Pakistan: Call for reform of divorce law change causes stir amongst conservatice clerics

Pakistan's top Islamic advisory body has urged the government to amend divorce laws to give more say to women, triggering a controversy with religious hardliners vowing to resist the move.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) proposed to the government at the weekend that a divorce should go into effect within three months of a woman's request for it. Under existing Pakistani laws, men are free to divorce their wives, but a woman can only start divorce proceedings if she first surrenders her right to ‘mehr,’ or money pledged to her at the time of wedding as a token of her husband's earnestness.
Existing laws allow a husband to divorce his wife verbally in private but CII recommended it should be done in writing.

A bitter struggle between progressives and conservatives to set Pakistan's direction is one factor in the rise of Islamist militancy afflicting the Muslim nation of 170 million people.

Rights groups called on the government to frame the laws in line with the CII's recommendations.

‘These recommendations are no doubt very positive, sensible and logical and the government must implement them forthwith without any fear of bigotry,’ Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told Reuters.

Religious hardliners, however, branded them unIslamic and at odds with sharia, or Islamic law.

‘This Council is trying to invent a new sharia,’ said Mufti Munib-ur-Rehman, a leading cleric who signed a statement with other hardliners criticising the CII.

‘They are trying to create anarchy and chaos in the country and if they are not stopped then I fear a movement for enforcement of true Islamic sharia would be launched throughout the country.’

Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Minister for Religious Affairs, said the government did not support the recommendations of CII.

‘It was not the decision or viewpoint of the government but that of the members of the CII,’ the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted him as telling the parliament.

18 November 2008

Source: Reuters