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EDITORIAL: In his address, as the Chair of OIC Council of Ministers at UN, to a conference organised by the world body on “Women in Islam”, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari made a good effort to dispel some of the misconceptions about Islam, largely created by the Afghan Taliban’s decision to rob women and girls of their right to education and work.

Extremists, he explained, had distorted the image of a religion that encouraged women to actively participate in all walks of life, adding that it is but natural for Pakistan and other OIC countries, “to express our deep disappointment at the restrictions imposed on the human rights of women and girls, especially their right to education and work, in Afghanistan.”

Religious extremists in all Muslim societies, including our own, want to confine women within the four walls of the home and an all-covering burqa when outside.

All this is meant to control them in utter disregard of the teachings of Islam, a progressive and practical religion as exemplified by the traditions and practices of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). His wife Hazrat Khadija (RA), a role model for Muslim women, was a leading business personality in the whole of Arabia. And in times of war women served water to fighters and tended to their wounds.

One Nusaybah bint Ka’ab al-Maziniyyah even fought in the Battle of Uhud led by the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Clearly, in his time women were free to play their role in public life without covering their faces, unlike required by the Taliban government.

That is why that formal norm is still observed by women while performing Hajj or Umra walking side by side with men. No less important did Islam give them the right to inherit property and manage its affairs well over fourteen hundred years ago.

In most European countries only ‘married women’ won that right in the late 18th century. And it may be hard to believe but is true that in France it was as late as 1965 that women were legally authorised to manage their own property and assets by opening bank accounts in their own names, and participate in professional activities without the permission of their husbands.

To iterate the obvious, what the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan has nothing to do with religious injunctions. However, there are moderate elements among them who support women and girls’ right to education, but have been overwhelmed by the hardline obscurantists who share their warped worldview with the supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

He is said to be an Islamic scholar and a jurist though his edicts concerning women are basically inspired by age-old traditions still prevalent in some parts of the country, especially Kandahar from where the Taliban first rose to take over control of Kabul, and where like his predecessor Mullah Omer, the present supreme leader resides.

It can only be hoped the moderate groups will be able to convince their leadership to remove restrictions that not only diminish the Islamic Emirate’s chances of recognition by the international community but also tarnish the image of Islam in the eyes of outsiders unfamiliar with the rights it gives women.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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