With the world still trying to figure out whether the coronavirus was bat-made or man-made, a Pakistani cleric surprised everyone with his discovery — this pandemic is women-made. It was the short clothes of women that has brought on this pandemic, he said about his scientific discovery. The coronavirus is female. Who knew.
At Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Ehsaas telethon to raise funds for the battle against coronavirus, Maulana Tariq Jameel, an influential leader of the Tablighi Jamaat, was the show-stopper, to say the least. Fighting back his tears, Tariq Jameel asked who was making Pakistan’s daughters dance. A question that he’s yet to answer himself.
Shhh, don’t blame those responsible
Tariq Jameel declared that the coronavirus was Allah’s wrath on the increasing nudity, obscenity and immodesty in society. It was because of growing sins and sinners that this pandemic was upon us. Women, of course, were at the centre of all the mayhem. Maulana Tariq Jameel’s scientific discovery wasn’t worth challenging — not by Prime Minister Imran Khan, not by the journalists and not by any of the women attending the event.
Ironically, over 27 per cent of the coronavirus cases in Pakistan are from the Tablighi Jamaat’s Ijtema (annual religious gathering) in Raiwind city, where 2,50,000 people had gathered in March ignoring government order, yet the cleric blames women for the virus’ spread. Their clothes have to be the super-spreader then. If it were up to Pakistan’s clerics, they’d be tallying the Covid-19 cases based on women’s hemlines.
Women are behaya, the coronavirus is behaya (shameless).
It is not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last, Pakistani women got blamed for calamities. From earthquakes to floods and tsunamis, and now a pandemic, they have been blamed for all — sometimes it’s their clothing, other times it’s their immodesty that plays havoc on the country. From the time of their birth, they are blamed for every misdeed the society puts them through — and every tragedy that falls upon the masses. In a society where the birth of a girl child is considered a natural calamity, clerics like Tariq Jameel pander to their religious constituency and strengthen these misogynistic notions. They don’t look within, and it’s unimaginable of them to cast any blame on men.
Clerics have a simple rule
When in doubt in Pakistan, blame the women. Putting female bodies at the centre of pandemic discussion works for the conservatives who don’t have a single scientific bone in their body. But it’s not just the clerics. It’s like a cultural thing. After all, targeting the most vulnerable is the easiest thing to do and Pakistani men excel in that.
There is a surge in the cases of domestic violence across Pakistan, which is under lockdown and women are confined in their homes with their abusers. They cannot file complaints or seek help. In one incident, a 28-year-old mother of four committed suicide because she was unable to take the torture and abuse anymore. In another horrifying incident in Peshawar, a man killed his seven-year-old niece for making too much noise while playing in the house.
Now, what stops the clerics from crying on live television when such crimes are orchestrated against women? What happens to the collective “gunaho ki maafi” syndrome and the god’s wrath when children are raped by clerics in seminaries or dead women are dragged out of graves and raped? Are these acts less azaab-worthy for the maulanas? Maybe it is bad for business to talk about real issues; maybe it is not a priority for an influential leader like Tariq Jameel to use his clout and speak against such evils.
Even PM Imran Khan’s morality thermometer is always tagged to Hollywood and Bollywood, which he blames for spreading child pornography (“fahashi”) in Pakistan. Perhaps both Maulana Jameel and Imran Khan don’t know about the secret database that is used to build such insights. There are no studies, current or previous, that give us clarity on how Western cinema is responsible for such crimes against women and children in Pakistan.
But who made them celebrities?
Days after being criticised vehemently for his rant, Tariq Jameel walked back on his claims with an apology for “inadvertently hurting any man or woman”. He also apologised for calling Pakistani journalists liars.
Senior journalists present at the event had confronted the Maulana, saying that he has always been an ally of political leaders in power — be it Nawaz Sharif or Asif Zardari — and it’s the same reason he praises Imran Khan today. The problem is not that he praises everyone or gives out character certificates, the problem is the media that made celebrities out of these clerics.
Giving space to clerics on issues they had no business giving their opinions on. From a pandemic to the Aurat March, Valentine’s day, human rights to foreign policy, sexual harassment to child marriages — if you are going to consult a cleric on every matter, then you have to be ready for a time when he will not agree with you and call you a “jhoota (liar)”. This is the byproduct of commercialising religion and turning clerics into celebrities in a schism society.
Pakistan’s celebrity clerics now want a piece of science too. And they are holding forth on Covid-19. Brace for impact — soon, they will also hand out their own brand of cure for the Covid-19.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.