Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Of marriages & MNAs

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

Our august members of parliament have been saying some strange things of late on the issue of marriage. First it was a female MPA of the Punjab Assembly, from the PML-Q, who made the following gem of a remark on the floor of the house: she said basically that men should be allowed to marry more than once, without having to seek permission from the first wife. The reason for this rather outlandish and completely unnecessary remark (and rather ironic given that such a misogynistic statement should come from a woman) was that this would allow the "womenfolk" of the country to live with peace and with honour. This means that the said PML-Q MPA believes that (a) marriage is perhaps the only way for a woman to leave in peace and with honour; that (b) by implication women who are not yet married or choose not to marry are not at peace and do not live an honourable existence and (c) that a wife's permission is not needed for a man to take on a second wife despite religious injunctions which clearly state that a man may have more than one wife provided he is able to do justice to all of them. Clearly, the last point means some sort of permission would be needed so one can only wonder why the PML-Q MPA would delve into such an issue in the first place.

As if this weren’t enough, on Feb 25 we saw an MNA of the PPP saying that most members of parliament should have more than one wife. According to the newspaper which reported this, not a single member of the house either tried to deny or confirm what Mr Gabol had said. In fact, one MNA from FATA tried to quote from the Quran saying that religion allowed men to have up to four wives. Mr Gabol in fact came up with the figure of 80 per cent and it is unclear how he managed to get such a precise estimate. However, the only voice of sanity – as happened the other day as well – was the PPP’s Sherry Rehman who tried to obliquely take issue with this subject (directly would perhaps incur her the wrath of religious conservatives of which many can be found in each and every party, save perhaps the MQM).

The former information minister referred to the Punjab MPA’s remarks and said that it was surprising that no one in the Punjab government responded to it. May we add to Mr Rehman’s surprise, that no one in the assembly itself or society in general has so far chosen to comment on the matter. The reason could be partly because people in this country tend to veer away from debating religious matters lest they fall foul of the moral majority or because many believe that men should take on two, three or four wives and that for this they don’t need to ask for permission from their current spouse. In all this one can say that it would be better if taxpayers money – of which a lot is spent on parliamentary proceedings – were put to better use than giving unsolicited – and patently absurd – advice to the women and men of this country. Also, Ms Rehman’s example is worth repeating; the one where she quoted Sunni Islam’s highest authority, the Jamia Al Azhar in Cairo which has already ruled on this matter saying that a man may marry more than once only if he can do “justice” to all his wives.

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