I find the history of these ordinances telling. Many of us in America assume they have been the law in countries like Pakistan for centuries and the ordinances only formalized the country's existing popular beliefs and practices.
KARACHI, PAKISTAN – More than 1,000 female prisoners are expected to be released this week on bail in Pakistan following a decision by President Pervez Musharraf to review a controversial set of laws affecting women. Many of the female inmates are awaiting trial for violations under the Hudood Ordinances, which stipulate harsh penalties for extramarital sex. The laws require a woman who claims that she was raped to produce four pious male witnesses. Otherwise, she stands to be charged with adultery - an offense that can carry a death sentence by stoning. The ordinances have also been used as a weapon against women who defy marriage choices made by their families.
Talk of repealing or modifying the ordinances had been a taboo since their promulgation in 1979 by Gen. Zia ul-Haq, a military dictator who undertook an Islamacizing of the nation. Efforts by the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to modify or repeal the laws foundered on the assertion that they are drawn from the Koran and the Sunnah (the sayings of Mohammad). Hudood means "limitations or boundaries" in Urdu.
Dictators, no matter their stated religion, make ordinances to assert and maintain their own power. True religious beliefs are likely seen as weaknesses to be exploited. Dictators and their operatives also know people are less likely to question laws that supposedly codify religious truths.
Add in the assertion that those who attack the system are attacking God and you've got a tidy system where the devoted religious followers become the enforcers of a secular status quo, possibly to the point of assassination.
This can happen as easily with Christianity as the religion of choice. The common denominator is the desire for control and the pursuit of consolidated power.
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