November 4, 2023
By Kamran Ali
The local clergy in the Patan region of Lower Kohistan issued a joint decision on Saturday, November 4, that women working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Kohistan would not be allowed to work with “non-mehram” men (strangers) in public, and if they continue to do so, they would be expelled or face forced marriage. They said these were specific instructions that had been laid out by the local elders of the area.
One of these is the deputy Amir of Jamiat-ulema-Islam (Fazal) from Lower Kohistan district, ‘Molana’ Karim Dad, of Jamiat Ulema Islam (F), who took to his Facebook page and announced the decision. However, the post was later removed. In an interview however, he confirmed what had been announced.
He said that the ulema of Patan, lower Kohistan, had formally decided that after today, no woman working with NGOs will be allowed to be seen anywhere, specifically without being accompanied by a mehram (a father or brother). “If they happen to be married and are seen with a non-mehram, then they will be immediately expelled from the area,” he said. “If they are unmarried, then we will ask any local to marry her according to Sharia. We have also informed the local SHO from Patan Police Station.”
He has support among some.
It should be noted that Kohistan became the center of the nation’s attention when a gruesome incident took place in 2012.
The incident happened in the Palas Valley, Kohistan and involved the murder of five girls who were seen clapping and singing in a wedding video, which also featured a boy dancing. A tribal jirga decided that the participants as well as the boy who filmed the video should be killed.
Afzal Kohistani, the elder brother of the boy in the video went against the local customs and publicized the case for justice of those who were killed, but he himself was murdered in broad daylight in 2019 after campaigning relentlessly for seven years.
Four conditions for working in NGOs
Karim Dad told Voicepk that various NGOs have been working in Kohistan since 2002 and at that time the Ulema of Kohistan had decided that NGOs could be allowed to work on four conditions, including that none of the NGOs would interfere in the religion of Islam, none of the NGO will propagate any religion other than Islam; there shall be no interference to the traditions of Kohistan that can result in any offense; the women of NGOs will not venture into streets and neighborhoods without the presence of a mehram.
‘No One Is Opposing NGOs’
Karim Dad said that no one in Kohistan was against NGOs, in fact, people were ready to cooperate with them, but some NGOs were not complying with the conditions that had been agreed upon, due to which local customs and traditions were being violated.
As long as the NGOs carried out development work in the health and education sectors, there was nothing wrong, but their female employees must not be seen working in the field.
Karim Dad said that if a woman wanted to work in an NGO, then it was mandatory for her to continue working in an office or go out with a mehram.
He reiterated that a request has been made to the SHO of Patan Police Station to ensure the implementation of the clergy’s decision.
JUI distances itself
Meanwhile, the provincial General Secretary of Jamiat Ulema Islam (F) Ataul Haque Darwish expressed his ignorance of the decision and said that the party had nothing to do with it and that nothing like this had been included in the party’s program either.
Attaul haq Darwish said that such decisions take into account the elders, scholars or group traditions at the local level, but JUI-F had not made any such decision at the party level, nor has this decision been brought to the notice of the party, so it is a completely local decision and even a personal one.
Decision declared illegal
However, Maulana Tayyab Qureshi, Chief Khatib of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, termed the decision as illegal and illegitimate and said that there is no such restriction on women in the constitution and law, while no authoritative religious scholars or Madrasahs, including the Council of Islamic Ideology, have issued any such fatwas. Maulana Tayyab Qureshi said that NGOs were bound by the laws of Pakistan and the state has given permission to them to operate. He said that Pakistan is an Islamic country and the CII and some madrassahs were the authorized bodies for making such decisions, and if despite their presence, such decisions were being made then this was only going to bring disrepute to the country.
Tayyab Qureshi said that the Qur’an and hadiths clearly mentioned the rights of women in inheritance, but still, they were not being implemented.
“It would have been better that had the decision been about punishing men who did not give women their share of inheritance, then I would have readily agreed,” he said. “The time has come that even Saudi Arabia has given permission for women to perform Hajj and Umrah without the presence of a mehram. Then how can there be a ban in Kohistan?”
Saima Munir of Aurat Foundation, an NGO that works for the rights of women, said that such decisions had no authority, but some specific people take such illegal steps to garner attention.
“Our organization has conducted many campaigns in Kohistan in which women actively participated,” she said. “Even during the earthquake and floods, local women stepped out in the streets to collect ration and aid. In this scenario, how can they expect to implement such a backward decision?”
Police threaten action if decision implemented
Meanwhile, the District Police Officer (DPO) Jameel Akhtar said that the Patan police have taken assurance from the local elders that they will not only provide support to NGOs, but if the local women have any problems, they can also approach NGOs or medical centers themselves. DPO Jameel Akhtar said that there was no question of banning women NGOs and if anyone tried to take any such step, the police would take action as per the law.