Islamabad, law in parliament to give "equal" rights to women
by Qaiser Felix
Today, the husband has much more extensive rights in the family. The council for Islamic ideology proposes innovations to permit the woman to ask for a divorce, and to preserve her property. But extremist groups accuse it of "creating confusion."

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - There's an uproar over proposals by the council for Islamic ideology (CII), to reform Islamic law concerning the family, in order to provide greater rights for women in the case of divorce. Current law recognizes divorce declared "verbally" by the husband, in private, and grants few economic rights to the wife.

The CII (a significant constitutional group with a legal consulting role in parliament and the government, set up in 1962) is also proposing that the wife should be able to ask for a divorce, in writing, with an obligation for the husband to accept the request within 90 days. After this period of time, the marriage would be dissolved anyway, unless the woman withdrew the request. It is also advised that women should declare their property at the time of their marriage, because after divorce many husbands strip their wives of their own property.

Asma Jahangir, president of the Pakistani commission for human rights, explains to AsiaNews that, in any case, women have a legal right to divorce, but the real problem is that often the husband does not provide any economic support for her or her children. She recalls that many husbands throw their wives and children out of the house, without even divorcing or giving them anything.

Muslim lawyer Hifza Aziz adds that today, the man can remarry without even telling his new wife about his previous divorce.

The proposal has prompted widespread opposition in the Islamic world, and the mufti Munibor Rehman, a prominent religious leader, accuses the CII of "wanting to invent a new sharia" and "to create anarchy and chaos in the country."

Hanif Jalandhry, secretary general of the alliance of organizations of Islamic schools, accuses the CII of "exceeding its constitutional role, with the proposal to introduce non-Islamic reforms into the law." Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, president of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Sami, says that the council "is sowing confusion among the people, with mistaken interpretations of sharia."

These accusations are rejected by S.M. Zafar, president of the Pakistani society for human rights, who reiterates that "the right of the woman to ask for a divorce is already practiced under the principle of the Khula, and the CII only wants to formalize this practice."

The CII is not withdrawing the proposed law, which will be examined by parliament. On November 18, Hamid Saeed Kazmi told the national assembly that the government "does not support" these proposals, which are being advanced by the CII on its own initiative. The minister for law and justice, Farooq H. Naek, has specified that parliament will not approve a law that is in contrast with the holy Qur'an and the Sunnah.

Another controversial point is the CII's proposal to allow women to make the pilgrimage of the Hajj (which Muslims must make at least once in their lives) without a Mahram ("guardian"), in respect of the constitutional right to travel without restrictions.