Friday, September 17, 2004

Ziauddin Sardar on Pakistan's Hudood, Reforms in Morocco

It seems like just about every day someone publishes an article on how Islam can be reformed, is being reformed, and can never be reformed.

Today's contribution is Ziauddin Sardar, who has a piece in this week's New Statesman. As for whether the substantial claim he makes ("Islam is changing...") is correct or not, I can't say, and I don't think anyone can say. But he does have some informative material on Pakistan's infamous Hudood Ordinance, as well as reforms in Morocco. Sardar summarizes Hudood, something I've never quite understood, with devastating directness:

In Pakistan, however, the mullahs are still predominantly hardline and are locked in a virtual civil war with reformers. The contentious issue here is the Hudood Ordinance, which states the maximum punishments for adultery (stoning), false accusation of adultery (80 lashes of the whip), theft (cutting off the right hand), drinking alcohol (80 lashes) and apostasy (death). The ordinance was imposed on Pakistan in 1979 by the military ruler Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, under pressure from Islamic parties. It makes no distinction between rape and adultery; thus women who are raped often end up being whipped while the rapists are exonerated. Girls who have reached the age of puberty are treated as adults. Worse, women are not allowed to give evidence on their own behalf. Among the high-profile injustices was the case in 1983 of 15-year-old Jehan Mina, raped by an uncle and his son. She was sentenced to ten years in prison and 100 lashes, reduced to three years and 15 lashes in view of her age. In 1985, a blind maidservant, Safia Bibi, was sentenced to a similar punishment. In both cases, the girl's pregnancy was used as proof that the sex act had been committed but the men were acquitted on the benefit of the doubt. Several women have been sentenced to death by stoning, the most recent being Zafran Bibi in Kohat in 2002, although that sentence was quickly overturned on appeal.

It sounds unbelievable, but that's the law in Pakistan. Musharraf, in his six years in office, hasn't done anything to improve it.

Family laws are improving in Morocco, however. Interestingly, Sardar claims they are still calling it Sharia, and justifying every reform with reference to the Quran:

Morocco retained much of the colonial legal system that France left behind, but, in family law, followed what is known locally as the Moudawana - the traditional Islamic rules on marriage, divorce, inheritance, polygamy and child custody. At first, King Mohammed VI had to abandon plans for change because, protesters claimed, he was trying to impose secular law and western culture on Morocco. In spring 2001, however, he set up a commission, which included women and was given the specific task of coming up with fresh legislation based on the principles of Islam. Given enormous impetus by 9/11 and its aftermath, it produced a report that many see as a revolutionary document. The resulting family code establishes that women are equal partners in marriage and family life. It throws out the notion that the husband is head of the family and that women are mere underlings in need of guidance and protection. It raises the minimum age for women's marriage from 15 to 18, the same as for men.

The new Moudawana allows a woman to contract a marriage without the legal approval of a guardian. Verbal divorce has been outlawed: men now require prior authorisation from a court, and women have exactly the same rights. Women can claim alimony and can be granted custody of their children even if they remarry. Husbands and wives must share property acquired during the marriage. The old custom of favouring male heirs in the sharing of inherited land has also been dropped, making it possible for grandchildren on the daughter's side to inherit from their grandfather, just like grandchildren on the son's side. As for polygamy, it has been all but abolished. Men can take second wives only with the full consent of the first wife and only if they can prove, in a court of law, that they can treat them both with absolute justice - an impossible condition.

Every change in the law is justified - chapter and verse - from the Koran, and from the examples and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Obviously, some of these reforms won't go far enough for progressives and feminists based in the west. Moreover, in an ideal, fully secularized world, civil laws would be based on humanist-feminist and liberal principles of justice, rather than anyone's religious scripture.

But that's not the world we live in, yet. What is hopeful here, if I'm reading Sardar correctly, is that the reforms here are fairly uncontroversial, and have widespread support even amongst conservative clerics. I'll be curious to see whether the model can also be adapted elsewhere...


Blogger Colleen said...

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10:39 AM  

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