ISLAMABAD: A popular Pakistani cleric whose religious group has been blamed for spreading the coronavirus is facing ridicule after he suggested the pandemic was caused partly by the “immodesty” of women.
Maulana Tariq Jameel appeared on a telethon with Prime Minister Imran Khan last week, when he explained various Islamic religious codes and said humanity had been punished in the past for breaking these.
“Who has demolished modesty in my country? Who is making the nation’s daughters dance? Who is shortening their dresses? Who should be held responsible?” Jameel said during the coronavirus fundraiser hosted by Khan.
The comment spurred an immediate backlash with leading activists and a government minister blasting the cleric, while social media users roasted the preacher for ignoring his own group’s role in spreading the virus.
Jameel is a senior member of the Tablighi Jamaat missionary group which has been blamed for seeding the epidemic in Pakistan by holding a gathering with 100,000 participants in March after the virus had already been detected in the country – leading to hundreds of transmissions.
Human rights minister Shireen Mazari tweeted it was “simply absurd” for someone to suggest the pandemic was the result of women wearing short sleeves.
“This simply reflects either ignorance abt pandemics or a misogynist mindset. Absolutely unacceptable,” she wrote.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also warned that the remarks being made during a live broadcast “only compounds the misogyny entrenched in society”.
Jameel is one of Pakistan’s leading preachers. His sermons are widely broadcast on Pakistan’s state-run and private TV stations during Ramadan, while his YouTube channel has 3.5 million subscribers.
Pakistan ranked a dismal 136 on the UN Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index in 2018, doing worse than most of its South Asian neighbours.
Much of Pakistani society operates under a strict code of “honour”, systemising the oppression of women in matters such as the right to choose who to marry, reproductive rights and even the right to an education.
According to estimates by the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, at least 1,000 women fall victim to honour killings in Pakistan each year.