Women, the stuff maulvi nightmares are made of

Published: June 14, 2016

No wonder the thoroughly shaken maulvi sahib informed Ms Sirmed that she is a woman trying to be a husband. After all, what kind of a woman would disregard such a direct order from a man?

Pakistanis are extremely resourceful people. We work with what we get. When life gave us the proverbial lemons in the guise of terrorism and religious extremism, we rose to the occasion by coining the term ‘liberal extremists’ to protect our social fabric from the menace of tolerance, human rights, and other Jewish conspiracies.

The ‘liberal extremist’ is the right-wing’s brilliant attempt at tapping into the powerful global constituency against violence and extremism in a post 9/11 world. Someone recently said that ‘when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression’. In the case of Pakistan, when you have political leaders defending ‘honour’ killings as part of our cultural heritage, radical ideas like actually not hitting women at all are experienced as ‘liberal extremism’ threatening our moral values. Combine that with some good old ‘we must represent both sides’ and you have a veritable circus of religious political parties which cannot win an election but stay relevant by highlighting the various ways in which the masculinity of the Pakistani man is under threat by these out of control women.

To my knowledge, ‘liberal extremism’ hasn’t caused mass murder, nor do liberal extremists go around declaring individuals wajibul qatl’ (punishable by death) which has become something of a national hobby. But don’t let such details bog you down.

Pakistanis, in general (and the clerics in particular), spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about women and how to protect men from them. So much so that we allocate an annual Rs100 million to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to produce cutting edge research on what it means to be a woman.

And, may I add, that the CII has risen to the challenge with aplomb. Recently it recommended criminalising ads for milk formula and enforcing mandatory breastfeeding for the first two years of an infant’s life. This gem was unfortunately lost amidst all the liberal extremist brouhaha over the recommendation to legalise ‘light beating’ of wives. Even after Maulana Sherani carefully explained that no bones should be broken.

The wrangling between clerics and those dubbed ‘liberal extremists’ has reached a crescendo in recent months – sparked by the attempts to pass a women’s protection bill in Punjab. The latter we are told is the epitome of liberal extremism and will destroy our family structure which is apparently held together only by the ability of men to beat their wives. This row has also brought to the forefront the various forms of violence against women. Within the last few weeks alone at least three women have been burnt alive. A couple was shot dead in Lahore on Friday for marrying against their family’s wishes. In addition you have the regular garden-variety misogyny directed towards female public figures.

You see, the problem is that Pakistani society is one that is currently overrun by women that occupy the public space in ways that threaten our carefully constructed notions of womanhood. They are running all over the place marrying whoever they like, resisting attempts that silence them, heading organisations and employing men. And, of course, refusing to be beaten.

It’s not that we don’t like women. We simply have trouble wrapping our heads around the idea of a woman who refuses to go down without a fight. We can even sympathise with female victims – provided they are dead. The teenager burnt alive in Lahore a few days ago has all our deepest sympathies because she actually died. Had she survived and told the world her story we would have promptly dubbed her as anti-Pakistan. You see, as far as we are concerned, women can only occupy two subject positions – victim or vamp (please refer to Hum TV dramas for more information).

Malala had the audacity to not just survive, but also commit to living by moving out of the country, thereby betraying her anti-national intentions. Mukhtaran Mai didn’t even have the decency to try and kill herself like the virtuous sisters of Bollywood heroes whose sole purpose in life is to enable their brothers to establish their manliness by avenging her. It’s easy to understand our collective national angst in the face of these women who defy our conception of female virtue by refusing to sit in a corner and weep. Mukhtaran Mai even went and got married. The horror!

And then you have the everyday horror of unladylike women in the government and media. A few days ago, Hafiz Hamdullah’s antics set the local social media on fire. While you may be aghast at the sight of a man threatening to rape and murder a woman on national TV, please spare a moment for the horror experienced by this gentleman at being confronted by Marvi Sirmed – a woman who refused to shut up even when told to do so in unequivocal terms by a man.

No wonder the thoroughly shaken maulvi sahib informed Ms Sirmed that she is a woman trying to be a husband. After all, what kind of a woman would disregard such a direct order from a man? To top it all off, the show was also being hosted by a woman who alternately begged and yelled at him to quieten down. Astaghfirullah, bro! This is the stuff maulvi nightmares are made of.

Fortunately, we have the concept of liberal extremism to understand this distressing sight of a man being ‘provoked’ into physically attacking a woman. As a few people were thoughtful enough to point out, ‘both were equally wrong’. Ms Sirmed’s yelling at the good maulana was an example of liberal extremism and just as reprehensible as the latter’s threat to rape Ms Sirmed and her mother; threat to kill her; and physically attack her.

That’s right. Rape and murder threats are just as terrible as a shouting woman.

This is only the most recent and the most sensational episode of a Pakistani man being thoroughly horrified by the refusal of women to sit down and shut up. This ordeal is not confined to the much maligned maulvi brigade. Only a few days ago Khawaja Asif felt an acute threat to his masculinity by the sound of Shireen Mazari’s voice in the National Assembly (NA). Not only was this woman arguing against a man, she also had the audacity to not look or sound feminine enough. Physical beauty, as we all know, is a rent that women must pay for existing.

As in the case of Hamdullah sahib, Khuwaja Asif was forced to reconsider – that too right in the middle of a NA session – what it means to be a man if a woman opposes you, and doing so in a voice with none of the child like delicacy of Lata Mangeshkar. How are men supposed to run this country when their masculinity is constantly under assault? Hafiz Hamdullah is the chairperson of the senate committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. How can he promote harmony with other religions when he has to waste time threatening Muslim women into submission?

A few months ago we witnessed the riveting spectacle of Mufti Naeem’s shouting match with Uzma Bukhari on TV. Mufti sahib was trying to explain to a recalcitrant Ms Bukhari that we have no need for a women’s protection bill as domestic violence, rape, and molestation does not occur in Pakistan. A colleague hastened to inform me that siding with either one of them would be ‘equally stupid’ as the mufti was making ridiculous claims and the woman had ‘thrown a lady’s grace out the window’ by shouting on TV.

I think he put me down as a ‘liberal extremist’ when I coolly informed him that, in a country with no comprehensive bill that ensures the protection of women, every single woman should throw her grace – whatever that is – out the window.

One of the most harmful results of liberal extremism is that it makes our country look bad. Take Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy for instance. Before she started making her defamatory films, Pakistan was a top tourist destination and widely recognised as a world leader in its efforts to protect human rights. No wonder some of the most popular men across the globe like Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mansoor chose to retire and vacation here. Honour killing is not an issue in Pakistan. Look at all the women who are not being burnt! What we really need – as pointed out by Maulana Diesel – is a Husband’s Protection Bill to ensure that every husband can exercise his right to beat his wife and, as in the case of Hafiz Hamdullah, other people’s wives too.

We need all hands on the deck to protect our social and family structures.

Fatima Tassadiq

Fatima Tassadiq

The author is a first year doctoral student of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.She tweets @fatimatassadiq (twitter.com/fatimatassadiq) and blogs at fatimatassadiq.wordpress.com.

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

  • wb

    According to Sunni traditions, a Mullah/Maulana has to carry forward the traditions of the prophet of Islam.Recommend

  • Jayman

    In that case let them use only the “traditional” stuff of that era. Why take modern medicines, use cars, phones, appear on tv etc etc? You can’t pick and choose what to violate and what not ! Hypocrites !!Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    The language used in the article is disgusting and gives bad taste. I cannot imagine that a doctoral student can use such type of language. This is liberal extremism or liberal fascism. This type of behavior should be discouraged on every side.
    I am a regular reader of the Express Tribune. Before this I was reading Dawn but I stopped reading due to reason that language used was more sarcastic, derogatory, and abusive. Now I am experiencing the same thing here.
    I hope management of the Express Tribune will promote culture of argumentative writing.rather than hateful writing. Remember hate always generates hate which is very dangerous for any society. Please let the sanity prevail.Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    Let me clarify your concerns. Here tradition does not mean cultural traditions, but teaching of the prophets Muhammad. In Islam there is no concept of theocracy. No body is bound to follow any Maulana if he does not agree with him on any issue. But someone think that the person he is seeking advice from is a scholar and pious also then he can. This happens in every field.
    The Muslim is facing from multiple tragedies.
    The first tragedy is that majority of the existing Maulana do not qualify to be scholar and pious in real sense. Majority of them unfortunately are sectarian.
    The second tragedy is that Islam has been restricted to the mosque only and expelled from the day to day life to provide guidance.
    The third tragedy is that overwhelming majority of Muslims do not acquire knowledge of Islam and therefore are dependent on them like conducting Niakh, leading funeral prayers or regular players. If Muslim gain the required minimum level of Islamic teaching they will be in a position make decision by themselves.
    The fourth tragedy is that the Muslim world is being ruled by the corrupt. elites.
    Given the above mentioned facts we have to ponder and make endeavor to correct the situation rather than fighting with each other.
    My is to those people who are honest to bring any postive change.Recommend

  • Nasir H. Khan

    Love the way sarcasm is used to express totally valid points. Very well written article.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Where is the hate in the article?.Sometimes sarcasm is the only way to get attention.Must have hurt your masculinity-how can a woman write an article that is truthful and challenges men?-exactly the kind that sounds derogatory and abusive to people like yourself.You have proven Author’s point.Recommend

  • justwondering

    why are you so angry?Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    You think that just because of a bill our centuries old customs and traditions will vanish.
    Laws are meant to help the population,not go against their cultures.
    This bill is heavily copied from American Bill of protection against women.
    What you fail to realize is that our values,culture and history are different.
    What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
    By the way did you check the entry age of American girls into prostition?Recommend

  • Parvez

    I enjoyed reading that …….. you were forceful and blunt and I applaud you for being so.

  • Nomad1412

    Congratulations on your shrewd insight and literary wizardry, @Fatima! I look forward to many more articles from you.

    In addition to the “religious extremist” and the “liberal extremist”, I would add another category, the “misguided apologist” who seem to be the silent majority like the gentleman who thought that both Sirmed and the mullah were wrong. The latter is actually the root of the problem because he is so shorn of ethics and values that he no longer knows what (or who) is right or wrong.Recommend

  • Really?

    I’m hoping what you’re saying is satirical and in line with the author’s very well-written brand of satire in this article, but that’s being too idealistic of me I guess.
    …HOWWWWWW is this hateful/disgusting writing? I agree that hate generates hate, but which society are you confusing our “land of the pure” with? Honour killings is enough of a reality (amongst other sect-based targeted killings) to show you that we’re hardly the most peace-loving nation on earth.
    It’s funny you mention that this article is liberal extremism/fascism. Where is it being extremist? By suggesting, using facts/actual incidents/video evidence, that our society is (oh the horror) misogynistic? Do quote from the article itself by the way, otherwise I’m afraid sanity will remain outside the window along with a “lady’s grace”.Recommend

  • Kolsat

    Ms. Tassadiq is to ne congratulated for writing this article which brings out stupidity that occurs under religion. Did the prophet of Islam ask men to beat their wives/women? The CII had to tell men to beat wives but no bones should be broken. Amazing.Recommend

  • Hameed

    Mullahs need to be talked to in the language they understand. Too much politeness with them for 70 years has brought us to this stage.Recommend

  • Oracle007

    Excellent write-up!. Hope saner heads will prevail!!Recommend

  • Imran Khalid

    Both were talking irrational. No doubt Molana crossed his limit but don’t forget Marvi Sarmad reputation and her nasty comments on Twitter account.Recommend

  • Zubia Mumtaz

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Women like you are the future of Pakistan, in which hopefully all these misogynists will go the way of the dinosaursRecommend

  • Sid

    The language is absolutely spot on well placed and well deserved. In fact your outrage only proves the writers point. If you even pause for a moment to think when asked whether a woman who shouts is equally responsible if the man tries to hit in response, threatens to rape her and her mother than you mister need to carefully think what you would like for your daughters now or in future. This lie of labelling people as liberal extremist is a falsehood mostly spread by unbearded mullahs, who might have 21 century education but clearly are not fit for this century.Recommend

  • Saad Ibrahim Rasheed

    Bravo! Passionately well spoken.

    Pakistani’s should not live in fear of judgement or interference from the West or from one another. We are our own people, and our struggle to improve ourselves speaks for itself. The situation is grim (though improving) for women in this country and harsh language in service of speeding this change is entirely justified.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    wow!!! the girl can write!Recommend

  • Salma

    So the article touched a raw nerve! Truth really hurts.Recommend

  • Raju

    Bravo Fatima, no wonder you had to escape to USA to be able to write such eloquently. I am sure 99% of the readers will not even understand half the things you’ve so cleverly and poignantly pointed out. We need million more Fatimas but that too in the country. God blessRecommend

  • Indian

    Clearly, this article was directed at people like you – seems to have touched a raw nerve…how dare you get told to stop beating your wife and your neighbor’s too…Fatima is speaking complete nonsense!Recommend

  • Guest

    “The language used in the article is disgusting and gives bad taste. I cannot imagine that a doctoral student can use such type of language.”

    The writers responsibility is to convey the truth no matter how bitter it may ‘taste’ to you. Secondly, this is a blog not a thesis, though the later may also leave you with bad taste is it would contain the same truth punctuated with more detailed references and nuanced analysis.Recommend

  • wb

    But they’re keeping that traditions, like this Maulvi.Recommend

  • Jayman

    “But they’re keeping that traditions”
    Yeah right. He appears on TV like they did 1400 years back !!Recommend

  • Jasmin James

    Author thinks that she has guaranteed her future by playing feminist, pro-western, liberal, somewhat cosmopolitan. But she might be put aside after being used in confrontation with majority, and after losing her productivity. Recommend

  • Zia Ur Rahman

    I not understand why peoples scared because of beard. The molvi Hamdullah would have got good appreciation if he shaved himself like Imran Khan, fit in three piece like Asif Zardari, talking imaginably like Zaid Hamid, and flirting with beautiful lady anchors like Amir Layaqat. But I do not know why these ladies afraid of Molvis.Recommend

  • Jasmin James

    “The fourth tragedy is that the Muslim world is being ruled by the corrupt. elites”–well-said. Most mullahs are not real scholars unfortunately, but most of critics of whole mullah class are representatives of ultra-extremist so-called liberals and corrupt upper-class elites with illegal wealth who are afraid of true criticism by genuine religious scholars.Recommend

  • Jasmin James

    Most mullahs are not real scholars unfortunately, but most of critics of whole mullah class are representatives of ultra-extremist so-called liberals and corrupt upper-class elites with illegal wealth who are afraid of true criticism by genuine religious scholars.Recommend

  • face palm

    In that case let us legalize honor killings because they too are part of our rich cultural heritage. Also acid throwing, marrying women to the Quran and the moon, vani an swara. All parts of our different and unique values, culture and history.Recommend

  • JJ

    I don’t think phD programs in the US hand out degrees based on what people blog about in Express Tribune about Pakistan.Recommend

  • Disgusted

    It has now become fashionable for such class of overseas to waste everyone’s time and space of a newspaper. This is one such attempt. The emphasis apparently is on Pennsylvania. Ignore the rest Recommend

  • Veryrealistic

    And I thought I was the only one! Well said friend.Recommend

  • Sane

    Very very true and correct. You said what I wanted to say.Recommend

  • Jasmin James

    I always wonder why you Pakistanis are displaying your complex of inferiority. Only bad things you always talk, as the this article is a good example here. Killing of Mulla Omar and Mansour in Pakistan does not mean that only Pakistan is to blame here. Taliban and Al-qaeda was the common project of US-Arabia-Pakistan. Now, US is throwing off all the responsibility on Pakistan. As a mastermind, US should share and admit the responsibility because all the seeds of today’s problems were planted out 35-40 years ago..So, Pakistanis should discuss all the matters freely but not caring what others say.Recommend

  • Jasmin James

    Obtaining PhD degree is something else, portraying herself as cosmopolitan, feminist, liberal is to benefit her, according to her of course..She obviously tried to place all the topics in one article, guessing herself a smart student.Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    I think that I failed to communicate my real intention. I was misunderstood. I request all of the above persons to read my comments about the existing bunch of religious leaders. I have already tried to identify the ills of Pakistani society, to clarify “jayman” comments a day ago.
    But tunnel vision and narrow-mindedness of majority of the present bunch of the religious leaders cannot justify rampant corruption of the existing ruling elites of Pakistan.
    If you people think that my remark was impolite, I feel sorry. but please read my comments below to get my point of view.Recommend

  • Milind A

    The fifth & final tragedy is ordinary Muslims do not want to take self-responsibility and correct themselves, rather than resorting to conspiracy theories, blaming corrupt rulers, West, Hindus, jews.. I mean agreed the Muslim world does not have democracy or freedom, but what has that got to do with an ordinary Muslim stopping the barbaric practice of wife-beating? What prevents him from according equal rights to his wife? What stops him from reforming archaic customs or rulings from the religious texts?Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    Thank you for adding to the list of tragedies. We need to search our soul cool-headed to find a viable solution.Recommend

  • Bazigh Qureshi

    Mullahs are the most arrogant, creepy, devious, loathsome, lying, parasitical, pompous, unintelligent, uneducated, shameful, corrupt and traitorous people in Pakistan. They are the reason we are going backwards.Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    You are right, but there is no provision of theocracy in Islam and any religious leader is not custodian of Islam. We, the Muslims collectively are responsible for whatever is happening in our society.
    Below, I have already tried to identify the multiple tragedies the Muslim society is facing today,
    Practically the Islamic teachings are manual how to conduct our daily life. Justice is the foundation stone of the whole theme. But justice is the main victim in our society.
    Unfortunately we have granted mandate to the people to rule us who are corrupt. But ironically they are called elites of the society and they portray themselves as enlightened at the national and international forums very successfully.
    Maulvi is only the scapegoat for their wrongdoings. Sometimes I think that Maulvi and the Enlightened are playing fixed match to deceive the people. I may be wrong but this my feelings which frustrates me.Recommend

  • genesys

    With all this the maulvis still fight for the right to marry four of them!Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    What our desi liberals fail to realize is that our family system is much stronger than the west.
    The West where the divorce rate is 70 %.
    The implementation of these rules will see such cultures and values emerging here too.
    In a traditionalist country like Pakistan,the responsibility for a family protection falls on the male member of the family.
    By the way the unofficial age of girls for entry into prostitution in America is 12 years.
    Maybe the West should legalize that too.
    Following your logic.Recommend

  • Oracle007

    Author is being pragmatic, and questioning the status-quo. World and Pakistan in particular need more of that type. You ma’am, you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to destroy her credibility.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Torah and Bible (which came much earlier than the Quran) has pretty much all the things. But the followers have rejected those verses and only taken on board things that go with the present day world. but, Islam has not been able to do that with the exception of Ahmedis.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    If I do not appreciate the miracle of birth from a womb, and the breath I take incessantly and treat that wombwali/woman as divine and my body which breaths involuntarily as divine then I cannot treat anything as divine.Recommend

  • siesmann


  • siesmann

    Mullah means being backward,and pulling society alongRecommend

  • siesmann

    Beard should not make one sillyRecommend

  • siesmann

    Maulvi is not scapegoat.He is the GOATRecommend

  • siesmann

    Didn’t Hillary Clinton do that?.It is Pakistan who is playing the double game,and still claiming victim hood cardRecommend

  • face palm

    If a family system is based on the beating of women then it should be destroyed.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    If you assumed that(women are beaten) ,then,you would be wrong.

    The same way i would be wrong if i assumed that every American , Western girl is of loose moral character and starts prostitution by the age of 12.

    What you need to understand is that our cultures are very different.

    The family system is much more tighter,so to speak.

    Do you know that
    In the U.S., the kids birth certificate should have mother’s last name BEFORE marriage.

    Why?You might ask.
    Use your imagination.

    You want to bring this filth into this country,under the guise of moderinity?Recommend

  • face palm

    If you think that domestic violence is an assumption and that it doesn’t actually happen then you should really rethink your stance.

    As for your obsession with American prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in the US (regardless of the average age of prostitutes). People like you want to legalize wife beating in Pakistan. Please stop making nonsensical arguments.

    And please take a walk through your nearest red light area or open a book or read sth to learn about the flourishing business of prostitution and human trafficking in Pakistan. But again if you could actually read we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    I would rather live in a society where at least laws exists regarding my physically safe. I don’t give a **** about what name I have to put down on a birth certificate.

    Also if you could stop obsessing with American prostitutes long enough to think about anything else you’d know that a mother’s maiden name is used on birth certificates because then her own birth certificate can be used as another document to prove that she is the parent of the child. It’s about legal documentation and proofs. For God’s sake not everything in this world is about prostitution and sex.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    And just where can we read the the divorce rate in the West is 70%???
    And just how strong is a family system that supports Honour Killings???Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    So you must consider Honour Killings, child brides, acid attacks, assaults on women and children bartered as vani to all be celebrated as symbols of family values??? LOL!Recommend

  • Sane

    Marvi and Hamdullah both are extremists and are two sides of the same coin.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    No , the name of the mother is used because most of the time it is not known who the father is.
    The tight family structure prevents most cases of child abuse.
    These laws exist in America because most of the time , the minors live with both step parents because the high rate of divorce,extra martial affairs and hookups,for lack of a better term.
    Pakistan is not littered with Red light Areas unlike America where entire cities are dedicated to this practice like Las Vegas and many others.
    Prostitution happens in Pakistan, but it is not widespread unlike America.
    I give American examples because it is the country our desi liberals like to quote the most,so i am giving them a taste of their own medicine.
    Prostitution illegal in America ! , don’t make me laugh.
    Read some statistics.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    It is not a laughing matter,no.
    You on the other hand you consider Planned Parenthood Scandal as a sign of modernity.
    Though i highly doubt you would even know what it is.
    The western media likes to portray Pakistan as if women are being beaten left and right.
    While in their own country foetuses are compared to the price of cars.
    I would like to point out that we have had female head of state,can the west boast of such.
    These laws need to be modified , no doubt , however to copy them from west is foolishness to the extreme.Recommend

  • bmniac

    You hit the nail on the headRecommend

  • Agha

    Wow just wow, exactly who the hell is talking about beards? Its rude and arrogant behavior that land him in scorn and ridicule.Recommend

  • Agha

    “The tight family structure prevents most cases of child abuse.” Yeah keep living in the fantasy. Facts don’t change because you don’t accept them. That “tight” family structure kills women in the name of honor for simply exercising their right to choose a partner. But no you keep on focusing prostitution (of course only the american one).Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    To implement the law of one country into another without regards to the local laws and customs is foolishness.
    I can tell you about thousands of problems American Women face , do they import laws from Pakistan?
    No of course they dont.
    I would advise you to study the law in detail.
    No way , our own enlightened lawmakers would have thought of it.
    Laws need to change , but they should not be a ditto copy of American laws , our values ,believes ,traditions,history is different.
    They should be according to our customs.Recommend

  • M Omer

    Fine article ! I fully support your views. I think we Pakistani men need to grow up and recognize our failings. And I think that as we mature, we should stand up to support women who are striving for a better, more equitable society. I also believe that we seriously need to have a national level discussion of what sort of society we want, ultimately, and how far removed our so-called ‘Islamic’ mullahs and ‘alims’ are, today, from the realities confronting us in the 21st century. Why are these medieval creatures interpreting our faith for us?Recommend

  • M Omer

    I agree. I also think that in many cases, sadly, it’s women themselves who are sabotaging the rights of women, by becoming willing tools in the hands of chauvinistic men like these mullahs.Recommend