“Women who are victims of regular domestic violence and are vulnerable to experiencing it repeatedly might not consider a ‘light beating’ as an issue that raises eyebrows. Unfortunately, the population of such women is very high in Pakistan.”

The past few weeks witnessed a large spectrum of international news trying to capture varying discussions concerning Islam. While an instinctive correlation is made between Islam and the pursuit of violence, little effort is put into distinguishing the religious principles from its body of interpretation.

Recently, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) interpreted the Qur’an as a means to propose a policy recommendation in Pakistan. The group not only condemned the Women’s Protection Bill passed in the state of Punjab, but also proposed a policy in response to the Bill – that of “light beating”.

The CII, a 20-member constitutional body, is a religious group that is often viewed as extremist. Created under Pakistan’s 1961 military government, the Council advises the government on religious dimensions of legality and society. However, their recommendations are not binding in nature.

While Punjab’s Women Protection Bill would develop resources for women’s protection against domestic violence, including a women’s protection helpline, protection committees, women’s shelters and damage claims, the CII sought other alternatives. Their proposal suggests that husbands should be allowed to “lightly” beat their wives if she fails to abide by his “commands”.

A ‘light beating’ in the 21st century

A “light beating” would consist hitting wives with “light things like handkerchief, a hat or a turban, but not hit her on the face or private parts”. In an interview with Pakistan’s Express Tribune, CII Chairman Muhammad Kahn Sherani said: “If you want her to mend her ways, you should first advise her… If she refuses, stop talking to her… stop sharing a bed with her, and if things do not change, get a bit strict.”

In light of these controversial statements, the IPF spoke to young women in Pakistan about their views on the policy recommendation, many of whom put forward compelling thoughts on the proposal, but also discussed the dynamics of practicing Islam in Pakistan.

Speaking about the “light beating” proposal, Qandeel Fatima, a Management Trainee at Bank Al-Falah, said: “My first reaction was of utter disgust. We live in the 21st century, engaging in conversations around topics such as #HeforShe and women’s empowerment.

“The audacity to propose an amendment that gives one gender absolute dominance over the other is disturbing.”

Misinterpretation of the Qur’an

It is true that the shock sentiment developed in response to the proposal has been considerably high. However, several other aspects of the proposal also have to be taken into consideration. Namra Nasyr, 23, from Lahore and Nimat Jewani, 24, from Karachi provide us with an alternative insight into the matter, telling us that they were saddened by the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the Qur’anic Verse by a group such as the CII.

Explaining the point further, Zoya Fateh Muhammad, a 23-year-old literature student at the University of Karachi, said:

“I believe Islam is a peaceful religion. Unfortunately, it is being misinterpreted by people who decontextualise the passages of the Qur’an only to justify their own personal agenda.”

Zoya said that while the statements made by the CII Chairman are from the Qur’an, they are applicable only in situations where a wife has cheated on her husband. However, she stressed that “even in such circumstances, Islam doesn’t allow men to be harsh and brutal”.

The present developments highlight the blurring distinctions between religion, culture, politics and law – each heavily influenced by the institutions and principles of the other. Zoya argued that religion should not interfere with state laws as faith belongs to the domain of the “personal”. Namra echoed her views, stating:

“Human rights are politically and judicially allotted, and should not be sabotaged under the misinterpreted teachings of some religious scholars.”

Presenting both sides of the debate

Despite their concerns, these young women recognise the risks of a one-sided debate and force us to think about the multi-faceted dimensions of the issue, which have been largely ignored by mainstream media.

While women like 23-year-old Qandeel, from Islamabad, feel there is a need to “shut down” groups that suggest women as less humane than men, others remind us about another aspect of the debate. Nimat, from Karachi, noted that despite the problematic nature of the “light beating” proposal, the CII’s Bill also has other recommendations that do uphold women’s rights in Pakistan.

Other proposals in the Bill include: the right of women to join politics, to contract a nikah without parental permission, and special rights of non-Muslim women against being forced to convert to Islam. Here, an important question needs to be raised about why the “positive” recommendations have not been discussed with the same emphasis.

Domestic violence in Pakistan

In the aftermath of the “light beating” proposal, an e-initiative called #TryBeatingMeLightly was launched. Through the campaign, young Pakistani women were asked to present their views on the proposal, as well as on a specific question: “What would you do if your husband/partner beat you?”

Responses to the question have multiplied tremendously, reaffirming Zoya’s faith in young girls who are becoming courageous enough “to stand up against injustice without paying head to the larger society’s question – log kya kahenge (what would people say)?”.

However, some of the answers have also forced people to question the presumption that women have a homogenous view on the matter, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. Without discounting the impact of the campaign, Namra and Qandeel discussed the importance of the highly varied opinions presented by women on domestic violence. Namra said:

Women of lower status and lower educational qualification generally bring their daughters up with a generational lesson of ‘man is the ultimate power’ and the ‘head of the household’. The girls are taught obedience and the boys are taught undue dominance. The women with higher status, especially with education, live in different circumstances.”

To this point, Qandeel added: “Women who are victims of regular domestic violence and are vulnerable to experiencing it repeatedly might not consider a ‘light beating’ as an issue that raises eyebrows. The population of such women is very high unfortunately in Pakistan.”

On the other hand, Qandeel noted that the “light beating” policy might not affect the educated women in higher classes of society. According to her, men from the urban and elite areas are well aware of the consequences of harming women and are less likely to beat their wives, highlighting the difference in attitudes, perceptions and practices concerning domestic violence in the country.

Pakistan’s young women emphasised the importance of education and empowerment for women in the fight against gender discrimination, as well as the need to recognise that men who perpetuate domestic violence are not doing it as part of their “religious right”. However, in the present day and age, being sensitive to the standpoint of other cultures is a challenge. Zoya ended by saying:

“I strongly feel that the international community must look beyond the deep-rooted stereotypes concerning Pakistan and South Asia, as depicted from the lens of the Western media, to appreciate the more harmonious aspects of our home and religion.”