In this article, our prolific contributor Shaheryar Ali looks at the invisibility of women in extreme interpretations of Islam that were adopted by the General Zia-ul-Haq and that refuse to go away despite decades of struggle. He cites a powerful poem by the Urdu poet Fahmida Riaz that sums up the perversity of this peculiar mindset and is a bitter song of liberation too. (Ed: RR)
Of the three great systems of exclusion governing discourse — prohibited words, the division of madness and the will to truth ———” Foucault
The non-existence of women is the most important problem that has plagued the discourse in the Muslim countries. “Representational discourse” is in itself a discourse of exclusion, the “woman” and “woman hood” are representational entities, the Woman has always been be represented in the discourse , she never had her own voice. The famous existential philosopher Simone de Beauvior whilst writing her seminal feminist work “The second Sex” reached the conclusion : “No Human is born a Woman”.
In fundamentalist ‘Islamic’ context this representational discourse acquired a legal status where woman was judged to be unworthy of testimony. De-humanization of woman reached its peak under the USA sponsored Islamization of the Muslim world. General Muhammed Zia ul Haq and the theologians brought the “Law of Evidence” according to which the testimony of the woman was to be considered half of that of man. The traditional reading of Islam brought about the concept of “Naqis ul Aqal” “semi compos mentis” for the Woman. An animal which is not capable of making independent decisions, is source of Sin and lust and hence must be covered in a black veil, to protect the piety of Men, whose place is within the 4 walls of the house and who cant leave it without a male relative escorting her.
“Zina” (or fornication) became the ultimate focus of the project that aimed to suppress women’s sexuality with the fear of stones and lashes. “Chador or Char divari” became the official state doctrine for “woman” with approval from Mansoora! [Pakistan’s self-styled Vatican, headquarter of the Jamate Islami]
The Progressive left led a heroic struggle against the Neo Fascist Zia ul Haq, resulting in one of the most brutal crackdown against them, hangings, torture,murders,exiles, lashes—. Fahmida Riaz , Kishwar Naheed stood up against this tyranny , the result was the emergence of a radical feminist discourse that was modernist and progressive and which challenged the Islamist discourse on woman.
Fehmida Riaz is a true artist who never compromised , she was victimized by Zia ul Haq and his political Son Nawaz Sharif but she stood firm. Chador aur Char Divari is one of the most important poems ever written in Urdu. It traces the origins of Islamist exclusionist discourse and de constructs it. It asserts the “humanity” of woman , her independent will and voice and her challenge to the tyrants. Continue reading