By Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
We as a nation are virulently dependent on religious advice irrespective of the nature of the affair. Just like Zubaida Apa has a solution for every household problem, our Ulema can also provide you with a fatwa (religious decree) for all your religious, or even not-so-religious problems. Sadly, but the highest office that advises the government on religious matters i.e. the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), at times, issue such an “advice” or decrees that they often become unacceptable to many people. For instance, their latest advice of “lightly beating your wife” was heavily criticised across Pakistan.
However, today I am not interesting in discussing the CII, but another group of Ulema who out of nowhere developed a soft corner for the problems of the transgender community in Pakistan, and issued a religious decree in this regard. The Tanzeem Ittehad-e-Ummat, a not very known organisation of some so-called religious scholars issued a fatwa allowing transgender persons to get married. The fatwa further states that a transgender having visible similarities to men can get married to a transgender having visible similarities to women. However, a transgender termed as an intersex or hermaphrodite may not get married. The fatwa also highlights the right of transgender persons in inheritance, and also terms any activity as Haram (forbidden) if it is intended towards humiliating, teasing or insulting a transgender person.
The fatwa might have been issued in good intention towards the transgender community, but my main concern is I don’t need a fatwa to regulate a private matter like marriage. More importantly, the practice of issuing Fatwas on every other matter must stop. It is the duty of the legislators both at the federal and the provincial levels to suggest changes in laws and policies. Any organisation of religious scholars is not entitled to formulate or suggest new laws and policies. Therefore, it should refrain from doing so.
This takes me to another incident that happened just a few days ago. A Hindu journalist working with the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) in Karachi was stopped from eating and drinking by his fellow journalists at his office. His only mistake was that he was a Hindu in a Muslim majority office. However, the incident was denied by the bureau chief of the office. It surely is a sad incident, but my only question is that does a Hindu need a religious decree to eat and drink with his fellow Pakistanis? If our faith as Muslims is so fragile, so fallible that we direct people from minority groups to stay away from us? Where are the fundamental rights of people belonging to minorities? Are they not entitled to same provisions granted to me as a citizen of the state?
This is definitely a sad situation. We as citizens of Pakistan and more importantly, as Muslims have failed to fulfil our duties. We have not only failed our fellow minorities but have also made them insecure. Perhaps that is the reason why a large number of Hindus have already migrated to India in search of security and protection of their fundamental rights. This is a shameful situation for all of us.
I have written about it many times that the white in the flag of Pakistan represents minorities, but why are we hell-bent on painting the whole flag green? Why are we so scared of diversity and sharing our prosperity with those belonging to minority communities? Today, I stand in shame because once again we have failed our minorities.
Our priorities are misplaced. Our religious scholars or Ulema are issuing decrees in matters that are least important in our national life. On the other hand, there are important matters that need urgent attention, but are being ignored not only by the government but also by our religious elite as well as citizens.
The fact of matter is that we don’t need Fatwas that control our lives, but Fatwas that improve the quality of our lives. We need Fatwas that improve our relationship with the minorities in our country. We need Fatwas that don’t make us insecure as Muslims, but strengthen us as a community. More importantly, we need to make ourselves strong enough that we don’t rely on religious decrees for every single matter in life.
Gulmina Bilal Ahmad is a development consultant