By Farzana Hassan
April 11, 2019
A series of regressive acts in parts of the
Islamic world in recent weeks shows how much hold a doctrinaire brand of Islam
has on the minds of people. Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Brunei are caught in
this fundamentalist storm.
There is a tinge of irony in all this.
Saudi Arabia, which originally exported these medieval ideas, is adopting
measures that point toward moderation, at least superficially. On the other
hand, Indonesia and Brunei – thus far considered havens of Islamic moderation –
have become increasingly fundamentalist in the last few years, leading to these
Nominally tolerant Brunei has just passed a
law prescribing death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery. The attention
of some prominent people, notably Sir Elton John and George Clooney, has led to
demonstrations to boycott London’s Dorchester Hotel, which the Sultan of Brunei
owns. But no one in the Islamic world has uttered the faintest squeak against
In Indonesia, a hitherto moderate Muslim
country, there has been a trend toward criminalizing the minutest deviations
from perceived Islamic principles. The Supreme Court of Indonesia rejected the
appeal of a woman incarcerated simply for complaining that a mosque was too
loud. The ethnic Chinese Christian woman was sentenced to an astonishing
eighteen months’ jail for her complaint, which was deemed blasphemy.
It started with perceived insults to Islam
and the prophet Muhammad, but now even activities by ordinary Muslims in a
mosque have come to be regarded as sacrosanct. All the woman had asked for was
the mosque loudspeakers to be turned down. However, the fanatical zeal that has
taken over Indonesia gave rise to rumours that she wanted to ban the call to
In Pakistan, English professor Khalid
Hameed from the Southern Punjabi city of Bahawalpur was recently stabbed to
death by a student who objected to the professor organizing a co-ed reception.
He said this was against Islamic principles. This happened while another
professor, Junaid Hafeez, remains in solitary confinement in prison over
trumped-up blasphemy charges.
Iran is not immune to this fanaticism.
Iranian women who have publicly removed their headscarves in protest against
draconian Iranian laws on female attire have been given stiff sentences. Some
languish in prison over blasphemy charges.
These human rights abuses are becoming much
more common in the Islamic world, and almost no one protests against them. In
fact, some in the public appear to support such action. Masses of people remain
illiterate in many Muslim-majority countries, which makes it hard to stem the
tide of a dangerous mob bigotry.
Of course, all Muslim nations have an
enlightened minority, but they lack the power and the numbers to bring about
positive change to repeal such laws, let alone the ignorance that underpins
Civil society in such countries is
minuscule and afraid to take action or speak out against such travesties. Even
among those who do not passionately advocate incarceration and stonings, there
is at best indifference towards victims.
Therefore there is little hope at least for
now that the Muslim world will take action. If any progress occurs, it will
come from human rights agencies and from committed high-profile individuals in
the West. Full credit goes to Sir Elton John and George Clooney for taking a