Funeral of Asma Jehangir – Liberals vs Conservatives

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It was earlier this week when Mrs. Asma Jehangir the champion of Human Rights in Pakistan and the Beacon of light for suppressed women in this male-dominated society was seen last time. Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium was the center of attention for that whole day when the funeral proceeding of this lady was going on. It was during this time when some unusual event took place. It is not very often when you see funeral proceeding of mix gathering of both genders in Islamic society.  This incident once again shows the deep, ugly and dark divides between liberals and conservatives. It has been consistently seen in the last few years that in every incident people start propagating their own brands of ideology and try to support or reject certain gestures by hook or by crook. We are seeing this increased polarization of our society going deeper and deeper.

Before going further, let’s first understand, are women allowed to participate in funeral proceedings? In the beginning, it must be understood that since the funeral is a religious practice it must be according to Religious Principles and not according to some sort of personal discretions. First of all, according to Islam, the funeral prayer is considered as “Farz-e-Kafaya”. This means that it is considered as Farz and if few people (irrespective of gender) perform this Farz, it is no longer obligatory on rest of the people. As far as the women are concerned, they can perform funeral prayers but with certain restrictions. They are allowed to join prayers but only at the separate side of the male gathering area. They are encouraged to perform funeral prayer in a closed environment separated from men gathering. Similarly, there must be some sort of curtain that must separate the gathering of both men and women. Women must be properly dressed according to the principles of Islam since they are performing religious obligations and not some sort of ceremony of their personal interests. Furthermore, there are many other conditions which can be asked of ones preferred religious scholars.

There is no doubt about the services of Mrs. Jehangir with respect to the rights of women in Pakistani Society but still, there are bigger, more prominent and influential names in Pakistani history when it comes to the struggle for women and their well-being.  For example, consider the name of Ms. Fatima Jinnah. She gave up her entire life for the struggle of Pakistan. She even did not pursue her regular career or marry anyone. After the formation of Pakistan, she un-tiredly supported her brother Mr. Jinnah and worked for her rest of life for the democratic system of the country and well-being of women and children. She visited camps of migrants in various parts of the new-born country Pakistan. She helped in numerous ways including advising and formulating policies for the well being of the common citizens especially women and minors. On this, some may argue that it was an old era, people did not get the chance to show their love for her and now our society is more aware than ever and now we must recognize these women more than ever.

Similarly, here comes our second personality, Mrs. Benazir Butto. She is the example of a woman in modern-day Pakistan. What can we discuss about her? Should we discuss her role as struggling daughter for her father’s justice or her continuous efforts for the democratic system of Pakistan? Should we highlight her enormous impact on the Muslim women across Muslim countries or her policies of women empowerment during her reigns?

These two above mentioned women leaders were liberal and unconventional in every way possible and they were more dynamic and influential in our society than Mrs. Jehangir. Why didn’t we see any unconventional and unusual act which divides our society during their era? Why didn’t we see a single controversy in their funeral proceedings? Why didn’t we witness any group supporting or countering these women’s lifetime struggles? Didn’t women love these two women leaders? Didn’t women show affections for these leaders? For the past few days, there has been a huge furor on social media about the act of few women on the occasion of Mrs. Jehangir funeral proceedings.

The core problem lies with the act of altering the basic practices of religion and imposing one’s brand of ideology on others by misusing these incidences. There are certain groups which are not very religious and they have every right to be practicing or non-practicing. They have all the privileges to do whatever they would like to do but at least they should not be involved in changing the religious customs and practices. In doing so, they are not only polarizing the whole society but also maligning the life-long struggles of people like Mrs. Jehangir. She always worked hard for the basic human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of choices. How can someone following the footpaths of Mrs. Jehangir be so fanatic, rigid and judgmental about others? How someone inspired by her work can be so furious in imposing a specific brand of ideology on others? Do we really need to create “Liberal Fanatics” against “Religious Fanatics”? Do we really have to be an extremist in order to counter the extremism on the other side of the spectrum?

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