Pakistan’s Federal Shariat Court Affirms that the ‘Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016’ Aligns with Islamic Injunctions

by | Feb 2, 2023

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About Rida Tahir

Rida Tahir is a UK qualified Barrister-at-law and an Advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan. She is a lecturer for the University of London and University of Hertfordshire law programmes in Pakistan.  Rida specialises in human rights litigation with particular focus on the rights of women and children.  Recently, she was invited by the UN Women to a consultative meeting, which was presented to the office of the Honorable Prime Minister of Pakistan and resulted in the National Gender Policy Framework.

Image description: A group of women and children in Sindh, Pakistan gather in an outdoor shelter

It has been estimated that domestic abuse takes place in approximately 80 percent of households in Pakistan. Against this backdrop,  the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 (2016 Act) was enacted by the Punjab Assembly to establish a system of protection, relief and rehabilitation for women against abuse and violence. On the 29 November 2022, the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan (FSC) delivered its landmark judgement in Muhammad Ibrahim Khan v. Province of Punjab (linked with three cases), which held that the 2016 Act was in line with the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

The petitioners challenged the 2016 Act under Article 203D of the Constitution of Pakistan (Constitution), which states that: ‘’(1) The Court may…on the petition of a citizen of Pakistan…examine and decide the question whether or not any law or provision of law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet…’’.  The petitioners main argument was that the 2016 Act causes domestic abuse cases to settle through courts of law, which undermines the concept of “چادر۔چاردیواری“ (the privacy of home).  Additionally, it was argued that Islam gives the male a higher status in society over the females to such an extent that a husband is authorised to beat his wife. Further, it was argued that requiring an offender to wear an ankle/wrist bracelet GPS tracker under Section 7(d) of the 2016 Act is against the dignity of man [sic].

In coming to its judgement, the Court examined verses of the Holy Quran upon which the petitioners relied to provide guidance for the settlement of matrimonial disputes in life (including verses 34 and 35 of Surah An-Nisa). The Court added that the scope of the 2016 Act is much wider and different in nature as it relates to the commission of domestic abuse as opposed to mere matrimonial disputes.

After considering various verses of the Holy Quran and Ahadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), the Court held that Islam gives women the right of access to justice: Surah Al-Mujadilah specifically acknowledged that women have the fundamental right to access justice to redress their grievances. Moreover, Islam does not give any person the right to commit violence against a female family member. As such, the statute did not target men and was wrongly portrayed by the petitioners; rather it addressed the perpetrators of domestic abuse.

The court found that according to Islamic injunctions men and women are equal in the eyes of law, on the basis of numerous verses in the Holy Quran stating that male and females are equal and they will be judged according to their own deeds by Allah (e.g. Surah: Al-Hujrat:13, An-Nahl:97 and Surah Ghafir: 40, etc.). Islam specifically forbade domestic abuse, as a man cannot abuse his female relative/s under the pretext of religion. The court argued that the impugned law would not devastate family values but strengthen them as women would feel protected.

Finally, it was held that the verses of Surah An-Nisa (verses 34-35) which deal with matrimonial disputes and the word “Darab“ used in verse 34 of Surah An-Nisa did not authorise the husband to hit the wife in any manner that falls within the definition of domestic abuse as described under the 2016 Act. In Verse 128 of Surah An-Nisa and Verse-10 of Surah Al-Hujurat, the Holy Quran states the importance of reconciliation and amicable settlement of disputes. Therefore, resolving disputes through mediation and reconciliation as provided by the 2016 Act is in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. Nor does the use of ankle or wrist bracelet GPS trackers (where the life of any person is under threat or risk of serious harm by the defendant) offend the injunctions of Islam.

Thus, the FSC held that the provisions of the 2016 Act do not breach Islamic law as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The judgement by the FSC is being celebrated across Pakistan, upholding the progressive 2016 Act as a significant achievement in the fight to provide comprehensive protection to women against domestic abuse.

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