6 right-wing myths about Asma Jahangir
Asma Jahangir’s passing this year was seen as a great loss to Pakistan. However, some Pakistanis don’t agree. Certain religious and right-wing forces in Pakistan saw her as a problem during her lifetime.
… and also in death.
Myth # 1: Asma promoted Western values, which are contrary to Islamic principles
This is not true. The idea of treating all people in a community equally and fairly was strongly emphasised by the example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself. One of the numerous examples is the Charter of Madinah, which guaranteed Muslims and non-Muslims equal political and cultural rights. There is also the speech the Prophet (PBUH) gave at his last Hajj, when he said that all men are equal before God, regardless of race.
Hazrat Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), as caliph, famously instructed his administrators:
“People are of two types: they are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.”
Asma Jahangir was one among many who have followed this tradition – which is very much central to Islam.
Myth # 2: She cared only about non-Muslims’ rights
This is false. Asma Jahangir took up the cases of all the oppressed people, many of whom were Muslim Pakistanis. This includes bonded labourers and women who were being maltreated by their families or forced into marriage. After all, women are Muslim too.
Asma also spoke out for the rights of suspects in terrorism cases, because everyone is innocent until proven guilty. This goes to show, no matter what their ideology or beliefs, Asma fought for every citizen’s right to due process.
Myth # 3: She wore the same coloured clothes as Bal Thackeray once, hence she was a Hindutva agent who hated Muslims.
Wait, isn’t Fazlur Rehman’s turban this same colour? Is he a Hindutva agent too now?
Hopefully now you realise why this clothes issue is absurd beyond words. Firstly, not only are their clothes different, the reason she met Bal Thackerey in the first place was because she was a UN Special Rapperteur on freedom of religion in India. Asma met both the victims and perpetrators of violence against minorities in India. She ran into Thackerey because his organisation stands accused of violence against religious minorities. Furthermore, Asma’s report on his organisation was very critical.
Myth # 4: She was anti-state because she criticised the security establishment
This is deeply flawed and one-dimensional thinking. Asma Jahangir always emphasised that her criticism was aimed at the highest civilian and military authorities. She was critical of policies made by some generals. Ordinary officers and jawans were never the target of her censure.
Asma felt that no institution should dominate others or exceed legal boundaries, and spoke out whenever she felt this principle was violated. Within the confines of law, asking questions is a patriotic activity. In fact, guarding our liberties within the country…
…is just as important as guarding our borders. Both must go together!
Myth # 5: She supported ‘corrupt’ Nawaz Sharif
There is no evidence for this. She simply disagreed with some of the political opposition’s views. She had particular views on what the role of the judiciary should be, and what constitutes judicial overreach.
Many other legal experts, both locally and internationally, share the position that she took.
Myth # 6: Her funeral was done in an un-Islamic way, because women cannot stand with men in a funeral
This thinking is simply a product of conservative attitudes. There is no basis for this in the basic sacred texts of Islam (Fatwas on the seclusion of women, dating from the medieval era, centuries after early Islam, do not count).
Also, mixed-gender funerals can and do take place in many Muslim contexts, without any such uproar on social media. Take, for instance, this funeral of Kashmiri Muslims who were victims of the Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir!
If you love her, try to take up some of the work that she did. And if you were suspicious of her, remember: she fought for your rights too!