Holier than thou

October 29, 2023

A group of local clerics and elders force a professor to sign an unusual apology

Holier than thou


few days ago, a video surfaced from Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in which a professor is seen apologising in writing in the presence of several scholars, tribal malikan and the district administration.

The story has a backdrop. A few months ago, clerics and local malikan had barred women from leaving their homes and going out. The ban was indiscriminate. It did not even spare women who needed to go out to receive their stipends under the Benazir Income Support Programme.

In response to this ban, a seminar was held in the Domel tehsil under on women‘s rights in Islam and the constitution. A teacher of biology at a local college, Sher Ali, was the main guest and spoke about women’s rights, equality and protection. Citing Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution, he called the ban on women going out in Bannu ‘unconstitutional.’

A few days after the seminar, Sher Ali and his family had to face severe difficulties after several mullahs issued a fatwa against him resulting in a socially boycott of the family.

When the situation became tense, some elders and members of the district administration intervened to persuade Sher Ali to apologise and end the matter.

Thus, in the presence of more than 60 scholars, area malikan and district administration, Sher Ali apologised under oath.

Prof Haroon Khan Wazir was also invited to the seminar on the subject of women‘s rights in Islam and the constitution. He could not attend due to some personal engagements.

Prof Wazir told The News on Sunday that a doctoral scholar of Islamic studies was also invited to the seminar. “At the very beginning of the seminar, Sher Ali asked those in attendance to forgive him in case he erred. He said that while he wanted to address the issue, he was not a religious scholar so if he made a mistake, they must forgive him,” he said.

Addressing a point in the statement the professor was made to sign, Wazir said that women were also human beings and had certain rights. “Why not offer women employment opportunities and segregated parks, instead of imposing a blanket ban on them going out, working and being in public spaces?” he asked. “Take Bangladesh. There are separate factories for women there, where millions of women earn their livelihood,” he added.

The story has a backdrop; a few months ago in Bannu, clerics and local malikan barred women from leaving their homes and going out. The ban was indiscriminate. It did not even spare women who needed to go out to receive their stipends under the Benazir Income Support Programme. 

The local administration was contacted for their comment on the matter. However, the PRO to deputy commissioner demurred citing connectivity problems.

A local social worker Izzatullah* spoke to TNS on the condition of anonymity. Izzat said Sher Ali had taught science at a local college in Bannu in 2014. He also ran an academy. “His teaching style was different from other teachers. He took great interest in his work and made an effort to engage his students,” recalled Izzatullah*, “since then he has been the target of a [smear] campaign.”

Izzatullah* said that on May 19, 2022, a bomb was placed under the professor’s car when he was travelling from Mir Ali. “It detonated and seriously injured him. He had to have a leg amputated,” he said.

“However, the professor resumed teaching after he got a prosthetic leg. There have been rumours of a plan being hatched against him,” said Izzat. It definitely felt as if the professor was being targeted due to his progressive ideas, advocacy of women’s rights and discursive method of teaching.

Among other things the statement signed by Sher Ali said: “According to Sharia law, the intellect of a woman is less than that of a man. I consider it right and final.”

“I consider adultery a crime under Sharia law irrespective of consent… It is not permissible for a woman to mingle with men unnecessarily.”

“I consider all scientific and rational ideas and theories against sharia law to be false, for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

Fida Muhammad, a former student of Sher Ali, told TNS, “I was his student for two years. People used to peek through the windows for his class. All the seats would be occupied in his class. We would often run out of space… He used to answer all the questions we had… I never heard him say anything objectionable.”

The writer is a freelance reporter

Holier than thou