Pakistan‘s top religious body has said women are not required to cover their faces, hands or feet under Islamic Sharia law, a rare judgement from the conservative council of clerics seen as “encouraging” by rights activists on Tuesday (20).
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which was formed in 1962 to advise parliament on the compatibility of laws with Sharia, made the ruling during its meeting in Islamabad on Monday.
However, the CII chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani, also “advised women to follow ethics and have a careful attitude in society”, a spokesman told reporters.
Though Sheerani had said “the covering of face, hands, up to the wrists, and feet is not mandatory for Muslim women”, the spokesman said the cleric recommended women “cover up their body parts to avoid threats or mischief”.
The meeting was attended, among others, by Dr Samia Raheel Qazi of the hardline Jamaat-i-Islami party, but she supported the decision despite the fact that she wears a full face veil.
According to the details of the meeting, Sherani still supported women wearing a full veil, though he agreed that it was not mandatory under Islam.
Farzana Bari, a prominent women’s rights activist, termed the ruling “very interesting”.
“It is a good sign, the clergy seems to have realised that their legitimacy is being challenged and this ruling is aimed at improving their image,” Bari said.
The issue of full face veils has been creating hurdles for conservative families to get Computerised National Identity Cards (CNIC), which required women to be photographed with their faces uncovered. It is believed that the CII ruling may help them to register and get the identity documents.
The CII, whose recommendations are non-binding, has drawn widespread criticism in the past for other rulings.
Last year, the religious body declared the prohibition of child marriage incompatible with Islam and demanded that the government amend its laws, prompting outrage from human rights activists.