Foreign Policy Blogs



A couple of weeks ago, Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) issued its proposed amendments to the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill of 2015, which was passed only in March 2016. They recommend husbands to “lightly beat” their wives in certain circumstances. To talk about this declaration, it is important to understand some very nuanced pieces: the CII and why it exists, the history behind the various women’s protection bills, the CII’s recommendation to its amendment allowing women to be beaten, and the portion of the Qur’an that supposedly endorses this view.

The Creation of the CII

Founded by Pakistan’s first military dictator, President Ayub Khan, the CII was firmly situated within the directive of the Constitution of Pakistan to give the government advice on Islamic issues. This is a very broad manifesto, which includes recommendations to bring current/proposed legislation within the injunctions of Islam, recommending new laws to impose Islamic teaching within the republic, and giving general advice to the executive branch of the government of Pakistan.

The creation of the CII and its continued use is in keeping with the “Islamization” of the nation–the bid to impose Islamic ideology on a governmental level and to win popular support amongst constituencies which, although lack the knowledge of Islamic teaching itself, would like to see more compliance with the religious teachings as a whole; wherein lies the problem.


Pakistan’s top Islamic guidance body, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).

Women’s Protection Bill

In 1979, Pakistan passed what is known as the Hadood Ordinance–meaning this law was not passed by the legislature, but by executive order. The Hadood Ordinance proposed various laws that would make the existing laws of Pakistan, “Shariah compliant.” Nevertheless, Shariah is not a set standard by religion: there is no Pope-like figure in Islam and the manifestation of a set understanding in Islam does not exist as it does in Christianity. “Shariah”–which literally means ‘the way’–is esoteric, in that it is an amalgamation of the Qur’an, the teachings of the Prophet and scholarly debate and understanding of each provision.

Within the folds of the Hadood Ordinance existed the famed blasphemy laws as well as the punishment for rape and adultery. Rape victims failing the high standard of proof would often end up being charged with adultery and be sent to prison. The CII opposed an amendment proposed in 2006 allowing DNA evidence to supplement a woman’s case. Much to the disdain of the CII, the bill was passed in 2006, making it slightly easier for women to get out on bail if they were counter-charged with adultery and allowing the use of DNA evidence in certain cases.

The Protection of Women Against Violence Bill of 2015, protected women against stalking, cyber crimes, emotional abuse and sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, among other things. This was a great victory for the women in Punjab (this was a provincial bill applicable to the province of Punjab only) protecting them from, among other things, domestic abuse.

The CII’s Objection to the Current Women’s Protection Bill

A statement issued by the CII ruled the bill “un-Islamic.” Citing that the law was making men insecure and “an attempt to make Pakistan a Western colony again,” Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani, the Chairman of CII, cited the following instances in which a husband may, rightfully within his “rights under Islam,” lightly beat his wife:

  • if she defies his commands;
  • if she refuses to dress up in accordance with his desires;
  • if she turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse (which would be if she was fasting);
  • if she does not take bath after intercourse or her menstrual cycle;
  • if a woman does not observe the hijab;
  • if she interacts with strangers;
  • if she speaks loud enough that she can easily be heard by strangers; or
  • if she provides monetary support to people without taking consent of her husband.

What the Qur’an Says

The portion of chapter 4, verse 34 of the Qur’an from which the CII is deriving legitimacy to their stance, states (in the translation and interpreted by Muhammad Asad): “And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them.”

The irony of “beat them” and then “do not seek to harm them” is obvious to all. Muhammad Asad, goes on to quote various traditions of the Prophet that make it abundantly clear that women are not to be beaten, that this “beating” is only a farce, and meant to embarrass more than to punish, citing the example of lightly hitting women with a toothbrush.

Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American and the first woman to translate the Qur’an into English, translates the same verse as: “But those whose resistance you fear, then admonish them and abandon them in their sleeping place then go away from them; and if they obey you, surely look not for any way against them.”

Scholars of Islam say that 80% of the Qur’an is age specific–i.e. it was commandments for the time they were revealed and meant only for those times. Critics say that since the Qur’an, as the last of the Abrahamic monotheistic scriptures, is meant to be applicable till the end of time in its entirety.

The widely distributed translations are all done by men, leaving out the woman’s perspective and interpretation, and in many instances, leaving out reason. Just as the redundant passages that were time specific continue to be included in the implementation of what clerics deem “Shariah” today, the voice of reason and the rights of women propagated by the Prophet and Islam were lost along the way to chauvinistic societies, implementing personal prejudices in the guise of religious teachings. The CII is a prime example of this, as is the Saudi government.

The Prophet’s first wife, and the first female convert to Islam, was a business woman and the Prophet Muhammad was her employee. She proposed to him. Although the Prophet is famous for having nine wives, he took no other while she was alive. The stories of his love and adoration for his first wife, Khadeeja, are common knowledge in Muslim tales. His youngest and supposedly most adored wife after Khadeeja’s death, Ayesha, is said to have been severely jealous of how much he loved Khadeeja and how she could not take her place in his heart.

While women in Saudi Arabia are struggling to be allowed to drive, Ayesha led an army into battle after the Prophet’s death. While the CII pushes for a husband to be allowed to beat his wife for not dressing the way he likes, Khadeeja continued to run her business after her marriage to the Prophet.

Sadly for the CII, Islam is not esoteric. Women have taken to twitter and challenged men to try beating them lightly. The inconsistencies between what the CII deem to be an interpretation and what is taught by the Prophet’s life as the practice of Islam, cannot be reconciled with the popular male dominated translations of the Qur’an. Just as it is important to have minority voices in government to make sure their stories and their rights are not lost, women’s voices are important in Islam and Islamic interpretation.

The Women’s Protection Bill of 2016 stands today to defend women against sexual harassment in most of its forms. The CII’s recommendations, though constitutionally mandated, have not been implemented into the bill as of yet. Let us hope they never are, and that the patriarchy of the CII is disbanded in the near future.

#TryBeatingMeLightly and I’ll skip the admonishment and beds apart and just slap you with a lawsuit, because we live in a world that hasn’t lost the plot entirely. Yet.



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.