The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) was to convene on Wednesday to discuss the meaning and connotation of “Black Friday” sales. They are meeting in good time since Black Friday sales are 11 months away. Either the flurry over buying things at 50% off really bothers the scholars, or the CII actually has nothing substantial to talk about in their meetings.

For an institution with such a heavy title, its rulings have always been odd and seemed petty. On the point of “Black Friday,” there is nothing Islamic or un-Islamic about borrowing from the US a title given to November sales. The earliest evidence of the phrase “Black Friday” applied to the day after Thanksgiving in a shopping context suggests that the term originated in Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. This usage dates to at least 1961. More than twenty years later, as the phrase became more widespread, a popular explanation became that this day represented the point in the year when retailers begin to turn a profit, thus going from being “in the red” to being “in the black”. Hopefully, the CII already has this piece of secular information from Wikipedia.

By this description, there is no religious connotation to Black Friday , except that it comes after Thanksgiving, much like Boxing Day sales after Christmas in the West. These are not religious celebrations. It would also be quite silly to suggest that Friday cannot be called “black” because out of the all the days of the week Friday is the holiest, unless one ascribes some supernatural attributes to colours, or considers black to be an ominous colour in Islam (which there is to historical or literary reason to believe).

The point is that these are issues that religious bodies need to be above. If a Pakistani website is having a sale and wants to appropriate a western term, what does it matter? That too, eleven months before the said sale.

Moving on… there are also reports that the CII will pass a resolution protesting US President Donald Trump’s decision to shift the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They will debate a bill that looks to provide members of the transgender community more rights. And most controversially, they want to discuss the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 which sought to make changes to the oath taken by non-Muslims when being sworn into office. These are worthier issues to consider. However, due to a history of strange rulings which include that that DNA testing could not be used as a primary proof in rape cases, that the right of a woman to grant permission to her husband for a second marriage is un-Islamic, and that nikkah can be done at any age have put a question mark over the capacity of the CII to make reasonable recommendations. And how can one forget the most famous one that reads: “A husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down the demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take a bath after intercourse or menstrual periods.” At least the target of the recent discussions is not women, as that seems to be what historically gives the CII its inertia.

To be fair, there have been rare cases where the CII has been reasonable, and if the CII is here to stay, there are precedents that it can follow to appear to be a moderate body. Regarding the “Misuse” of Blasphemy laws, the council came under pressure from civil society to award the death penalty to those also who wrongly accuse others of Blasphemy. Sense prevailed, and the council ruled out any possibility of passing such amendment. It has also ruled that Divorcing thrice at once is against the Sunnah and should be given over a period of time. Their 2007 Critical Report on the Hadood Ordinance is a reasonable document approving reform, and a 2012 report on the need to reform how women are treated in prison is also worthy of a read.

Clearly, some on the CII can be reasonable… until one reads in the news that the CII wants to talk about Black Friday and cannot accept that society has changed drastically since the 6th century and it is unsafe and unkind for children to be brides.

And then one reads this, “Members of Council of Islamic Ideology have complained over the inclusion of their names without consent in the recent fatwa published over declaring suicide attacks haram” and wonders if they are just upset they weren’t asked for consent, or do they actually not want to declare suicide bombings haram? Maybe a clarification will be out soon, but no one’s holding their breath that they are upset for the former reason.

It is not about being liberal, or being modern, that those who care about women’s rights and Pakistan’s economic and political survival get worked up about the statements of the CII. CII’s interference into law is about the sanctity of our homes, the safety of women and girls, and just a desire that our institutions make reasonable decisions. No one wants Pakistan to become like the West, and there is no mass premeditated attempt to do so, regardless of Black Friday sales. International influences come and go, whether is fashion, music, or language and have been doing so since before the Mughals.

The CII is not above public critique and should never be. It is a moot point that we even need such a body to advise parliament. We know that it is legal to dissolve the CII, and that there is a Ministry of Religious Affairs intact to resolve any of the issues the CII takes up. However, any discussion of religion in Pakistan always turns into an attack on Islam, not matter how benign a resistance there is to mixing politics with religion. The CII is not going anywhere.

 

The writer is studying South Asian history and politics at the Oxford University and is the former Op-Ed Editor of The Nation.

@saadiagardezi