Pakistani Women Writers Denounce Islamic Clerics’ Fatwas Against Women’s Use Of Cell Phones And Access To Secular Education 

Former Pakistani lawmaker and cleric Maulana Abdul Haleem recently issued a fatwa (Islamic degree) against secular education and justifying honor killings of women.[1]The fatwa was issued in a sermon during a weekly Friday prayer in Kohistan district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Haleem also threatened that women from secular NGOs who visit Kohistan district may be married off forcibly to local men. In a similar incident, a cleric announced a fatwa in a mosque in Noshki town of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, justifying acid attacks on women who use cell phones.

Fatwa_Against_WomenBoth fatwas elicited no condemnation from the main Pakistani media. However, two Pakistani women – an author and a blogger –slammed the clerics’ fatwas, arguing that there is an urgent need to stop such fatwas against women. In an article titled “Fatwas Against Women: From The One Who Wears Bangles,” Fouzia Saeed – an author and a social scientist – stated: “I think it is time for our society to forcefully stop such people who not only violate the dignity and safety of women citizens, but also give a bad name to Islam…”

In another article “Our Stunted Society,” blogger and communications consultant Tazeen Javed argued that such fatwas are breeding narrow-mindedness. She wrote: “A country like ours can ill-afford adventurism of any kind, but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to a fatwa to get a point across. Not only does this breed a narrow and rigid view of issues, it also leaves no room for dialogue, debate, and consultation, making us an increasingly ‘stunted’ and intolerant society.”

Fouzia Saeed: “A Fatwa Was Announced In A Mosque On May 11, Stating That Any Woman Using A Cell Phone Will Have Acid Thrown In Her Face”

Following are excerpts from Fouzia Saeed’s article:[2]

“Fatwas against women are becoming common again. In Noshki, Baluchistan, a fatwa was announced in a mosque on May 11, stating that any woman using a cell phone will have acid thrown in her face. Another fatwa was issued in Kohistan about two weeks ago, warning ‘NGO women’ that they would be forcefully married to their local men if they dared to enter the area. There was a time when such fatwas were more common, resulting in serious punishments inflicted on women who dared to venture beyond the four walls of their homes.

“However, over the last four years there has been a steady improvement in creating space for women to be more visible in public. After decades of repression, women have turned the cycle in a different direction by building a high level of solidarity among women from many backgrounds. The awareness that one woman’s advancement is linked to breaking the shackles of others has gained ground. Not just women; many men are fully in support of this process of change.

“Who will tell the ‘fatwa guys’ that they are nearly an extinct species? Who will tell these men that they need to wake up to 2012. Who will tell them that our interest in them is limited to a single news item? Perhaps they should be kept in a museum with the caption ‘we used to have people like this who thought work for women was ‘un-Islamic’ but marrying them by force was ‘Islamic.’  Idiots who thought talking on a cell phone was ‘un-Islamic’ but throwing acid in women’s faces was ‘Islamic’!’

“I think it is time for our society to forcefully stop such people who not only violate the dignity and safety of women citizens, but also give a bad name to Islam, a religion which places a priority on the dignity of women.”

“I Am More Worried About Those Who Put On A Progressive Facade And Continue To Reinforce Myths That Imply Women Are Inferior”

“I am not so worried about these fatwas because I am confident that our society will not let itself regress. I am more worried about those who put on a progressive facade and continue to reinforce myths that imply women are inferior. Our society takes these ‘put-downs’ for granted and uses them in a patronizing manner.

“Putting down a man by calling him a ‘woman,’ and thus a coward, has gone on for generations. These ‘humiliations,’ while being common among the ignorant, do concern me more when they are commonly used by our leaders.

“About two weeks ago, a senior minister raised his hands and announced that he was not wearing bangles, implying that he was not a coward but was ‘brave’ like a ‘man’ and would handle the violence in Karachi with a ‘man’s courage.’ Ironically, men with their ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ have already given that city enough trouble…

“I am a woman who wears bangles yet feels quite brave.  I am also a daughter of a brave woman, a woman who wears bangles and has felt very brave all her life. I salute my mother today on Mothers’ Day and all the mothers who wear bangles while standing bravely…”

Tazeen Javed: “Fatwas Are So Commonplace That Even A Power Utility Company Resorted To Seeking One A Few Years Back To Get People To Pay For Their Electricity”

Following are excerpts from Tazeen Javed’s article:[3]

“[We] are teeming millions of people who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy, and will be dumber and weaker in the future because of the stunted mental and physical growth of our children due to the lack of education. At such a juncture in history, amongst us are individuals who issue fatwas and promote misogyny and obscurantism against hygiene, education, health, and progress.

“The latest fatwa is one issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman group) came up with a series of misogynist fatwas clearly detailing what the priorities of his political and religious followers should be. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be un-Islamic. As if declaring the act of going to school and getting an irreligious education was not enough, he also reprimanded the parents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohistan district who send their daughters to school and asked them to terminate their education. He also strictly told them that failure to do so would earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.

“The fatwa goes on to declare all NGOs working in the region as ‘hubs of immodesty.’ He first blamed the women working in those NGOs for mobilizing the local women on health and hygiene issues and then called on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers – forcefully, if they have to – to make them stay at home.

“In short, a former legislator issues fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting an education for half of the population forbidden and no one, barring a few bloggers and tweeters, raises even an eyebrow…

“Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, perhaps, we could have ignored it. However, unfortunately, we churn out one edict after another without realizing what the rest of the world may think of us. If declaring hair implant services and vegetarian items, such as potato chips, halal is considered a viable marketing gimmick, then the abduction of minor girls from minority communities also gets legitimized through decrees by half-literate mullahs [clerics].

“Fatwas are so commonplace that even a power utility company resorted to seeking one a few years back to get people to pay for their electricity. Since that utility is still burdened with thousands of unpaid bills, we know how useless that fatwa turned out to be.

“A country like ours can ill-afford adventurism of any kind but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to a fatwa to get a point across. Not only does this breed a narrow and rigid view of issues, it also leaves no room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an increasingly ‘stunted’ and intolerant society.”


[1] Former Pakistani Lawmaker Denounces Secular Education for Women, Justifies Honor Killings: “Killing of Women In the Name of Honor Is a ‘Local Custom and Religious Practice,'” Warns Female Western NGO Staff that They will Be Captured and Given Away as Brides, MEMRI Special Dispatches Series No. 4707, May 8, 2012 (

[2] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), May 14, 2012.

[3] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), May 12, 2012.


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