Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).


Polygamy in Pakistan — a rejoinder The Daily Times, 22/2/2014


   Many men choose to cheat or be cruel to their spouses but many can be loving life partners as well. Women do not want to be in a marriage relationship where they are seen as the possessions of husbands. Polygamy, like slavery, is therefore not tenable in the modern world
Dr Haider Shah

I am writing these lines to critically evaluate an opinion piece published in the same newspaper under the title ‘Polygamy in Pakistan’ (Daily Times, February 15, 2014) in which the worthy writer Hilde Jacobs provided justification for the practice of polygamy. The key argument of the article presupposes that man is responsible for economic activity while the woman looks after the physical and sexual needs of her male possessor called husband. This concept is not without merit in a tribal society where men perform the labour intensive activities of trade and warfare while women ensure continuity of the tribe by becoming offspring producing machines and keeping males physically comfortable and sexually satisfied. In ancient societies, besides polygamy, the institution of slavery was also widely entrenched. No doubt, we do find passing references to treating slaves well but the fact remains that all through Arab history, male prisoners of wars were traded for their physical strength while female prisoners were valued for their ‘sexual prowess’. We have to be careful when we inherit historical baggage from ancient societies.

Yes, if two to four wives are kept happy, what is the fuss about? No doubt, there were understandable reasons for this arrangement in societies where constant warfare had necessitated their social acceptability. This social scheme however can function satisfactorily as long as women do not acquire education and are kept isolated from the external world. Triggering the process of self-actualisation, education inculcates the faculty of making choices in an individual. Those who go to schools and colleges develop the capacity to dream and aspire. Education ushers in the empowering urge of leading a fuller life as an individual. The polygamy scheme is an efficient economic solution based on division of primary roles in a rudimentary tribal society but its continued working depends on the voluntary compliance of women to their male possessors who, like cows and sheep, treat them well. The whole system breaks down once the bull of education is allowed to enter this china shop.

Hilde argues that it is better to have polygamy than to have extra-marital relations. Perhaps we are confusing moral principles with laws that can be enforced in a court of law. Marriage is a ritual invented by human society to formalise the need of procreation. Like all other species, humans also have to adopt ways and means of recreating their offspring to ensure the survival of the species. The ritual is dependent on social consensus, which in turn depends on factors like climate, geography, beliefs and underlying economic structure. Just as these factors change so does the consensus and consequently the rituals also change. For instance ‘sati’ was once practiced in ancient India but is against the law today. Child marriage was never an issue in our cultural heritage but today we have specific laws against this practice. Cultures evolve over time and so do laws that govern our conduct. Yesterday, in many cultures even siblings could marry but today, save in Muslim communities, even cousin marriages are considered inappropriate. We cannot be judgmental about these social norms as they reflect the social consensus of the times in which those societies live. Neither should we condemn norms of ancient times nor should we forcibly apply them to modern times.

The author refers to some German families where polygamy is practiced. Generalising from such anecdotal evidence is a very risky business. If Germany as a whole develops consensus over the usefulness of polygamy, a political party will not waste a minute in making it a political issue in a continent where elections are even contested on the fox hunting issue. Laws reflect the social consensus of a society upon rights and duties. The fact is that even a single leaked story of infidelity often proves to be a fatal blow to the political careers of prominent leaders. People of course differ in their choices about relationships. For instance, on Valentine’s Day a week ago, the mother of my wife’s colleague received a present on February 14 from her husband who had died on February 11. As the husband was a cancer patient who knew that his days were numbered he had ordered the gift for his wife a month before. Many men choose to cheat or be cruel to their spouses but many can be loving life partners as well. The social consensus of today is built upon this notion of living together as equal partners. Women do not want to be in a marriage relationship where they are seen as the possessions of husbands. Polygamy, like slavery, is therefore not tenable in the modern world. Faith better not be used when it comes to debating human rights issues.

True, many religions in the past allowed polygamy. No doubt, religions played an important part in promoting globalisation in the early part of human civilisation but we also find that these religions were almost unanimous in building and preaching an earth-centric cosmology. We should be equally grateful to the magnificent doubters like Galileo and Ibne Rushd who rescued knowledge from the clutches of those who posed as interpreters of the laws of God while not having any clue about how blood circulates in our body, how disease is caused by germs and how heavenly bodies are related to each other. Using faith to achieve personal contentment is a respected right of every faithful but we have to think twice before we extend its usage to the definition and exercise of our legal rights.





Polygamy in Pakistan

   If husbands are able to care for them rather equally — financially as well as emotionally — and the first wife does agree to the second wife, then why do some people make such a fuss about it?
Hilde Jacobs


The interpretation of the sacred Quran varies quite significantly within the Muslim community. If you, for example, look at the surah regarding polygamy in Islam, you will find this: “And if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly with the oppressed women, then marry from among them two or three or four, but if you fear you wont be just [even then], then marry only one” (Quran 4:3). What does this mean in reality?

I think the answer can be found in the writings of the chairwoman of the Theosophical Movement in the UK, Dr Annie Besant, who declares in her book The Life and Teachings of Muhammad, that pretended monogamy in the west is like polygamy without responsibility because the mistress is cast off when the man is weary of her. I fully agree to her pointing out that monogamy with a blended mass of prostitution is hypocrisy and more degrading than a limited polygamy.

Women living in monogamy are not protected fully because men often enjoy extramarital affairs without obligatory economic consequences, and thus he can ‘play around’ without taking responsibility for his sexual conduct. Birth control and the ease of abortion have opened sex for fun to western women but she is still the one who suffers the trauma of abortion and the side effects of birth control methods, often left alone by the man with whom she has had intimate relations. If the man has numerous mistresses and illegitimate children, his relationship is left unpunished in many countries. Polygamy, on the other hand, means protection for women united to one man, with a legitimate child in her arms and surrounded with respect, contrary to being seduced and then cast out into the streets perhaps with illegitimate children outside the rule of law.

Howsoever you, dear reader, adhere to monoggamy, the truth is, that, historically, polygamy was permissible in all religions as described clearly in the History of Polygamy. I personally never knew but came to know now – for the first time – about the history of polygamy. I wonder why this ancient habit has been totally banned in all religions except in Islam, as far as I know. Surely, it is based on the fact that historical customs are bound to change in the course of centuries, a natural development, going hand in hand with equal opportunities for women.

However, reflecting the sense of surah An-Nisa 4 in the Quran, permitting the male to marry more than one female, I cannot find any kind of discrimination against women. Originally, a Muslim husband is meant to be allowed to care for orphans who have lost their husbands, sons, fathers or brothers in battle and consequently to marry up to three more females. If husbands are able to care for them rather equally – financially as well as emotionally – and the first wife does agree to the second wife, then why do some people make such a fuss about it? Why are they ridiculing and abusing the lucky man blessed with two or more spouses?

Since nowadays there is no continuum of battles like in ancient times, the tradition of polygamy has become less valuable but there are still reasonable arguments for some men to marry two (very seldom more than two) women. Muslim Family Law section six has laid down “that no married man contract a second marriage without the permission of Arbitration Council, which shall ensure that the man had good grounds for second marriage and had obtained his first wife’s permission to do so.” So, why are those lucky men, and more so the second wives, still hated and unappreciated by the first wives in various cases?

It should be considered by deeply religious Muslim women, who are observing the rules of Islam, that Prophet Mohammad (may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him) gave the world the ideal example of a chaste life up to the age of 25, then a monogamous life with a noble widow and a polygamous life after the age of 50. He married the young and the old, the widow and the divorcee, the pleasant and the emotional, the daughters of tribal chiefs and freed slaves. He was an example of perfection in all the diversity life had to offer. So it should be beyond all question for Muslim women to follow the Prophet (PBUH) in adoration and veracity, ignoring all sorts of jealousy, envy and grudges. What I consider as an affront is the bad habit of some first wives to renounce the prior permission to the husband’s second marriage and, what is worse, to threaten the husband with divorce, knowing very well that in all probability the custody for their joint children will be awarded to the wife. Their intention to punish the husband in this gruesome way will only lead to more desperation at all levels.

Perhaps it is not known in Pakistan yet that even in Germany nowadays there are males who live with more than one female. They do not have to get married to all of them (which is not allowed here), but care for each of them equally and give all of them an equal footing. It works. In some cases, it also works with females loving more than one male. If true love between humans, as many as you like, is unconditional and not possessive then the development of mankind is growing by leaps and bounds.

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Maulana, maulvi and the constitution, The Daily Times, February 15, 2014

   Our constitution’s preface, on the other hand, reads more like a short lecture in theology. The opening sentence sets the tone

Dr Haider Shah

The latest round of negotiations with the Taliban leaders has reignited the old debate on the constitution and sharia. Some, like Maulana Abdul Aziz, tell us that the future of Pakistan should be decided on the basis of sharia and not in accordance with the constitution. Pragmatic voices on the other hand argue that the constitution is Islamic and hence there is no need for sharia-based negotiations. Before we appraise the merits of this controversy, it would be helpful if we first study the preambles of three constitutions: the US, India and ours.

Created by humans, and like any other law, a constitution is organic in its character. If, on the one hand, it serves as the culminating point of one period in the history of a people, it also acts as the beginning of a new era. The preamble to a constitution is what a vision statement for a business firm is. It sets in motion a momentum of change for the future. For instance, the brief preface of the US’s constitution reads, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Notice the opening phrase of “We the people”. For the first time in human history neither a dictator nor a monarch nor anyone claiming to have divine powers but the people themselves were establishing a continent-wide state with the help of mutually agreed written principles. In 1787, the epoch making moment of constitution adoption by the former British colonies changed the world forever. No doubt, the importance of these 52 words of the preamble cannot be overemphasised but we may also not forget that women did not form part of “We the people”. The forceful discourse of equality unleashed by the preamble however paved the way for gradual granting of voting rights to women. The question of slavery, on the contrary, represented deeper schisms and US society could not sleep over the issue forever. Ultimately, the question not settled by the constitution had to be resolved through a civil war.

The constitution of the biggest democracy, India, also adopted the same vision of reposing confidence in the collective wisdom of the people and hence begins with the “We the people” phrase: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens justice, social, economic and political, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and of opportunity, and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation, in our constituent assembly this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution.”

Now look at the preamble of our constitution. Compared to the mere 52 and 85 words of the US and Indian constitutions, our preamble is a whopping 426 words long. The world’s first and biggest democracies do not categorise their citizens along religious lines and hence espouse a genuine cause of equality. Our constitution’s preface, on the other hand, reads more like a short lecture in theology. The opening sentence sets the tone, “Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.” Once this premise is accepted, and the preamble is allowed to contain the announcement that, “Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah,” we sow the seeds of a strife over the unsettled question: who will define what the limits to the sovereign power of the people are and what it means to be living according to the injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah? Just as the US constitution’s preamble set the momentum for the later civil rights movements, our constitution provides the likes of Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulvi Fazlullah with a justifiable cause.

To be fair to the maulana and maulvi, they ask the very rational question that when the Quran and Sunnah are unanimous over the prohibition of riba (interest) and declare riba as waging a war against Allah and his messenger, then in the eyes of genuine believers are we not in a state of war with Allah and his messenger? As we cannot imagine our social life without music, movies, photography, festivals and working women, we turn our eyes away from the injunctions of scripture and accuse the Taliban of misunderstanding the true religion. We tend to give more credence to those who reassure us that we were not disregarding clear injunctions of the holy texts. However, the fact remains that once the strategic vision of the constitution is loaded with theological pronouncements, national discourse is bound to be punctured by religious controversies. Either it is “We the people” who decide what will be the law of the land or someone else will. Sovereignty cannot be apportioned. Our complacent liberals may fondly believe that the constitution has settled the issue of religion. On the contrary, the appeasement of the religious lobby in the constitution is now coming home to roost. Maulana and maulvi are making their case.

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Negotiations or a comedy of errors?, The Daily Times, 8 February, 2014

Negotiations or a comedy of errors?

   It is often thought that since the Taliban are of tribal origin and not exposed to modern education, therefore they are unable to understand the true meaning of Islam. One can have this predicament anywhere with any background
Dr Haider Shah

 For the first time in the last five years we have started seeing something tangible in terms of negotiations between militant groups and the government. Understandably, there is a lot of scepticism over the whole idea of negotiations with criminal gangs. We, perhaps, should avoid jumping to such conclusions as some light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

A few political leaders seem to be nursing their wounds while playing the negotiations game. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is utterly unhappy over losing the leading role but it is Imran Khan who ends up with a lot of egg on his face. Getting named as a member of the Taliban’s committee sounded like a comic relief episode in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy. With friends like these, who needs enemies? All throughout his political career, one tenet of politics that never changed with Imran Khan was his outright sympathy for the Taliban and sharing of anti-US sentiment. Perhaps the Taliban wanted to offer Imran Khan a chance to prove his credentials but the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Khan sahib had fondly been mentioning the pudding so many times. When offered, he has refused to eat it. Not a very pleasant situation to be in.

Step back a little and cast a glance over the makeup of the negotiators. The future of Pakistan is to be decided by these gentlemen. The country is not without scientists and academics of international repute. Sportsmen of highest calibre are also present in this country. Our culture has produced Sadiquain, Faiz, Nusrat Fateh and other creative geniuses as well but our future is being discussed with Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Ibrahim and Maulana Abdul Aziz. What is the contribution of these personalities to the economic activity or progress of the country is anybody’s guess. Today, we neither look to the think tanks nor towards the legislature for guidance and policy formulation. Three gentlemen with pretty long beards remote controlled from an unknown hideout are going to tell the government how to run the government.

It is often thought that since the Taliban are of tribal origin and not exposed to modern education, therefore they are unable to understand the true meaning of Islam. One can have this predicament anywhere with any background. Even in London these days, sharia brigades do their parades openly, preaching implementation of sharia in the UK. The two main demands of the Taliban known to us through their own media releases or through their political spokespersons like Munawar Hasan and Imran Khan are ‘implementation of sharia’ and ‘severing our links with the US’.

Some apologists of the Taliban have been heard saying that the Taliban only want an end to the pro-US foreign policy of the government. Every citizen of a country has a fundamental right to disagree with the foreign policy of his/her government. He/she is at liberty to influence the opinion of voters by writing and speaking against the policy. He/she can join likeminded people and, after winning elections, adopt their own foreign policy. As a prime minister or foreign minister, they can ditch the US and instead forge relations with Somalia, North Korea, Greenland or whatever country they fancy. What he/she is not allowed to do is to take up arms and demand change in the foreign policy. Sorry, Imran Khan, Munawar Hasan, Samiul Haq and Maulvi Fazlullah! That is not how democracy works. You need to win elections and then change the policies as you deem fit.

If in order to make the TTP and its political wings happy, we concede the demand of ending our pro-US foreign policy, where will this ultimately end? What is the guarantee that tomorrow the same Imran Khan and Munawar Hasan will not be arguing that the Taliban are bombing us because they do not like Iran while we have close relations with Iran. Since China persecutes Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, therefore close Sino-Pak relations are the reason why the Taliban are slitting throats. In the end, the Arabian Sea will be the only neighbour that our militant friends and their political apologists will not have an issue with.

Should this situation automatically lead us to conclude that the negotiations initiative is an exercise in futility? I do not concur with this view despite some merit in this proposition. Just as in quantitative research it is common to formulate a null hypothesis, which is then tested against collected data, I see the same utility of the ongoing negotiations. The apologists of the Taliban have long been arguing that peace can be established through negotiations with the militants. This can be treated as the null hypothesis. The government’s committee is our panel of researchers, which is collecting data from the Taliban to help us conclude whether the null hypothesis is valid or not. For the first time, we will know a definitive list of demands by militants. We will have a chance to judge the extent to which such demands are worthy of sympathetic consideration. If the null hypothesis is proved untrue then we will have a strong national consensus to wage a long-term war against extremist militants. We have been waiting for years to take that decision. A month’s delay is affordable provided it is proved with evidence that establishing peace negotiations with radical extremists is not an option.

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Soft and hard terrorism, Daily Times, 1 Feb 2014


In a country where the learned judges, wearing the robes of justice, are unable to appreciate this simple fact, legislators do not feel the urge to modernise the blasphemy laws and opinion makers practice self-censorship, why should we then single out the Taliban as fanatics and barbarians?


“Sir, it was raining and the ground was so slippery that I would take one step forward and would slip back two steps,” answered a child when asked why he had arrived late. Like a seasoned interrogator, the teacher questioned how then he had managed to reach school at all. “Sir, I started walking backwards,” innocently replied the student. 

Nawaz Sharif sounded no less innocent when he announced yet another negotiations attempt. Some are jubilant while others feel dejected. Our liberal friends mention Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers while the doves of peace find the Irish Republican Army (IRA) a cosy example to win the debate. Unfortunately, both miss an important difference. Neither in Sri Lanka nor in Ireland did the state use the discourse of militants. The separatists were identifiable groups who could be fought against or negotiated with. In Pakistan, that is not the case. The Taliban, to a varying degree, are present everywhere. From political parties to uniformed organisations, from educational institutions to media outlets, you can find Taliban ideologists. When it comes to dealing with dissenting views, is our society any different from the Taliban? Are girls not killed day and night over honour killing charges and are women not traded through tribal jirgas (courts) to settle family feuds? Is our military not using the same jihadi doctrine and slogans to motivate its personnel? Like a science fiction horror movie, the Taliban are the monstrous shadows of our own selves. 

I may be wrong in making such a tall claim but, if I am wrong, why would I read stories like that of Muhammad Asghar, a 70-year-old Briton in Pakistan who was last week handed down the death penalty by a court in Rawalpindi over charges alleging that he wrote letters claiming to be a prophet? The accused man’s family repeatedly says that the old man is a patient of paranoid schizophrenia and that he was hospitalised for that ailment in the past. Even if no such claim had been made, the mere fact that in the 21st century someone claims to be a prophet should itself suffice as evidence that the claimant is mentally ill. Using human messengers for communication purpose was a norm in ancient times due to technological constraints. Legend has it that the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran from the Battle of Marathon against Persia to Athens to just tell the senators, “We have won” and then he collapsed and died. Great empire builders like Alexander and Chengez Khan had a network of human messengers as a part of their elaborate intelligence system. Technology has moved on since then and today we can communicate with relatives, friends and complete strangers in real time thanks to smart phones and the social media. Why should God, the fountain of all knowledge, remain frozen in time and use the communication method of Sumerian, Babylonian and medieval times in this Facebook and Twitter age? In a country where the learned judges, wearing the robes of justice, are unable to appreciate this simple fact, legislators do not feel the urge to modernise the blasphemy laws and opinion makers practice self-censorship, why should we then single out the Taliban as fanatics and barbarians? 

From historical origins to exhaustive analysis of root causes, we come across many writings on the issue of terrorism in the national media. I would like to make a further contribution by suggesting that terrorism evidences itself in two forms: soft and hard versions. We are well aware of the hard form, which we associate with bomb blasts and target killings. If we scrutinise the data, we can see that more people die in road accidents or from dysentery than because of terrorist incidents. Why then has terrorism becomes such a scary and attention grabbing issue? The answer lies in the fact that militants, whatever their belief system might be, share some common tenets of strategy. They use terrorism for two policy targets: one, to achieve instant attention, which anarchists used to call ‘propaganda of the deed’, and, two, to demoralise the law enforcement institutions and thereby weaken the state. A bomb blast, in addition to loss of life, generates feelings of shock, helplessness and despondency. Terrorism therefore cannot simply be measured in terms of deaths and injuries figures, which our analysts often do. It is the reduction in capability of planning and executing terrorist attacks by organised militant gangs that should serve as an indicator of effectiveness of law enforcement agencies rather than mere reduction in casualty figures for a given period. 

Our constitution provides full authority to the legislature to change any law whenever it feels like it. While the whole constitution was overhauled by the 18th amendment, the legislature did not rationalise the blasphemy and Hudood laws of Ziaul Haq despite their sheer inconsistency with the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution and universally accepted human rights. We can neither introduce the domestic violence bill nor bring decency to our legal framework, which all democratic countries of the world belonging to various beliefs systems have accomplished in the last 50 years. Terrorism, therefore, does not necessarily originate from the barrel of a gun. Society at times can terrorise itself on its own. Soft terrorism is a more pervasive form of this malaise and becomes a breeding ground for would-be hard terrorists. If we want a genuine end to terrorism, we need to eradicate this form of terrorism as well while we focus on militant extremists.