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Taking Stock
Dialogue is a continuous process
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahI am not talking about the dialogues various groups of people prompted by political opportunism are indulging in, most probably in view of the state elections in near future and in not so near future. I am also not talking about various talks that politician and bureaucrats indulge in only to gain time in certain matters or to divert attention from certain affairs. What I wanted to say may be inferred from the following extract from an editorial article of the Hindustan Times of July 30, 2002.

"It is also not a coincidence that in the orthodox and patriarchal ‘civil society’ of rural Pakistan, women almost always are denied justice under the Islamic law, the legal jurisprudence, or in Panchayat judgements. So difficult it has been for women in purdah to seek justice for the atrocities committed on them is proved by the biased law which says that a raped women should produce two witnesses. As if rape is a public spectacle, a show for male entertainment, a socially sanctioned exercise in brutality! This is exactly what happened with Mukhtazan Bibi in the by now well known case in southern Punjab which has led to outrage and protests, so much so, the supreme court had to intervene."

This extract provides enough material for several articles, such as, Pakistanis not an authority for reference as to what is Islamic and what is not, atrocities against women are unfortunately common in the whole ‘civil society’ in various degrees, India and Pakistan are not much different in many aspects including instances of gang rape in public even video making of such heinous crimes, natural calamities and epidemics affect the two people more or less cruelly. All said and done this world is man’s world and the ‘civil society’ is almost patriarchal despite tall talks of democracy and liberation of women, instances abound. However, none of these form the subject matter for the present writing.

Writings against Islam and Muslims in general have become a sort of fashion these days although the contemporary enlightened intellectual, bewildered about many things, is inquisitive and in his curiosity has many questions to ask about Islam as a faith and about the moral and social order propounded and propagated by Islam. It is for their satisfaction so that they could form an informed opinion that a serious dialogue at intellectual level should continue as a matter of a social process.

Let us take the above quoted editorial for instance. The editor has rightly criticised the ways of the Pakistani feudal society, and the criticism is true of all such societies everywhere. But he seems to have derailed from the track of seriousness when he mocks at the Islamic jurisprudence. Every social order has a philosophy which governs its practices. The manifest practices are for the ignorant and ill-informed commoner, and the philosophy wrapped in a thick cover of verbosity placed at an elevated safe distance is intended for those who bother about whys and hows of the happenings in a particular society. It is here that the editor, and as a matter of fact every seriously interested person, should be told and explained why two witnesses are required to prove the guilt of a person accused of a rape. Obviously, a case of rape is not a sort of tamasha for the people to be invited to see and enjoy although such incidents have been reported from our villages where women of backward classes have been publicly raped and marched nude as a punishment for the whole community for the crime of an individual person amongst them (not talking about what has recently happened when Gujarat passed through a fit of morbidity and madness). The requirement of two ministers to prove the guilt of a rape, as contemplated in Islamic Law is for a completely different reason. It should be looked at from the other side of the spectrum.

In the case of an alleged rape on the one hand the chastity and honour of a woman is at stake and on the other hand is the life of a man. The Islamic law has a high regard for both. Just imagine how severe and extremely painful and awe-inspiring is the punishment for a confirmed rapist: he should be stoned to death at a public place. So while making the society safer for women Islam envisages the safety of life and honour of men as well. Thus before awarding extremely harsh punishment the jurist must satisfy himself about the commitment of the crime and hence there is the requirement of two witnesses.

However, with changing times and with scientific discoveries many doors for other possibilities and probabilities have been opened. Scientific means for establishing many facts have been discovered and accepted by courts, such as the gene tests. Such test can prove or disprove the commitment of a crime. The most prominent and widely publicised is the case of ex-US president Clinton whose guilt was proved after scientific examination of the undergarments of his ex-secretary. But still the possibilities of manipulating such tests can not be ruled out and hence the need for two witnesses which is vindicated by the suggestions of some MPs reacting to the recent instructions of the Election Commission to look into the past criminal records of the candidates in future elections. Some MPs suggested that only those candidates should be invalidated who had been convicted by two different judges, obviously in two different courts, It simply means double check.

Thus I see the need for two continuous process: One, interpretation and elaboration of Islamic laws in view of the newly emerging situations and at the same time publishing it widely to save the Ummah from confusion, and two, the dialogue with the enlightened intellectual of the day. As for the first requirement there are many issues that require urgent guidance, they are individual and personal and collective for a people as well. For instance problems created by various aspects of the use of genes and organs transplantation and surrogate parent hood. Discussions, discoveries and consultations in these respects are going on at various Islamic centres. The need is to accumulate and consolidate them for providing a solid base of reference for all. The other instances of seriously and severely affecting the people is that of suicidal attacks in various parts of the world for attaining various objectives. Islam forbids suicide as such, but still it has been resorted to in the past and in present times. There must be enough historical facts to judge and conclude how far suicide has been successful in achieving an Islamic objectives. So far Ulama have conflicting opinions. Malayasian ulema have justified suicidal attacks. In Egypt two ulama have given conflicting opinions, one for and the other against. In fact, their opinions have been affected by their perceptions of extraneous circumstances. There is the need to continue to discuss and confer on this issue within Muslim communities and on a wider scale in the Islamic brotherhood to come to a consensus so that the precious lives of Muslim youth would be saved who are dying for undefined causes and their tribe is declining. May be their lives could otherwise be more useful for the cause of faith dearer to them. 

The dialogues in all foregoing directions must continue for which there is no dearth of channels.

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