The myth of the hijabi woman’s agency

Let’s clear one thing out from the beginning. This blog is not about banning women from wearing the veil. Freedom of religion necessitates that people are able to practice their religion the way they are required to. They are free to make religious decisions, even if those decisions are stupid, so long as they are personal, do not interfere in other people’s lives and are not harmful to members of society.

Types of Islamic headgear

This blog is also not about the false equivalence between veiled women and the so-called “scantily” clad women. There is no equivalence. Yes, women should dress whichever way they want but while — for the most part — choosing to wear less clothes IS actually a personal decision, choosing to wear the veil is another matter.

Which is why I want to talk about agency. When veiled Muslim women are criticised for espousing ridiculous views about patriarchy, i.e. that there is none and that they are free and it is their choice to wear the veil, we are told that we are undermining their agency with our criticism. That they are independent, free women, who have the right to wear the veil. Again, let me reiterate, I am not arguing against their right to wear it. They absolutely have the right to wear it as far as governmental regulations should be concerned.

Coming to this mythical agency everyone keeps mentioning, which basically is the capacity or ability to make a decision and enacting that decision on society. I understand that as being able to exert power on your little corner of the world.

Muslim women do not wear a veil because it is an expression of freedom or a fashion choice. They wear it because they are required to do so as per religion. If they do not, it is a sin and anything bad that may happen to them is their fault, because they are fair game.

From the outset, we can see that much of their agency has been depleted. If they want to be good Muslim women, and go to heaven (although this is also disputable as, apparently, women are going to be a minority in heaven since most are going to hell Sahih Bukhari 7:62:124, Sahih Muslim 36:6596, Sahih Muslim 36:6601), they should cover themselves up appropriately. In this instance, religion undermines the agency.

Now why do I think the veil is the cornerstone of patriarchy? Because it is. Women of respectable families were required to cover themselves long before the advent of Islam, which continued this custom. Believing women are required to cover themselves, so as to not bring dishonour on their fathers, brothers, husbands. Only permitted men are allowed to look at their hair etc. Therefore, the honour of fathers, brothers, and husbands dictates how a woman may dress when she is with other men.

When only certain men are allowed to look at “their women”, said women are property and must be protected as such; by being wrapped up. Which is why the defense of hijab and niqab is given with protecting your lollypop and juicebox (your property) from flies (other men) analogies.

If you dig deep into the bedrock of this, it is clear. This agency is very limited. That is how patriarchy and religion have modernised themselves: by inventing the myth of the agency of women, especially veiled women. It has told them that they are making a choice, and have the freedom to exert that choice. This has been religion — and by extension — patriarchy’s greatest trick: convincing women that they have agency.

To me, their freedom is just like that of mice in a maze that I read in The Handmaid’s Tale, which are free to go anywhere, so long as they remain inside the maze. And that is the extent of agency veiled woman have.

Read on Medium

How to beat your wife

A few days ago, a video surfaced on the internet. In it, two hijab-clad women  in Australia were discussing the verse Surah Nisa in the Quran (4:34).

The translation of the verse in question is as follows:


“Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend for [maintenance] from their wealth. So, righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist] forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.”


The women were specifically discussing the last part of the verse, which says “strike them”. They very smugly inform us that Islamic jurists had explained – clearly and in detail – what kind of hitting this should be. One of them had brought a “siwak” or “miswak” – a twig of a particular tree – used to clean teeth in the Muslim world. The ladies demonstrated (on each other) how striking someone with this little twig was just a symbolic gesture and was not meant to harm them or hurt them in any way.

They also very kindly explained how other jurists contend that the striking should be done with a “coiled scarf” or handkerchief, neither of which are again going to cause harm. They insisted – while giggling sarcastically – that the world has misunderstood the last part of this verse and there is much ado about nothing.

I find the Stockholm syndrome these, probably educated, ladies are going through extremely frustrating and indicative of the cognitive dissonance that is found in Muslims. They seemed shocked that people would make such a fuss about this issue when it is just meant to be a “symbolic” gesture.

It seemed to escape them that in this verse, Islam has codified violence against women, even if it is meant to be symbolic. It does not occur to them that the whole verse is giving power to one gender over another. They failed to grasp that the whole of the verse is problematic, not just the last part.

Let me go through this verse systematically because the sexism is inescapable.

“Men are in charge of women” because they spend money on them and maintain them. Therefore, good women should be “devoutly obedient” and guard their chastity. This is where the problem starts. If men provide for you, they are in charge ladies.

“Guard your chastity and be devoutly obedient”, which basically means you cannot question your lord and master and must obey every command he gives you. No explanation of what happens if you provide an equal share in the household maintenance.

Now if you are arrogant, your owner (because that is what he is indicated to be in this verse) can advise you, refrain from having sex with you or even strike you. Meaning that he can discipline you because you have been disobedient. Or “arrogant”.  I do not know what the definition of arrogant will be in this case. Am I arrogant if I question my husband? Am I arrogant if I go see my friends and he doesn’t want me to? Am I arrogant if I have not made dinner? Am I arrogant if I hold his hand as he tries to strike me with a twig?

Whatever the case, he can advise you. And if you don’t listen to his advice, he can withhold sex. Which to me basically means that it wasn’t advice but an order. And if withholding sex doesn’t work we have the twig solution.

My problem was never that these injunctions are not banal. They may very well be innocuous. My problem – and what these two Stockholm syndrome sufferers (and others like them) fail to grasp – is that they exist, that they are still misogynistic, no matter how you look at them. These ladies do not realise that they are endorsing something that, in this day and age, cannot and must not be endorsed: the exaltation of one individual over another; the dominion of one gender over the other; and the fact that men are superior to women and can humiliate and demean then if they are not obeyed.

Moreover, when Muslims disingenuously tell us that women are equal to men in Islam, while at the same time explaining that any hitting that is to be done is symbolic, they obfuscate the fact that permission is given not only to discipline your wife but suggestions are provided on how to do so. That is not equality by any definition of the word.

First of all, the guy who is going to use this is not necessarily going to go and look for exegesis to understand how it is he should hit his wife. To him striking could be a nice sucker punch to the face. And that is what happens in a lot of cases.

Secondly, even if we are to believe these women and the hitting is to be very mild, it is still sanctioning something that the women in the 21st century cannot and should not accept.

So no ladies. While you can sit there and tell me how this is a symbolic gesture until you are blue in the face, to me the whole of this verse, not just the last part, is not only misogynistic, it sanctions violence. Both of which are a no no.

If you want people to respect your religion, then accept that there are problematic verses and reform them. Do not try to tell us that we are making a big deal. Let me reiterate, it’s not that these commands are not taken as being symbolic, it is that they exist.

(Published in SEDAA – Our Voices)



On October 7, 2016, an article appeared in Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper, alleging that in a civil military leadership meeting, the Government (prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother and other senior officials were present) had told the military representatives that if they did not make more efforts to go after terrorists, Pakistan will be isolated.

Journalist Cyril Almeida, one of the newspaper’s senior writers, had reported that an argument had taken place between members of the Pakistani government and the army over lack of action against militant groups, and that the director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) General Lt. General Rizwan Akhtar, was asked by government officials to increase actions against terror groups, or face isolation.

Now, in a free, democratic country, where the military serves the people, one would have assumed that this would not be big news. One would also have assumed that the Government would be proud to admit that it, in fact, had told the military to clean up its act. But this is Pakistan and here things do not work the way they do elsewhere.

The Government of Pakistan denied this news three times and criticized the article for being misleading and spreading “half truths”. This is also fine. Governments are also known to backtrack and deny things, even if they seem to be in their favour.

A few days later, the PM Nawaz Sharif had a meeting with the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and, soon after, Almeida was put on the Exit Control List. He found this out as he was leaving for a long-planned vacation with his mother. The reason for doing so was given to be “National Security” and that the article did not follow “universally acknowledged principles of reporting”. Almeida had quoted anonymous sources but that is not new either.

How is reporting that the army was ordered to do its job by the Government — which the army says it is already doing — against National Security? People are now also frantically looking for the “universally acknowledged principles of reporting” because they seem to be something that only the Government of Pakistan seems to know about.

In any case, even if the article was a complete fabrication, (which Dawn says it was not and due diligence had been done), how can it be so easy for the Government to bar a journalist from travelling abroad? This is a blatant disregard of his rights and a direct attack on freedom of speech.

Thankfully, most of the journalist community and sane people have sided with Almeida and demanded that his name be removed from the list.

Meanwhile, a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi has been in prison for six years and on death row on blasphemy charges. On January 4, 2011, the Governor of the Pakistani Province of Punjab was shot and killed by one of his own security guards, Mumtaz Qadri. The reason for this was Taseer’s defense of the proposed amendments in the country’s blasphemy laws, as well as his support for the release of Asia Bibi. The murderer Qadri was subsequently hanged for his crime.

Now here is the interesting bit. Aasia Bibi’s final appeal * was to be heard by a Supreme Court Bench on October 13. A couple of days ago however, the denizens of Lal Masjid — a mosque known for its allegiance to ISIS and promoting terrorism — threatened that there would be dire circumstances if Aasia Bibi was not hanged. A #HangAasia hashtag has been floating around on Twitter since yesterday.

Today, the Supreme Court Bench assembled and one of the judges excused himself from the proceedings, after which the hearing was adjourned for an indefinite period. It is very clear to people with common sense that the problem was the fear of Islamic militants, such as the chief mullah of Lal Masjid and nothing else.

Ironically, the threats from Lal Masjid, its allegiance to ISIS etc are not seen as against National Security by the Government or the military. Neither are rallies conducted by various banned organizations. What bothers our fearless leaders is the movement of a journalist.

People in Pakistan and around the world have been thinking (read: hoping), that there has been a paradigm shift in the military’s policy and that now we would see more democratic decisions, extermination of Islamic extremists and more freedoms. This is clearly not the case.

Some of the worst terrorists in the world are roaming free on our streets but a journalist’s freedom is curtailed and a woman cannot get justice because the same terrorists threaten the judiciary.

Pakistan is a fascist country ruled by a fascist army. If it is not the army-supported terrorists killing us, it is the army itself complicit with the politicians in stealing from us, and it is the army that is at the forefront of suppressing our freedoms.

Nationalism and patriotism to me come when a country and all its citizens do good things and head towards a good, progressive future, respecting everyone’s rights, not just because your parents gave birth to you within a certain boundary. There is nothing to be proud of here.

* A Pakistani court has now overturned Asia Bibi’s death sentence.

(Published in Sedaa – Our Voices)

Quetta blast: How dare you give precedence to a road over human lives?

In the rest of the world when a terrorist attack happens, the leaders do their best to empathize with the people of their countries. Their condemnation is always targeted toward those who have perpetrated the attack and they always ensure that the value of human life takes precedence. In Pakistan, the situation is always different. The most favourite of the establishment’s bogeyman is – no points for guessing – India and its Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Even though we know without a shadow of a doubt that an act has been perpetrated by a local Islamist terrorist, our leaders still try to point out external forces that are behind it.

Monday’s attack in Quetta took over 70 lives and injured many others; almost all of them the top echelon of lawyers in Balochistan. They had collected together at a hospital to mourn the killing of the Balochistan Bar Association President, when a suicide blast took their lives. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan took responsibility, as did the Islamic State, for both.  The JA spokesman clearly stated that such attacks will continue “until the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”.

Condemnation of this act by the government and the establishment was quick to appear. As always, this was followed by the race between the PM, COAS and others to reach the site as soon as possible to ensure that photo ops were timely. They saw the carnage and the wounded and then they both decided that the best way of explaining away this huge loss of a whole generation of Balochistan lawyers, was to tell the people of Pakistan that the attack was targeted at the CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Both the PM Nawaz Sharif and the COAS Raheel Sharif said exactly the same thing, giving precedence to a road over human lives.

It is as if they are trying to drum into the heads of the Pakistani people that their lives are being lost because the “external forces” are jealous of the heaven that this country is and the mega-heaven it will become once the CPEC is operational.

How dare you talk to us in this condescending manner? How dare you tell us that the promises you made under the guise of the National Action Plan (NAP), where you were supposed to get rid of these terrorist activities, have been fulfilled and these attacks now happen because people are actually jealous of the wonder that is this country? How dare you say this to people who lose their family members on a daily basis and expect them to join in your jingoism? We do not want our loved ones to be “shaheed”. That is not our job or our desire. We do not want to send our children out and spend the day in fear that they may not come back. We do not want to be parents of “shaheeds” nor do we want to be their children. We ourselves do not want to be “shaheed”.

This kind of jingoistic rhetoric is useless and dangerous. All that has done for 68 years is lead us to this point. Nothing has been done to expunge the ideal of jihad and Islamism from the minds of our generations. The idea that you planted. And now, on the one hand you allow various supposedly banned organizations to hold rallies all over the country, sporting flags with Raheel Sharif’s picture on them and on the other hand tell us that your road is the reason why 70 people were killed? How dare you?

It is like you have so little regard for our intelligence that you think this rhetoric will still work. No, it won’t. We do not want you to rally us around with your hyper patriotic flag waving and your sponsoring of propaganda songs and movies. We want you to do your jobs; which is to protect the citizens of this country.

I for one do not believe that the enemy has been weakened. And I take offence at the statements that these latest spree of attacks are “soft targets”. How are countless human lives soft targets? The people who lost their lives in Quetta were as important to this country and their families as any soldier. And they were certainly more important than a road or an army barrack.

So stop pouring salt on our wounds by being so devoid of humanity that you compare our lives to infrastructure. Do your job. If it is RAW go after it, if it is TTP go after it. Don’t expect us to nod along with you when you make stupendously pathetic statements. Do your job and stop acting like our lives do not matter. We are sick of it.

Published in The Nation. 


(Published in Sedaa – Our Voices)

You cannot secretly revere the doctrine that promotes Jihad, endorses misogyny, homophobia and other singularly inhumane aspects and then say that it does not endorse these things. Accept it, reform it and join the rest of the world in the 21st century. Other religions have done so and moved on. It is your turn now.

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No CII, I do not want Sharia to dictate my rights

(Published in The Nation Pakistan)

Muslims have this tendency of explaining to others that Islam provided rights to women in an era where they did not have those rights. I tend to disagree with that but that is a whole other debate. Let’s assume that they were provided with these rights. And these rights were perfect. The thing to understand is that they were perfect for 7th century Arabia.  They are not perfect today. In fact, they are not even rights but just methods to subjugate women.

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Pakistan and its terrorists

Keeping with the tradition in Pakistan, whereby each time after a terrorist attack, fingers are pointed at someone else, this time again blame was laid squarely at the door of others.

The establishment’s favourite boogeyman is India and sure enough the news that the terrorists that shot to death almost 30 people at Bacha Khan University, were affiliated with the Indian intelligence agency RAW, started making the rounds soon afterwards. The government machinery was quick to respond after the attack by blaming each other as well.

The question that the citizenry however was asking was simple. What happened to Zarb e Azab, the military action started a year and a half ago to wipe out militants from the country’s north? While the strikes against the militants may have seen some success, questions still arise as to why then the militants are able to carry out attacks, such as the one on Bacha Khan University.

Subsequent to the vile and horrific shooting by the taliban, of school children of the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, the ruling machinery seemed to gather pace and came up with the National Action Plan, which included enforcing executions for terrorists sentenced to death; setting up of special anti-terrorist courts under the military to speed up the trial process; banning armed organizations; and taking action against those spreading hate, extremism and sectarianism, among other actions.

While we saw the speeding up of executions, most of those executed were not terrorists but criminals on death row. While some organizations were banned on paper, they are still free to hold rallies and conferences. In fact, one even won 9 seats under a different name in the Local Bodies Elections in Sindh.

Meanwhile, last week all schools in Punjab and many in Sindh were closed down due to terror threats. This is where we have come. Instead of curbing terrorism, we have contributed to the already pathetic state of education in this country, by closing down schools. Which, by the way, is what the taliban and ISIS types want.

One provincial government has decided to provide arms training to teachers and to provide them with guns. An idea so stupid that I do not have words to even show my utmost disgust with it.

And while all of these shenanigans are going on, as mentioned before, organizations and seminaries with terrorist affiliations are still going about their business. One prime example of this is the notorious Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad, whose female wing has issued a video pledging allegiance to ISIS and whose main Mullah constantly threatens the state and government. He and his seminary continue to do this, as well as spreading sectarian hatred. The government has been unable to take him into custody even after a number of criminal complaints lodged against him. A civil society movement against him has been organized and this has resulted in the movement’s members being maligned by him. And still the government seems paralyzed to stop other such parasites from spreading their extremist and hateful agenda.

Such is the power of Islamic terrorism here, that a even after numerous attacks and deaths of its people a nuclear nation is not able to bring down the perpetrators. This is because there exists a general mindset: Muslims could never do such horrible acts. This is what the majority of Pakistani populace believes, whether they are conservative Muslims, Islamists or even moderates. The madrassa (seminary) is the main site of such ignorance, but they are not alone. Our whole education system also promotes this.

Added to this, the military has supported (and continues to support) factions of the taliban as strategic assets for insurgency into Afghanistan and other extremist organizations for insurgency into India and it becomes quite clear why terrorist activities are still going on . It is, after all, very difficult to give up on your assets.

And this is what Pakistan needs to understand. No amount of executions and military strikes are going to stop this monster that we ourselves have created, unless we get to the root of this. We need to say that it is Islamism that is the problem. We need to stop blaming India or Afghanistan and change the mindset of our populace by expunging the superiority of Islamism from our text books. Pakistan needs to look towards secularism if it wants to survive as a country and stop giving Islam precedence over everything else. And it most certainly cannot continue to provide support to the Islamists, use them as assets and then cry victim when those same Islamists come after its people.

The Ahmadi Conundrum in Pakistan

(Published in The Huffington Post)

Blasphemy is a crime in Pakistan, the punishment for which can be death. The law is a left over of the Indian Penal Code that the British had introduced, and which was later expanded upon by the military dictator Zia ul Haq. More often than not, it is used to target minority communities, especially the Ahmadiyya, who were declared non-Muslims in 1974, through a constitutional amendment. Under this amendment, the community is banned from using Islamic terms, using Islamic texts to pray or even calling their places of worship ‘masjid’.

Click here to read the blog. 

On Blasphemy in Pakistan

(Published in The Huffington Post)

On January 4, 2011, the Governor of the Pakistani Province of Punjab was shot and killed by one of his own security guards, Mumtaz Qadri. The reason for this was Taseer’s defense of the proposed amendments in the Country’s blasphemy laws, as well as his support for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammad. The murderer Qadri was subsequently sentenced to death for his crime.


Paris attacks: Moderate Muslims must do more than just condemn terrorism

(Published in The Nation Pakistan) Stop trying to do damage control and posting this one verse and stop expecting people to magically believe that Islam means peace, when the word’s literal meaning is “submission”. Groups like ISIS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc are doing exactly that: submitting and making others submit. Saying that these people are not Muslims is a disservice to the world and to yourselves, because they are – they themselves say so. This kind of takfir is exactly what gives them agency to kill people.

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