Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Harsh penalties

In Pakistan, it is illegal to drink, eat or even smoke in public during Ramadan. You can be sent to jail, heavily fined, or may even be beaten by vigilantes. Earlier this month, the country's lawmakers introduced stricter penalties that could see people jailed for up to three months for a violation.

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

'This is not Islam'

Bakhtawar Bhutto, the daughter of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was quick to condemn the latest amendment, dubbing the law "ridiculous." "Not everyone in Pakistan will be fasting - children in school, the elderly, people with medical issues - Should we arrest them for drinking water?" tweeted Bhutto. "People are going to die from heat stroke and dehydration with this ridiculous law."

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Obliged to fast

"A person who, according to the tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast shall not eat, drink or smoke in a public place during fasting hours in the month of Ramadan," says the Ehtiram-e-Ramadan (Respect for Ramadan) law, which was introduced by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1981.

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Austerity and peity

Theologically, Ramadan is about austerity. It teaches Muslims to be pious, to stay away from evil, to fast during the day, and to donate money to the poor. "Zakat" (which means alms-giving in Arabic) is an Islamic tradition in which Muslims give part of their earnings to those in need, particularly during this holy month.

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Unbearably hot weather

The Islamic month of Ramadan coincides with sweltering temperatures in most Muslim-majority countries. In 2015, a brutal heat wave killed over 1,250 people in Pakistan - many of them died of dehydration while fasting. Even then, the government did not relax the 36-year-old law. Some clerics did, however, say it was permissible to break the Ramadan fast for health reasons.

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

No respite

Nearly all restaurants are closed from fajr (dawn) until maghreb (dusk), and shopkeepers only sell takeaway food items. If you are hungry or thirsty the only place for you is home. At offices - both public and private - you are not allowed to eat.

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Rising religious extremism

With the war in Afghanistan and growth of Islamist organizations such as the Taliban in the region, things have taken a turn for the worse in the past few years. Religious extremism and intolerance are on the rise in the South Asian Islamic country. At the same time, Ramadan is also an opportunity for extremist and militant outfits to rake in cash through charity donations.

Forced piety - Pakistan's Ramadan law and vigilantism

Vigilantism

Incidents of religious vigilantism have spiked in the past few years, with fanatic mobs trying to enforce their own version of Shariah. A number of people have been lynched on unproven accusations of blasphemy. Observers say the existence of various Islamic laws has emboldened radicals to take matters into their own hands and dole out "justice" to what they deem un-Islamic. (shs)

Pakistan's Ramadan law, which bans people from eating in public, has once again come under discussion after lawmakers recently introduced stricter penalties. Why does Pakistan insist on enforcing the harsh law?