Pakistan: The Perils of Attempting Hudood Reform


In 1979 Pakistan’s military dictator Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq launched his
program to Islamise Pakistan. The first step was the introduction of Hudood

In 1984, as pressure intensified for an end military rule, Zia played the
religion card for political gain to dragnet Muslim votes and get himself a
mandate to pursue Islamisation and remain president.

Today, Pakistan is endeavouring to join the prosperous modern world, and
President Musharraf is supposedly promoting “enlightened moderation”. In
line with these goals, the parliament is keen to expunge from Pakistan one
of its most sickly, ugly blights: Hudood Ordinance. However, while the
Sharia seed is easy to plant, and the Sharia plant is easy to feed, the
Sharia tree is not easily removed.

Western politicians who think that in a democracy a majority is required to
effect change, should consider the power of Pakistan’s Islamist minority.
The Islamist Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) are proving once again there is
none so powerful as he who holds the balance of power (especially if he is
willing to incite violence and destabilise the nation in order to have his

Western politicians who are flirting with Islamists and considering
permitting the implementation of elements of Sharia as a concession, should
consider Pakistan’s reality as a warning. Sow Sharia for short term
political gain, and it can never be removed or even cut back without immense
trouble to the nation, pain, sacrifice and bloodshed.


Under the Hudood code, a man and woman found guilty of having sex outside of
marriage can be sentenced to death by stoning or 100 lashes. To prove rape,
a woman must produce four adult male Muslim eye-witnesses to confirm her
testimony; without that she will be found guilty of illicit sex. This leaves
Christian women especially vulnerable. In fact, in such an environment,
those who rape Christian women are virtually guaranteed impunity. It is
estimated that around 80 percent of all women imprisoned in Pakistan are
there on Hudood offences.

On 1 July President Musharraf issued an order enabling the release of an
estimated 1,300 women held indefinitely in Pakistani prisons under the
provision of the Hudood Ordinance.

The “Women’s Protection Bill 2006”, drafted by a parliamentary select
committee, was to be tabled in Pakistan’s parliament in early August.
However, objections by cabinet members and religious parties saw it delayed
until Monday 21 August. This was the third time the Bill had been presented
to the parliament.

The draft Bill protects women by separating rape from consensual sex outside
marriage, eliminating the four-witness requirement to prove rape,
establishing that rape cases be tried in civil rather than religious courts,
and by requiring that four witnesses be presented to prove adultery. Human
rights groups are of course calling for the Hudood Ordinance to be repealed
rather than amended.

Islam Online describes the impact of the Bill on the parliament and the
Islamist response: “The introduction of the bill by the government on
Monday, August 21, witnessed the worst pandemonium in Pakistani parliament.
Opposition lawmakers shouted slogans against the government, tore up copies
of the amendments and walked out. They accused President Pervez Musharraf of
being a traitor and a friend of America.” (Link 1)

Actually the Islamist Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) came close to being
charged with blasphemy for tearing up copies of the Bill, because as its
supporters noted, the Bill contained Quranic texts. (Link 2)

According to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan, Pakistan People’s
Party (PPP) representatives who sat on the parliamentary select committee
were under clear instruction from their exiled leader, Benazir Bhutto, to
give their support to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in its efforts
to amend the Hudood laws.

Even though the Women’s Protection Bill had clear majority support to pass
in the parliament, the Bill was scuttled due to the MMA’s threat to resign
en masse, thus massively destabilising Pakistan’s already restive MMA-ruled
western provinces, if the Bill was passed.

The MMA threat split the ruling PML. The reformists in the PML wanted to
press ahead with reform, while the conservatives, led by PML president
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain asserted that it would be political suicide for the
PML to alienate its MMA partners and their Islamist constituents before the
2007 elections.

In early September the government moved to appease the Islamists by
appointing an extra-parliamentary committee that included four MPs from the
MMA as well as Islamic religious scholars to review the Bill and recommend a

The BBC reports that the extra-parliamentary committee determined “that rape
should fall under both religious and secular law. It introduced a new, very
broadly defined, category of ‘lewdness’ into the penal code, and reinstated
a clause giving the Hudood Ordinances pre-eminence over any law with which
they might come into conflict.” (Link 3)

On Monday 11 September the government announced that it was accepting three
of the conservatives’ demands, including one keeping rape under the Islamic
law, although it will also be a crime under the penal code. The Muttahida
Qaumi Movement (MQM) rejected the amendments outright. Sources told
Pakistan’s English-language newspaper “Dawn”, “The PML, riven by internal
disputes, preferred an awkward embrace with the MMA to a brief handshake
with the PPP.” An MP who wished to remain anonymous bemoaned the back-down
saying, “And what have we gained by allowing the MMA to water down the
amendments to the Hudood laws? The PPP is up in arms. Our touchy coalition
partner, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, is on the warpath. And human rights
organisations are pouring scorn on us.'” (Link 4)

The government – at least its reformist faction – bolstered by MQM and PPP
support, have vowed to reintroduce the Women’s Protection Bill to the
parliament for the fourth time, in its original form – the form hailed by
NGOs and human rights groups – when President Musharraf returns from his
visit to the USA.

Meanwhile, Alt.Muslim reports that on Wednesday 23 August (2 days after the
Bill was tabled in parliament) militants on a motorbike ambushed
Manzoor-ul-Hassan as he left his office, and shot him through the mouth
leaving him critically wounded. Manzoor-ul-Hassan is the editor of “Ishra”,
the monthly magazine of a leading Pakistani think-tank, Al-Mawrid Research
Institute, which advocates equity, fairness and gender equality in
Pakistan’s Islamic Laws. (Link 5)

Sharia is never rolled back without bloodshed. This is the reality in
Pakistan. This is a warning for the West.

Elizabeth Kendal
[email protected]


1) Hudood Bill Stirs Debate in Pakistan
by Umer Farooq, IOL Correspondent

2) Protest against lawmakers
By Mujahid Ali, 25 August 2006

3) How Pakistan’s rape reform ran aground
By Barbara Plett, BBC News, Islamabad,15 Sept 2006

4) What made PML turn to MMA: MQM rejects changes in Hudood laws

5) Shooting A Shaykh In The Mouth
By Ali Eteraz, 25 August 2006

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