Girls at Mosques

In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, women’s fingers were cut off if they wore nail colour. There was a ban on women riding motorbikes. They were publicly whipped if anyone could spot their ankles. In Pakistan, most Jumma khutbas (Friday sermons) may not outright call for women’s public stoning, but they do obsess repeatedly over the subject on what ‘your women’ can or cannot do. The listeners may not hear the caveats in the sermons. So how do they act the doctrine out?

In Rawalpindi, a stone’s throw away from this country’s capital, anunknown gang has stabbed over 30 women in public since February this year. This story has not even got its usual share of condemnation and outrage from the government, let alone a high-level committee to investigate the matter and dish out severe punishments to the perpetrators. In fact it seems like it is inconsequential that a nurse called Anum Naz from among these 30 women succumbed to her injuries and died; that many women who survived are unable to function or that many women in the city are crippled by fear and have been denied permission by their families to pursue education or employment.

Totalitarian states make it a priority to control women’s fertility by confining them to the private quarters. We are not totalitarian. Our women make it to the Olympics. In semi-totalitarian states, the government looks the other way when women are stabbed because, well, women are not powerful enough to hurt the government, that’s for sure, but also because women apparently ‘bring it upon themselves’. No one is breaking and entering a house of any woman on a prayer mat and killing her. So if you want to save your lungs from a puncture, you know what you’ve got to do.

Well, we want control. Over both our prayer schedules and the content men get to hear in sermons during their congregational prayers, especially when these pertain to women. It is time to challenge the notion that somehow interpreting and passing down God’s decrees is a male-only domain. We can at the very least ask the government for regulated content in mosque sermons. When it comes to religious content, there are two kinds: the woman-hating and the woman-empowering. We choose to believe in the latter and that is only fair.

We also want our time for play. We want to go visit a friend when she graduates. We would also like to go to the local parlour to shape our eyebrows. Standing on the terrace and putting clothes to dry is such a 1980s way to get hitched. We want the coffee shops and the wedding dances. So just stop stabbing us. You’re standing between us and a jolly good time.

Public places are generally designed for men in Pakistan. Women are typically harassed by groping, abuse or stares the moment they step out into a domain where commerce, entertainment or leisure are arranged in a male-centric manner. My contention is that everything about this stems from keeping women out of sacred places, like mosques, in the first place. It only follows that if it is justified to keep women out of mosques or any other place of worship for whatever reason, those reasons can very well expand to the public space in general because the same stakeholder controls that space too.

There is a fantastic movement by the name of Girls at Dhabas that encourages women to stop by at local teashops to sip some chai. We need a similar initiative for places that make it their business to regulate women’s lives. Women’s divorce from the spiritual realm is at the root of the segregation of the sexes, which is in fact at the root of all discrimination and oppression. If the women Islam holds in high esteem have been involved in businesses, wars and migrations, then it’s only befitting that we can approach an imam with a list of questions about our status in society and have a discussion about it.

It was often said that women in the West were unprotected by the honour codes of our society, hence their need for pepper sprays and the panic buttons on their smart watches. All honour is fake honour. It never worked for them; it’ll never work for us.

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