two simplistic arguments used on this topic.

    Liberal assumption: that human sexuality is so strong that it needs to be released in lots of sex, and when it isn’t released it becomes perverted and corrupted.
    Conservative assumption: that it is better to control sexual desire by separating men and women, by punishing people who break social taboos on sex, by removing anything sexually explicit or arousing from society. This assumes that liberal societies encourage greater sexual deviance and sexual violence.

    I see little evidence for either perspective. Neither liberalism nor conservatism are natural solutions to sexual violence. But it is probably better for societies to be open enough to discuss the topic and offer victims help. I prefer a liberal legal situation but rape will always happen.Recommend

  • Anisa Rehman


    According to the research done by the National HIV and AIDS Programme, the number of male and Hijra prostitutes equals female prostitutes. What does that tell us about homosexuality in Pakistan. I thinks that the author has a very strong points. Recommend

  • Khalid Irteza Hasan

    @Asad: Asad, your response is more thought provoking than the actual blog. Actually, it seems that we do not keep a balance while assessing a certain issue, rather we follow the prevailing trend and in that process we are loosing our values and we feel proud on this. That’s an irony of our society! I appreciate you once again. Recommend

  • rukun

    no such thing as moderate islam, either you follow the way of life, or youre just a consumerism hit fool who falls for marketing gimmicks(read pseudo muslim). dont try to justify a hypocritical way of life with a stringent religion.

    if you cant follow it, dont, its your choice to make. dont try to have a foot in both lines because youre confused, which by the way also makes you a part of the society, so go change that instead of conforming to your urges.

    and as you say, child molestation, rape happen in the west too. where do you want the society to go with the notion of rethinking segregation. sexual frustration(reason for sex crimes according to you) seems to have evolved over societal ways of living.

    weak premise but a very big issue for the the youth to ponder Recommend

  • Jamal Afghani

    With such restrictions in my society where I am not allowed to interact with females, I have very few options left i.e to go for males.Recommend

  • Muhammad

    I love how the opposite of extreme segregation is automatically “rampant illicit sex.” The religious clergy are not helping anyone by imposing extreme segregation: the rich are still intermingling in malls and shopping centers (and by mingling I mean exactly that: just mingling, without any of the racy connotations you think). The middle class girls are the ones who suffer, because their parents won’t let them get out in public to find jobs.
    @rukun: you seem to be a consumerist hit fool who falls for gimmicks sold to you from Saudi Arabia. no one’s asking you to change, why are you imposing your beliefs on others?
    @Asad: “it is widely believed that non-vegetarians are more sexually active than vegetarians.” ok, dude, seriously, what have you been smoking. I think this is a great article, and I think the point the author is trying to make is that if we chilled out about stupid things like “segregation,” we”d be able to focus on REAL issues like poverty, lack of education, etc that affect the MAJORITY of Pakistanis!!Recommend

  • rukun

    @Muhammad: you turn a blind eye to open hypocrisy and im the fool. congratulations on being a upstanding citizen of this society, you deserve nothing moreRecommend

  • Butt

    Whatever is the case anyone who fears God won’t go into sin but there ways to make this easier…. samurais and people of other form of martial arts learned that mind and body is adaptable to environment or training. Peoples’ esp. childrens’ mind and body needs to be trained about sex, dealing with their feelings, and how they look men or women. And originally, Islamic society wasn’t like totally shunning women out of society; at the time of Prophet (p) women were actively participating in the community as teachers, helpers in war, and business. I think a child growing up in this kind of environment and with proper teaching will learn how to deal with his/her feelings. But if this is pakistan I doubt this is the case that is mentioned in the research, because pakistan is kind of into liberal modernity (IMO). I know a lady, she works in UAE these days and she said that it was very difficult for her to work in pak. because she likes to wear hijab, and in pak. normally people see it as a backward thing (and discriminate against it).Recommend

  • Shah Khalid

    In the case of Pakistan, I don’t think the segregation is turning guys into full-time raving benders. It’s the sexual tension, and a form of release. I believe it has more to do with the social stigma that’s been associated with male-female contact. Islam is not meant to be some sort of prison, or dehumanization. Islam recognizes and acknowledges human traits, desires, and needs. Islam promotes a form of regulation, and control over oneself, while accepting these human characteristics. The problem with Pakistani society, is that they have missed the intended purpose of Islamic teachings and limits, and taken it to the extreme, by repressing these feelings of intimacy, and denying them under the guise of religion, when in reality, the religion only asks for reasonable control and boundaries.Recommend

  • Vinod_India

    I’d also like to add that certain practices like the delaying of marriages of men till the age of 30 cause a lot of sexual frustration. Another evil practice in Pakistan is that marriages are made a huge, grand and expensive affair. You know the saying – where marriages are made more difficult there sexual perversions are bound to flourish and vice versa.

    I’ve decided that if I have a son/daughter i’ll get him/her married before they are 23, God willing. Ofcourse, I’ll also try my best to prepare them psychologically for it, God willing. :)

    The coaching given by elders/parents in the matter of morals, ethics and spirituality is also sorely lacking. Instead of creating the fear of God and the desire for the Hereafter in the hearts of youngsters there is mere imposition of all kinds of physical constraints in the name of religion. Recommend

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    Whoa… I wasnt expecting it to be THIS bold. BOLD. BOLD. BOLD. I just pray you stay alive after this : P
    Btw… I think the write up is too short for the issue.
    Anyways… on issue. The hypocrisy is evident. The thakaydars of Islams own and disown islamic injunctions to suit their purpose. Its about time that such taboos of our society discussed openly, so that the masses instead of sympathizing with them, resist them and stand united against them.Recommend

  • Amna

    I agree with you.

    Also, I think our society is decaying in general. People are losing morality in everything…be it corruption, honesty, violence, sexuality, brotherhood…etc. We are losing our values in every aspect and it all boils down to lack of hope and frustration with everything. At the end of the day, unless we can come up with a better governance system, society will continue to be the mess that it is.

    I do not think segregation is the issue. Things aren’t that simple for us to just pin it on the fact that we aren’t as “liberal” as the West. The West most certainly is ahead of us, but not because of their “open-mindedness”. And we are not behind because we are more conservative.
    They have institutions that actually function as they should. And they have laws that protect society from injustice against the common man and for the most part, everyone is accountable. People are not just above the law. THAT is what Pakistan needs. Along with education and awareness for everyone.

    Come on people, a society with a bunch of people that can mix freely and anyone can date and sleep with anyone and no one cares….is not the solution to Pakistan’s problems. Seems like our “elite” do not have a clue.Recommend

  • Hafsa Zubair

    @Muhammad: Thank you for your opening sentence ‘I love how the opposite of extreme segregation is automatically “rampant illicit sex”!!!

    Apart from making me laugh out loud, it is so very true. As a society we only ever think in terms of extremes! Why is there hardly ever any room for a moderate, considered middle ground?

    @Amna: You are totally right in saying that western socities (actually, developed societies, western or not) provide citizens with a system that works: laws, accountability, functioning institutions, and that THAT is what we need. But consider the point Muhammad and others are making. What you derisively term ‘open-minded’ and ‘liberal’ does not have to lead to everyone sleeping around.

    It can also very simply lead to a society in which people eventually (through the education and awareness you speak of) have the space to make their own decisions about how to live. Not being forced into purdah, OR being forced into promiscuity. Far-fetched? Sure, But it’s not impossible!! Recommend

  • Bochumer

    getting married early is not the solution…. I have heard stories of sexual assault in boys hostel in India, Scindia and Doon are quite infamous for it … I have seen girls becoming lesbians in my school as well… i was in a girls school… so u think getting married at 15 will solve the problem…. how can you avoid this?
    it’s the problem withh our society…. sex is a huge huge taboo.
    making it a normal thing is a solution….
    I certainly don’t agree that this is the only reason, becuase even in west there are such cases but we have to see why do they do so…. some simply have criminal mentality but may be people in our part do it coz they have no option….
    However I agree that male and female interaction will put end to a lot of things… I am girl I am frm India but living in Germany for my studies … I have to live in a flat and share it with two guys… It was unimaginable for me before i came here… but since i am living I can say its so normal…. I am in class I can discuss anything with the men around … the society here has given me confidence … I dont feel embarrased to discuss a rape case here like I felt in India …. its becuase of their open culture … and just becuase they feel its ok to have sex without getting married … it does not make them bad…. they are good people … doing well in their lives Recommend

  • Anoop

    Latest studies in a major University in the US have found that Men and Women belong to the same species and it is safe to let them mingle.Recommend

  • Rehan Ali