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Published in the 16-31 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review

Wife-beating, feudalism and exploitation of religion

By Buut Shikan

Book: My Feudal Lord
Author: Tehmina Durrani
Corgi Books, 1995
6.99 UK pounds


When Tehmina Durrani's book first appeared in 1994, I dismissed it as yet another propaganda piece coming out of the anti-Islam hate machine which had produced The Price of Honor and other garbage. The impression was strengthened by the producers of the book, William and Marilyn Hoffer, who placed these words on the cover: "A Devastating Indictment of Women's Role in Muslim Society." The back cover claimed that: "Tehmina Durrani's story provides extraordinary insights into the vulnerable position of women caught in the complex web of Muslim society." Thus the book was sold as an anti-Muslim tract and was oohed and aahed over by many an Islam-hater who thought that it depicted Islam in action.

My Feudal Lord should be read by all Pakistanis, and Muslims in general who want to understand why Islam is not a reality in Pakistan in spite of the steady spate of Islam-talk which is spewed out at all levels of public discourse in that bleeding nation. 

Tehmina Durrani's story is a stark expose of the sickness which is at the heart of Pakistan's existence. It depicts in detail what kind of oppression and exploitation is deeply entrenched in Pakistan. The book can be read at several levels. Here are a few helpful hints.

  1. Most Pakistanis, the "masses," love Islam and take it seriously in their lives.

  2. However, socio-economic power base of the country is owned/controlled by westernized elites. They despise the masses but know that the best way to use them is to show convenient and opportune, but self-serving, allegiance to Islam. Thus we have a nation of believers ruled by hypocrites (munafiqueen) who are often in competition with each other (military, bureaucrats, landowners, feudal lords, big businessmen).

  3. Tehmina was a westernized woman, a "doll" in the image of the Queen of Iran under the Pahlavi despot. For her romance was part of the way life should be if one is to be 'modern' and 'progressive.'

  4. Unfortunately for her, she fell under the spell of Mustafa Khar, handsome, rich, determined and ruthless as the Prince of Darkness himself. It's doubtful if most feudal lords would be comparable to Khar in their self-centeredness; however, by looking at him one can realize the sort of life Pakistani feudal lords live or want to live.

  5. Most of the book is about wife battering. Khar (literally 'donkey') used to beat Tehmina Durrani almost every day. She has a vivid recollection of most of the beatings she received. In fact by page 170, one gets tired of reading about the beatings she absorbed. Some of these were so ferocious that one is sickened even in reading them. One description should be enough to help us realize the brutality and inhumanity which is the basis on which anti-Islam power is built in Pakistan. It is the logic of the complete power over the oppressor versus the complete helplessness of the oppressed:

    "Suddenly he threw me down on to the bed and jumped on me. Sittig astride my belly, he slapped me in the face repeatedly with his open palm, forehand and backhand. The sounds of his blows seemed too loud to remain confined to the four walls of the room. I fought to stifle my screams as he pulled at my hair, thrusting my head from side to side. Like lightning, he leaped off me. One hand clutched my long, braided hair and jerked me off the bed and on to the floor. I felt a wetness run down my legs, but had no time to realize that my bladder lacked the strength to face this kind of fear/ He threw me against a wall, picked me up and threw me against another one - again, and again, and again. I no longer knew what was happening. Something burst in my ears. I felt an agonizing pain in my eyes. Something split. Something swelled. Then the pain merged into one deep, enthralling sense of agony." (pp.102-103)

    The occasion for this particular beating was that Khar was jealous that Tehmina might have responded sexually to her first husband. Overall, it was part of Khar's overall strategy to turn his wife into a slave both mentally and physically. He had to control whatever went on in the innermost recesses of her mind.

  6. Why do women go back to the man who beats and humiliates them. The answer must be placed in the worldwide context of oppression of the weak by the strong. After each beating Khar would apologize to Tehmina, assure her of his undying love, and then wait for the next infraction of his rules when he would beat her again. The victim keeps accepting the victimizer's promises of a better tomorrow. As time went on, Tehmina bore Khar's children and they became a tool in his hands to make her feel helpless in his clutches.

  7. While Khar was carrying out ruthless oppression of his wife, he presented himself to the people of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, as their savior who wanted to reform society and give the poor and the deprived their rights. This again is true, perhaps to a lesser extent, about almost all of Pakistan's military, feudal, bureaucratic, business leadership. They live lives which negate Islam, in full or in part, but they promise justice and rule of law to the people. The condition of the people is so borderline, that they clutch at every straw of hope and promise change, thus permitting the elites to carry on the process of exploitation.

  8. Tehmina Durrani's book indicates that Khar did not hesitate to break any law of Islam if his sexual drive so urged him. In addition to adultery, he also carried out borderline incest (sex with his wife's sister, which is forbidden in the Qur'an.) At the general level of the masses, Pakistan is a puritanical society, where a man has to be careful to flirt with a woman. In many areas of Pakistan, such flirtation could have fatal results. But Khar, as a representative of the elites, could violate Islam with impunity.

  9. What then does Islam mean to the Pakistani ruling elites? Tehmina Durrani herself, even after she finally managed to get Khar out of her life, does not understand that she suffered because she did not know what it means to be a Muslim. For both Khar and Tehmina Islam was a fall back last resource. Tehmina gives many examples which show that her entire class of society thinks it can use Allah and Islam when the going gets really rough.

  10. The Islam of the rulers, as depicted in Tehmina's life, is that of du'a or supplication when all other tricks have failed. She does not pray the five obligatory prayers, the bare essential for one to be a Muslim, but she makes du'a repeatedly Allah should change Khar's heart. Almost every Pakistani ruler has had recourse to this religion of du'a , supplication, not only to Allah and His Prophet (pbuh) but also to sundry saints, and "people near to God." Most of the religious ceremonies in Pakistan connected to upper class activity have to do with this business of du'a. They seem to believe that the works and deeds of a person don't matter. If one prays hard enough, Allah will forgive everything and will change even Khar into a God-fearing Muslim [which of course did not happen in Tehmina's story].

  11. Every now and then in Tehmina's book one meets Pakistan's masses, the terrible neglect and deprivation they are subjected to, as opposed to the endless wealth, luxuries, wastefulness and  constant-griping-about-slight-discomforts of Tehmina's segment of society. Tehmina, in her narration, does develop a social conscience and wants to help the people but she wants to do this without changing herself and her own life style. Thus, the "social; revolutrion" Pakistani elites often talk about would be one in which their own wealth and life style would remain unchanged and unchallenged. It's an attitude of "charity" and caring which cannot transform a society which is, at its very heart, sickened by the parasitical hold the power elites have on Pakistan.

The way is difficult, because the religion of du'a (supplication), saints, intercessors, the Prophet (pbuh) who can get all sins forgiven, or Ahlul Bait who can come down from the heavens and help the needy, are Islam for many Pakistanis, and this "Islam" is strongly supported by the ruling elites. A ruling class which humiliates women and forces educated women to look to anti-Islam forces for help [to the UNO for instance] is the basic reason why oppression is to be found in the "modernized" Pakistani family and from there into every segment of Pakistani society.

A final though: What could Tehmina have done to save herself from Khar? She should have embraced the Islam of the Qur'an and the authentic Hadith. She should have submitted herself to the Will of Allah. Then she would not have had to submit to the will of Khar. She should have known her rights as a Muslim woman. For instance, the Qur'an says, do not be harsh with them (women) (sura Baqarah) even in divorce. She should have left Khar after the very first beating because he was violating a central example of Muhammad (pbuh): "The Prophet (pbuh) never raised his hand against a woman." [Sahih Hadith narrated by the best of women, 'Ayesha Siddiqa, r.a.].

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