Currently the positions in the CII are awarded to appease certain religious elements that are more radical and primeval in their approach, lacking a rationalist understanding of religion.

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has had expertise in obfuscating the issue, which could be spelled out in a much simpler way. It has also developed an obsession with women related questions, as if it is the only area of Pakistan’s legal system that remains out of step with Islamic norms. And, to accomplish its mission, the CII has never held back from issuing retrogressive fiats, reflective of its narrow-minded misogynist members.

Last week, the CII raised a furor when it gave a vague decision, saying that Khula is a prerogative of the husband and courts cannot annul marriages in its name. Later it was clarified by one of the members, Dr Raheel Samiya Qazi, on a TV show that the Council did not mean to abolish the right of the wife to seek revocation of marriage through court decree. Rather, the intent of the Council’s verdict was merely to remove the conceptual ambiguity regarding the use of term ‘Khula’. This can be seen as unnecessary and is not the only occasion when the decision of this body has drawn criticism from rights activists.

Exactly a year ago in May 2014, the Council of Islamic Ideology endorsed child marriage, saying that girls, as young as nine-years-old, were eligible to be married, adding that most of the clauses of the Muslim Family Laws ordinance were un-Islamic. Their Chairman, Maulana Sheerani, said that a nikah could be performed at any age, but the bride could only start living with the groom after reaching puberty. He declared laws defining a minimum age for marriage to be in contravention of Islam and called for their repeal. Perhaps Mr. Sheerani and his colleagues need to be enlightened about the hazards of early marriage for the health of mother, as well as children. Last year, the Council also recommended the Parliament should do away with the requirement of permission of the first wife before contracting a second marriage.

In 2013 the Council gave the most controversial ruling, that the DNA test result is inadmissible as primary evidence in rape cases. One is left to wonder how a certain type of evidence to convict a rapist, is not in accordance with Islamic principles? Javed Ghamidi, a pre-eminent religious scholar and ex-member of the Council during the Musharraf era, came out to criticize this decision and opined that the offence of rape did not necessarily require the production of four male witnesses. Instead, according to Ghamidi, the rapist could be convicted taking circumstantial evidence, DNA testing and testimony of experts into view.

Earlier this year, the CII ruled that women could become a judge only after reaching the age of 40, with the condition that they wear the veil. Maulana Sheerani, expounding the rationale behind age limit for female judges, said that it was the age when women no longer remained ‘attractive’ or ‘marriageable’. Could the archaic mindset of the Council be more evident?

The CII should take up matters of more urgent and pressing concern and provide guidelines to exercise ijtihad in those areas. In its present form, it has become a club of hardliners who every now and then kick up a storm by digging up a long-settled question. In the wake of above decisions, the civil society activists have forcefully demanded the abolition of the CII. The Sindh Assembly also passed a resolution to this effect in the wake of its verdict on DNA evidence. What more proof is required to establish the futility of the body, than that the Parliament has not taken up a single of the sixty-nine reports the Council released since its creation?

It is high time the ruling party took steps to overhaul the Council. Firstly, there is no need for Council when the Federal Shariat Court and the Shariat Appellate Bench are present to ensure the conformity of the laws of the country with Islamic practices. Secondly, if the Council is to exist under any circumstance, its composition and role should be revised radically. Currently the positions in the Council are awarded to appease certain religious elements that are more radical and puritanical in their approach, lacking a rationalist understanding of religion.

Compare the scholastic achievements of the incumbent Chairman of the Council with those of Dr Fazlur Rehman, who was appointed as head of the Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology, the predecessor of CII. Dr Fazlur Rehman, after graduating from Punjab University with distinction, went to Oxford and wrote his dissertation on Ibn Sina. Later, he taught Islamic philosophy at Durham University for eight long years and was later affiliated with Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. General Ayub Khan undertook the initiative of legal reforms and invited Dr Rehman to lead the project. In stark contrast, Maulana Sheerani’s association with the JUI (F) is the sole qualification to become Chairman of the Council. Likewise, this is the situation with the rest of the members as well. Given such a steep decline in the quality of leadership, it is not surprising that the CII, envisioned as a reformist body, has been reduced to a bunch of good for nothing clerics.