Limits of Benazir Bhutto’s Moderation

Since religion and politics is not separate in Islam, all secularists in Muslim countries call themselves ‘Moderates’. Musharraf has named his secularism as ‘Enlightened Moderation’.

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Since religion and politics is not separate in Islam, all secularists in Muslim countries call themselves ‘Moderates’. Musharraf has named his secularism as ‘Enlightened Moderation’. Benazir Bhutto’s moderation was different from that of Musharraf’s. America and Britain tried both of them to work together. But this strategy failed, as both had a different brand of moderation. Benazir’s moderation included democracy, freedom of press and was under the limits of Islamic Shariah. Musharraf did not bind himself with all these three concepts. He abhorred and flouted all of them.
That Benazir tried to keep her moderation within the limits of democracy and Islamic Shariah is little appreciated by her secular admirers. Her concept of democracy made her sacrifice her personal views to respect the majority views of the Pakistani masses. Hijab is a tenet of Islam and part of Islamic culture among Muslim women. She did not wear Burqah from head to foot to cover her entire body and face like most of the religious Muslim women. But, in her political career, she never wore Western dress or skirt, etc. She covered her entire body with Pakistani dress and always wore a scarf on the head. This was her moderation in respect of an Islamic tenet, Hijab. She could have pursued her political career without it. Several other prominent women in Pakistan, like the late Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, wife of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, who spearheaded female emancipation movement in Pakistan, Begum Abida Hussain and Ms. Maliha Lodhi, both ex-ambassadors of Pakistan in USA, have never observed Hijab in any form.
This small observance of a basic tenet of Islam has saved her from defamation and dishonour as well. Using computer graphic techniques, some of her opponents tried to circulate ‘her’ naked photograph over the Internet but, unfortunately, they could not find a single picture of hers without a scarf over the head to put the picture of her face over the naked body of some other shameless woman. Every observer of such a false picture can easily detect that it cannot be a genuine photograph of any naked woman who has taken off all her clothes from her body but has kept her scarf intact over her head.
Moreover, this small observance of a basic tenet of Islam has inspired millions of women in Pakistan to observe Hijab. Huma Yusuf writes in her article, “Coming of age in the Bhutto era” published in the International Herald Tribune of December 29-30, 2007, “Until 1996, Benazir had seemed like real-life Wonder Woman, having expanded the conditions of possibility for Pakistani women for over a decade since her entry into politics. While the boys at school emulated buff cricketers, my girl friends and I would drape white scarves across our heads and try to imitate Benazir’s…. The fact that Benazir happily assumed the responsibility of inspiring millions of women….”
Benazir’s moderation has not only inspired millions of women in Pakistan in respect of Hijab, but even in case of women’s rights as well, her moderation was under certain limits. Some secular Westernised women in Pakistan and other Muslim countries were disappointed to find that Benazir did not transgress the limits of democracy and of the Islamic Shariah in the name of emancipation of women or for upholding the so-called women’s rights.
In the same article Huma Yusuf has expressed her frustration, “She disappointed Pakistani women when she failed to repeal the Draconian Hudood and Zina Ordinances that continue to curtail the rights of Pakistani woman.” This type of disappointment is confined to a few Westernised women only. These women are in a very small minority, not even 1 per cent, in Pakistan or in other Muslim countries. About her Westernisation, Huma Yusuf informs the readers about herself in the same article, “I was barely 16, learning how to flirt and sneaking cigarettes at the first dance party I was allowed to attend….” This is not a standard caricature of our daughters, sisters, and mothers in a Muslim society nor of the millions of women in Pakistan and in other Muslim countries who learn ‘how to flirt, sneak cigarettes and participate in dance parties’. It is for these types of limited few Westernised women that Benazir’s moderation has disappointed them.
The same disappointment is also expressed in another article sent from Germany, “A nation unravelling” by Mona Eltahawy of Egypt published in the same publication of International Herald Tribune. She writes, “For me as a young Muslim woman, Benazir Bhutto’s political career was especially captivating. She was the first woman prime minister in the Muslim world when she was elected in 1988, at the age of 35….     I quickly learned to separate her gender from her politics. Bhutto’s record on women’s rights in Pakistan was not what one would have expected…. That judicial travesty was provided by the Hudood Ordinances introduced in 1979 by General Zia ul-Haq, a military dictator flexing his Muslim muscles by using religion against women….”
This is not fit here to discuss the merits or demerits of Hudood Ordinances, but these were the Islamic Laws that were enforced after years of public deliberation and dialogue with the Muslim intellectuals, reputed lawyers like A.K. Brohi and others, and with the consensus of religious authorities and the learned Ulama of Pakistan and of the Muslim world under the pressure of Muslim majority of Pakistani citizens. These were the Laws that remained enforced in Pakistan for a period of 28 years between 1979 to 2007 without any protest from the Muslim Umma until President Musharraf repealed them using his ‘military muscles’ against the democratic wishes of millions of Muslims in Pakistan, against the basic concept of Pakistan’s coming into existence and against the basic clauses of the Islamic Constitution of Pakistan to enforce his self-styled concept of ‘Enlightened Moderation’, as against that of Benazir Bhutto. Whatever her personal views of moderation, she respected the democratic wishes of the people of Pakistan and confined her moderation to the democratic and Islamic limits. Despite coming to power twice, she did not try to repeal, kept intact and respected the Islamic Hudood Ordinances as they were promulgated and enforced. She did not bother that it had been a headache and a source of frustration and disappointment for our Westernised women.
[The writer is an Islamic scholar based in Tokyo, Japan.]