Muslim Grrrls

Rafia Zakaria in Guernica:

Grannan_151_300 I grew up in the eighties in a Pakistan that had just escaped the shackles of military rule. My own dawning political awareness came at the euphoric time when Pakistan was about to elect its first female prime minister. It had been a grisly decade, one in which Pakistan’s own militarized version of Sharia law had played a defining role. In the late-seventies, in an effort to legitimize his dictatorship, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haque, who had grabbed power in a military coup, initiated an “Islamization” program. With the goal of producing a pure society by criminalizing all temptation, Islamization produced laws whose draconian and misogynistic character was conveniently packaged in Islamic-sounding terms and references. In real life, this meant that men and women could be asked to produce their marriage documents by any police officer. Women on television covered their hair and were never shown having any physical contact with men, leaving children like me to digest British sitcoms so censored that they often lasted only ten minutes.

It is not that preoccupations with Islamic law took up much of my attention in those early years of my life, or that I worried about the fact that legally I counted as only half a witness while my twin brother, with whom I competed and fought daily, counted as a whole. Yet these precepts, because of their existence and their ubiquity, were an invisible yet determinative theme in my life. They dictated, for example, the manner in which our home was arranged, such that an entering unrelated male could be led directly to a reception room in the front of the house, never encountering any women. In later years, it would decide who I was allowed to visit and when, which schools I would be sent to, and myriad other details of my own life and the lives of the women in our family.

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