It is with growing horror and a deep sense of foreboding that I read about the re introduction of the Sharia law in the kingdom of Brunei. Sharia law, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is considered the infallible law of God in Islam. In its radical interpretation, music and dance are forbidden as are (very obviously) cigarettes and alcohol; there are medieval punishments for crimes like theft, and enforcement of attendance to regular prayer is brutal and swift. The introduction of Sharia has been a longstanding goal for many Islamist movements. Even as ISIS the breakaway extremist faction of the Al Qaeda, makes steady inroads into Iraq and neighbouring Syria, with an alarming speed, it is bringing these changes along in its wake.
Scarily, for the women in this part of the world, this will mean losing whatever little independence they had to begin with. Servility, subjugation, voicelessness, obedience and anonymity are bywords for the womenfolk under Sharia. In Brunei, where the plan is to introduce the law in three phases, the first will include fines and jail terms for unmarried women becoming pregnant. The second will incorporate punishments like whipping and amputations for alcohol consumption and theft. The third will be the imposition of stoning and death sentences for adultery, sodomy and murder. These punishments will apply not just to the locals but also to non-muslims.
It should come as no surprise that the judges, enforcers and authorities will primarily be male. Moderate Islamists have always understood and supported the role of women in society. How can a nation, a family, or a relationship thrive and prosper, if a significant proportion of the populace is metaphorically bound, gagged and blindfolded? Yet, in a return to the Dark ages, these laws aim to do just that. Women are seen as no more than baby making machines, with the added perk of being housemaids and nursemaids.
With a denial to basic freedom, to education and to any kind of joy in their lives, what kind of a future will emerge from these lands? For is it not the hand that rocks the cradle, that subliminally rules the world? If not in deed, then in desperation, there is bound to emerge a counter movement. One that will be spearheaded by brave souls like Malala Yousafzai. When that happens, and it will, it is women in the free world who must rise in support of our sisters. The time to be passive has long gone. What we are questioning and debating are not the tenets of a religious law, but our rights as humans to be accorded the respect and the dignity that should be the bedrock of all existence.