Islamic clerics and tribal elders in northwestern Pakistan have ruled that women cannot shop in the market without being escorted by a male relative.
Those who show up without the proper escort are to be handed over the police, according to an announcement made over a loudspeaker from the central mosque in the Karak district last week. The ban – which are to last through the Islamic holy month of Ramadan – is to be publicized through loudspeakers in local mosques.
Although most women in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cover their heads and bodies, according to the BBC, the step reportedly was taken to keep men from being distracted from their fasting and prayers. Islamic cleric Maulana Mirzaqeem told the AFP news agency, “We have decided that women will not visit bazaars without a male relative. Those who visit markets without male relatives will be handed over to police. They spread vulgarity and spoil men’s fasting in Ramadan.”
The clerics also called on shopkeepers not to serve women who arrive without a male escort – but local business people told a reporter they “never supported this ban, and convened a meeting Wednesday to protest the clerics’ decision.”
However, a Negev Bedouin who worked with Jews in the tourist industry at a Dead Sea hotel for more than 20 years said the intent of the ban may not be as it appears to Western “outsiders.”
Speaking with Arutz Sheva in a telephone interview Sunday morning, Abdullah A. pointed out, “Ramadan is a time when Muslims are especially careful about their observances of the laws, even ones they might not normally consider. In a way, one could compare it to the special stringency Jews attach to their observances on Pesach,” he said.
“During the hours of fasting, observant Muslim men are particularly careful to maintain a state of purity and not to touch a woman, even by accident in brushing by her in the marketplace. A man can be with his wife, but only after the hours of fasting have ended, between 8 pm and 4 am.
“In addition, the entire Qu’ran is divided into 30 parts, one of which is recited each night until the entire holy book is completed by the end of the period. There is a lot that must be done, and it requires focus and concentration, in addition to the daily feast meals that follow the fasts each evening.
“It’s not a democratic country like ours,” he added. “But still, it’s a busy month and these clerics are trying to avoid distractions on the men’s side and unpleasantness for the women – not so very different from some of the leaders of the hareidi-religious communities here in Israel, I think.”