It’s not about her virginity

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The author of this article at Comment is Free drew this outrageous conclusion to her story about growing up in a Pakistani family which wasn’t that religious but was very strongly “traditional” with regard to the legal battle over Misbah Rana (whom some people insist on calling Molly Campbell):

Sajad Ahmed Rana, fighting over the intact state of his daughter’s hymen, has sought to portray the dispute with his ex-wife over custody as a battle between cultures. For the likes of Mr Rana, the West is full of “repugnant” temptations that lead an obedient girl astray. I view his battle as nothing more than the age-old story of a male determined to dictate how a female lives her life. It felt like an old-fashioned war when it raged over my head 30 years ago and I can only hope the Muslim girls coming to terms with their own east/west dilemma today find their subsequent path through life smoother than I did.

Zenab Eve Ahmed compares Sajad Rana with her own father, whom she described as a control freak who thought the human body something to be ashamed of and, from the age of 13, forbade her from going out despite the fact that Pakistani men did party and even had white girlfriends. For some reason he did not force her to wear shalwar-kameez (and, presumably, not hijab either) and she somehow managed to get to university (with whose money, I wonder?). Sajad Rana, in fighting to keep his daughter with him and her sisters in Pakistan, made reference to the sexual promiscuity British society condones and insisted that, when a girl reaches puberty, she “must be placed in a social environment where the preservation of her chastity could be ensured”.

Ms Ahmed caricatures this as fighting to protect his daughter’s hymen. Given that Sajad Rana did actually migrate to the UK and brought up children there, some of them to puberty, I’d say that the reason for this was simply to appeal to the judges’ religious sensibilities, which is likely to be a more effective way of winning a favourable judgement than to present a 12-year-old girl to say “please, your honour, I want to stay with my daddy”. No doubt Sajad Rana knows better than the judges what British society is like and is playing on their prejudices, because plenty of Muslim parents bring up children here and do not see them turn promiscuous when they turn 13.

The bottom line is that every piece of evidence in this case that we know of is in Misbah’s and Sajad’s favour. All of her family, except her mother and one adult brother, is in Lahore and they all support her staying there. She, like the rest of her family in Lahore, is Muslim and wants to stay a Muslim, and does not have confidence in being able to remain so under her mother’s guardianship. Misbah wishes to stay there and has complained about isolation from her siblings, social isolation and racism in Scotland; her mother’s apostasy automatically disqualifies her, under Islamic law, from being awarded guardianship. There is no issue about Misbah’s older sisters, like Tahmina, being returned to Scotland; they are not deemed to be in any danger there. It seems that nobody will benefit from Misbah being returned to her mother’s custody except the mother.

The only impediment is that Scottish law and British public opinion does not see things this way, and there is a judicial agreement requiring abducted children to be returned. The problem is that the courts may see this as so disadvantageous to Misbah’s welfare as to refuse to honour it, given that it was not struck in anticipation of such an incident. Muslims might be reminded of the case of the woman who came to the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) from Mecca after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, under which emigrants from the then-pagan Quraish to the Muslims were to be sent back unless their guardians gave permission. Allah ta’ala revealed a sura allowing exceptions for such women, providing they swore certain oaths. This precedent may be taken into account by any judge involved in resolving this dispute.

Public debate over this issue here still continues to be dominated by anti-Pakistani and anti-Muslim prejudice, of which this article is pretty typical, projecting her own experiences of a bad “cultural Muslim” upbringing onto another mixed Pakistani family. (People still insist, as in this article, in referring to her as Molly Campbell, a name imposed on her which is not hers and which she disowns.) If Sajad Rana really was some sort of monster, as some press reports have suggested, I can’t imagine why she would conspire with one of her sisters to remove herself to a country where, by all accounts, male monsters have a considerably easier time of things than they do here. Whatever he may have done to her mother, Misbah had sufficient confidence in him to run away to live with him in Pakistan and Tahmina had enough confidence in him to facilitate this. One also notices a convenient disregard for a young girl’s wishes and feelings when it contradicts those of the commenters, as with this comment; there are also those who regard a young person’s religious choices as invalid. It may well be that adults know better than youths what is better for them, but they are often not thinking of this as much as of what is good for themselves. In the west, we drag out childhood far longer than in any other civilisation and it often results in young people being trapped in abusive situations (I know this from personal experience).

The debate also totally ignores the fact that British law and public opinion may have ceased to be relevant to the case. She is in Pakistan, whatever the rights and wrongs of her flight there, and it is Pakistanis who will settle the future of Misbah Rana. If they are independent of mind and are not subject to political pressure, they will rule in favour of Misbah and Sajad. Don’t count on Busharraf intervening to drag Misbah out of the country; he has, after all, not intervened to save the life of Mirza Tahir Hussain, an innocent man facing execution despite the total lack of evidence.

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