they hate women
first went to Iran during the Shah’s time. Several years later, there
was another opportunity to do so. By then the Shah had been gone nearly
ten years and the Mullahs were in control. Of course, a great deal had
changed – none for the better – but that is another story better left
for another day. Any shop or store that you entered had a prominently
displayed notice in Persian that warned women visitors in stern terms that
it was the law that they be fully covered and, except for the face, no
part of their anatomy, hair included, should be visible. Any violation of
that dress code set by the government of the Islamic republic, the notice
reminded them, would be severely dealt with.
the notice betrayed was the mindset of those who had put it there. It was
they who felt threatened by women who did not look like walking mummies.
Why could men who felt it was sinful to look at a woman who was not
covered according to a dress code that they, the men, had drawn up in the
first place, not turn away their gaze? Why was it the woman’s
responsibility, in fact her legal and “religious” duty, to dress not
in accordance with her wishes but those of men in authority? If there was
sin, it lay with those who had issued such orders. It was they whose minds
were sick. It was they whose imaginations were morbid.
I had entertained any doubt before that the Mullah hates woman and holds
her in contempt, Iran cured me of it. Let me now travel from the Tehran of
the 1980s to Washington DC of the year 2003. On my weekend visit to a
Pakistani convenience store, I found a set of audio tapes manufactured in
Pakistan and, by all accounts, selling well in the United States. These
tapes, which consisted of the khutbas of a cleric by the name of Dr
Fazal Elahi Zaheer, had been produced and distributed by the Al-Kareemia
Trust, People’s Colony, Gujranwala – the land of wrestlers and house
flies the size of a Fokker Friendship aircraft. The themes taken up by Dr
Zaheer for the enlightenment and spiritual edification of his congregation
were diverse, one being “the place of woman”.
picked it up, threw it in with my groceries, came home and put it on, keen
to know what Dr Zaheer thought the place of a woman in the world might be.
After listening to him, I was left in no doubt that quite a few of those
Pakistani-Americans who counted themselves among Dr Zaheer’s overseas
flock would, upon hearing his message, rush home and lock up their wives
and daughters. The spread of bigotry and religious ignorance is obviously
a global phenomenon, a feat for which the credit goes to Dr Zaheer and his
righteous and rather angry brothers in designer beards, self-styled head
dresses and outlandish gowns.
is what he told his congregation the day the recording was made and this
is what his overseas congregations are being told today. The real place
(the word he used was “ thikana”) of a woman is her home. She
is only allowed to leave home as an “exceptional case” (said in
English). He quoted a hadith which stated that if a woman’s home
had four rooms, the prayers she offered in the innermost one would gain
her more merit than the prayers she offered in the next one, with the
merit earned going down the farther she ventured from her inner sanctum.
Even the merit earned by her being in a congregation led by the Holy
Prophet himself (peace be upon him), would be less than the merit that
would come her way were she to pray in her own home. In other words, Dr
Zaheer was telling women not to leave their homes, even if they wanted to
pray in a mosque. He also said that a child, a slave, a sick person and,
to complete the list, a woman were not required to offer their prayers as
part of a congregation.
Zaheer told the faithful that an adult Muslim male should not enter a
house without due notice, even if it were the house of his mother and she
was there alone. “Would you want to see your mother in a naked state?”
he asked. He said the increase in incidents of rape and adultery was due
to men entering homes where women were by themselves. He said most such
“incidents” involved family members. “Brothers in law and sisters’
husbands are like death to a woman,” he declared. Nephews, both maternal
and paternal, fell in the same dangerous category. He said he was
personally aware of cases where nephews had committed incest. When a man
and woman were alone – and they were not husband and wife – the
devil’s was the third presence. Dr Zaheer left his congregation in no
doubt as to what a man and woman would do if left alone.
Zaheer then moved to household help. He castigated those who employed
cooks because they could spare the money. “For all they care, the
sanctity of the home and the modesty of its women can go to hell,” he
thundered. He said when the cook was alone with the woman of the house,
the two of them would cook something other than food. He also had strong
words for parents who let the young daughter of the house venture out in a
car with a driver. At this point in his sermon, he asked the congregation,
“And who is the third person riding with those two?” “Shaitan,”
they answered in unison. He conceded, however, that God was the only One
who could save “your daughter’s honour”.
Zaheer said here was a girl studying to be a doctor but driving around
with her chauffeur. A “million times” preferable to her was the
illiterate girl who stayed inside her home with her honour intact. He said
it was against Islam to permit a woman to be alone with her cook, her
driver or her tutor. He also had stern advice as to how women should
dress. They were only allowed to wear make up if the sole beholder was to
be the husband. They were also not to speak in a suggestive voice to
anyone, except the husband. To all others, they should speak in a plain
voice with no intonations. He also denounced women who answered phone
calls. “They ask who the caller is, why he is calling and much else. I
ask you, what is the purpose of such questions? It is utterly un-Islamic
and it has ruined many families. The phone is a curse. Can we even count
the number of filthy scandals it has caused?” he asked emotionally.
Women, he further declared, should not describe the looks of other women
to their husbands because it will give their husbands ideas. He closed his
sermon by lamenting the moral collapse of the West because of the licence
it had given to its women who had neither shame nor modesty, one of their
pastimes being giving birth to illegitimate children.
have no doubt the Good Lord has set aside a special corner of hades for
men such as Dr Fazal Elahi Zaheer.