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     Volume 4 Issue 35 | February 25, 2005 |

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Human but not Humane

Aasha Mehreen Amin

It is disturbing how newspaper headlines of terrorist attacks no longer shock us as much as they did before. It has become a part of our modern life where even terror is globalised. Even so, some stories continue to have shock value, not so much for their novelty factor but for the sheer contradictions they portray. Last week, a tiny news item on an Imam of a mosque raping his eight-year-old student managed to instil enough disgust and anger to warrant a demand to know just how do our religious leaders view such a crime?

Being given the undeserved right to impart religious education, to basically tell children what the right path is, these individuals have immense powers that they may or may not abuse. Their teachings are held unquestionable. Their immunity is guaranteed. But when someone who is given such respect and honour, violates the most basic codes of ethics, what is the punishment?

The victim, a grade four student, used to go to the Imam's house in Fatullah for Arabic lessons. On the day of the incident, people in the area heard the child's screams and rushed to her rescue. They also beat up the Imam and handed him over to the police. This was the only sliver of a news on Monday, February 14th's back page. After that, it was business as usual. There were no protests in the streets or statements of condemnation. What was most interesting was that there was apparently no reaction from religious leaders who would obviously not want to be branded with the perverted imam's camp. Some may say this was an isolated incident and that among the thousands of pesh imams in the country there is bound to be a debauched one or two. But even our lackadaisical media has reported several incidents of Imams committing this crime. It does not take much insight to know that many more sexual assaults take place by so-called religious leaders than get reported. In most cases, the influence and position of the culprits allow them to get away with it.

Of course, rape of a minor, no matter who commits it, is the most reprehensible crime. But when it is done by someone who commands the highest level of trust and reverence in a community, it should be seen as even more monstrous.

This brings us to the strange but true phenomenon of how many of those sit on the highest moral platform and profess to be the true preachers of religion, pay very little attention to human rights violations, especially those pertaining to women or girl children. Fatwas or religious edicts are promptly pronounced and sometimes even executed for women who are deemed to be 'immoral' or impious. Often their so-called crimes are not even verified and believed on mere hearsay. Last week, a fatwa was imposed on a young housewife, ordering that she be buried alive because she had been found immoral by her in-laws and more importantly, by some female fakir from another village. Luckily for the woman, her father, along with his associates, managed to rescue her before the terrible sentence was carried out.

Thus it is always the perceived morality of the woman that seems to be the biggest preoccupation of these moral police. It is always whether the woman is observing purdah, whether she is unwaveringly chaste, that they obsess about. There are no instances of fatwas being announced to condemn the throwing of acid on women to disfigure them for life, the torturing of girl domestic workers, the killing or abusing of wives by their husbands or, for that matter, the rape of women or minors.

Religious dictates are supposed to protect women and children from all forms of abuse. Unfortunately, in present religious practice there is very little compassion for women. Religion in our times is imposed, in a form that reveals the parochial culture we are stuck with. It relates to the age-old machismo tendency of to overrule even the true spirit of faith or a basic sense of what it means to be humane.



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