Using faith to fight political injustice

Activist cites Quran to overcome sexism

Beena Sarwar By Beena Sarwar

Some Americans bridle at mixing religion and politics. So do some Pakistanis. But even in a country where so much lip service is paid to religion, it’s not easy for an individual’s faith to make a political difference, as Humaira Awais Shahid discovered.

Shahid, 41, is a Pakistani parliamentarian and activist — and a devout Muslim. A petite, soft-spoken, unassuming mother of three, she won a seat reserved for women in the provincial parliament of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, in 2002. At her father-in-law’s newspaper, Khabrain, she uncovered stories on vinni, a cultural practice in which women and girls are given away to settle family disputes, and on horrific violence against women, including disfiguring, sometimes lethal, acid attacks.

Faith in action for Humaira Awais Shahid (Beena Sarwar)

There were laws against such acts, but they were riddled with loopholes. Becoming a legislator gave Shahid the opportunity to change policy, going beyond simply highlighting such injustices in a newspaper.

In 2003, she presented a resolution against vinni. Another resolution demanded laws to ensure that acid attacks were treated as attempted murder, or murder if a victim died.

Male parliamentarians launched into tirades against her attempts to make women “wayward.” She received anonymous threats of acid attacks. Mass-circulated emails maligned her. She was shaken when another female parliamentarian, Zill-e-Huma, was murdered at a public gathering in 2007 (ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was also murdered that year). But Shahid stood firm, basing her arguments on the Quran.

Violence against women is “due to non-implementation of the rights given and guaranteed by Islam,” she told Latitude News. “I told my opponents, ‘This is what our religion says, what our Prophet says, are you denying it?’ I learned all the terminology and I told them,’You’re going against the scriptures.’”

In the end, the Punjab Assembly passed her resolutions unanimously.

Following Islam to a better law

These resolutions fed into Pakistan’s passage last year of the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act and The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act.

But perhaps Shahid’s biggest triumph was Punjab’s Prohibition of Private Money Lending Act, which makes it a criminal offense for private individuals to lend money or to charge interest when doing so. Until then, debtors had no recourse to redress from private moneylenders. Islam prohibits money lending with interest, but on a practical basis, major illnesses or dowry demands are two factors that drive borrowing.

“Many parliamentarians privately asked me to withdraw my bill,” she says. “It’s a lucrative practice that involves many people. They asked me, ‘What do you want? On whose behest are you doing it?’ I told them that I am only following my conscience as a Muslim, and if they followed Islam, they would support me.”

It took four years, but the bill was passed unanimously, in 2007. That was a bittersweet year for Shahid. Her husband died of a heart attack, leaving her bereft of her best friend and strongest supporter. She says her faith and her work has helped her rebuild her life.

“I am necessary to my creator”

In 2009 and 2010, she spent an academic year at Harvard as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, working on issues in violence against Asian women. Back in Pakistan, in January 2011, Punjab’s Parliament passed her resolution on the rights of women in Islam, asserting women have basic rights guaranteed by the Quran — the right of divorce (khula) without evidence or reason; the right to choose whom (and whether) they want to marry; a widow’s right to make decisions without the consent of a guardian; a woman’s right to a fixed inheritance and control and management of her assets and property.

In May, Bowdoin College awarded Shahid an honorary doctorate. Her acceptance speech, “The Long Arm of God,” heavily references her faith. She cited the mystical Sufi strain of Islam, saying that the core of the soul is the reservoir of all knowledge, representative of the divine. She sees life as a journey through different layers of the self to find the essence within “that recognizes the intimacy of God and His love.”

“On my way,” she said, “I learned gratitude, a gratitude that makes me see God in every face and in every situation. My confidence comes from the fact that I refuse to believe that we are meaningless. I am necessary to my creator as He is to me; I am His power, His plan and His attribute.”

Faith may not move literal mountains.  But in Pakistan it has helped Humaira Shahid move people from long-entrenched positions.

  • Mariamfahdrasool

    about an hour agoMariam Fahd Rasool
    SALAM

    IM MARIAM FAHD RASOOL BORNE ON 18TH JULY 2007, i & MY BROTHER were abducted by my nana(mom father) ZAFAR IQBAL BILAL EX MPA KHAIR PUR from pakistan on 14th dec 09 from karachi n flown secretly to canada via usa, with out knowledge of my father. my nana( my mom father) registers false cases on my father fahd rasool so that my father will quit his right on us. but my father won all.i hve not seen/met heard my father since july 2009. plz help me to get back to pakistan. my nana name zafar iqbal bilal ex mpa khair pur mirus. his cell 0092 300 8224157 . thank. im confined in brampton/peel police area.

    my mother name GHAZNA FAHD RASOOL
    ,

    i WAS FLOWN ON QATAR AIR WAY 319 FROM KARACHI N THEN 051 ONWARD N LANDED IN USA. USA EMBASSY isb n other concerned offices were informed .PLZ COOORD WITH CANADIAN COUNTER PARTS N ensure i m sent back to Pakistan and in mean time i m Given access to use webcam/Skype so that i cud see/. my nana( my mom father) registers false cases on my father fahd rasool so that my father will quit his right on us.

    my nana registers false cases n my father fahd rasool so that he quits his right as a father on us.

    following r cases

    my nana zafar iqbal bilal only joined ppp to torture my father fahd rasool

    plz check fir 163/2010 tando masti khair pur

    . plz check fir 06/11 A section KHAIR PUR

    plz check fir 147/11 Ab SEC police sta sukker

    plz check fir 354/09 n 295/10 defence police sta karachi

    all won by my father n my father declared innocent.
    plz get me back to pakistan.plz let me see/meet my father fahd rasool ,i hve not seen my father since july 2009.

    high court chief justice wrote in one order zafar bilal gves false statement.

    IG POLICE says IN HIGH COURT SIND KARACHI he misguided me

    one investigating offr of FIR 06/11 WRITES IN CHALLAN ZAFAR BILAL REGISTERS FALSE CASES ON HIS SON IN LAW.

    ALL PROOFS AVAILABLE IF ASKED
    thanks

    Kelly Kippen #844

    Detective Sergeant

    21 Division, CIB-’C’ Platoon
    kelly.kippen@peelpolice.ca
    905- 453-2121 Ext – 2131

    the above police offr knows my case,plz consult him

    MRS. GHAZNA FAHD RASUL PASSPORT #AA 5520952 (my mother)

    ZAFAR IQBAL BILAL PASSPORT#AC 3709802 ( my mom father)

    REHANA ZAFAR PASSPORT # AB 55290429 (MY G/MOM)

    CHILD. MARIUM FAHD PASSPORT#AK9806393 my PASSPORT)

    CHILD. MUHAMMAD ARHUM FAHD PASSPORT# AD 8171531( MY BROTHER)

    MY FATHER had informed, CANADIAN EMBASSY islamabad, pakistan embassy in canada,sind high courtkarachi /interpol head quarter france n interpol islamabad have informed my case to RCMP and to board of immigration n refugee

    all false n wrong information is given by my mother to canada on instructions of my g/father zafar iqbal bilal to get immigration of canada. now our case is with immigration. plz tell them truth that we do not want immigrations. we r being forced by our g/father. we kids wants to go back to pakistan.

    my nana ,misguided IG SIND POLICE by approaching him through a MNA of khair pur sind ms nafisa shah,and he illegally arressted my father.HOWEVERR high court called IG and he appolgised n said he was misguided by zafar bilal

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/328223/abuse-of-power-ig-admits-police-were-misguided-by-ppp-leader-over-arrest-apologises/

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­u

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.
    Share

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.
    Share

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.

    Abuse of power: IG admits, he was misguided by ppp leader zafar iqbal bilal

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.

    Share

    Abuse of power: IG admits police were misguided by PPP leader over arrest, apologises
    tribune.com.pk
    Despit­e court orders, man was arrest­ed, dragge­d to Khairp­ur.

  • Sattar-rind

    very nice