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The Actress Who Took On The Mufti

Pakistani actress and model Veena Malik insists that "you won't believe the kind of huge response I have received from the women of Pakistan, even the women who wear the burqa and all."
Pakistani actress and model Veena Malik insists that "you won't believe the kind of huge response I have received from the women of Pakistan, even the women who wear the burqa and all."
By Kristin Deasy and Farishte Jalalzai
Traditional Islamic values in Pakistan are under attack by a sassy brunette known as Veena Malik.

In her socially conservative country, moralizing against figures like Malik -- an actress, model, and reality TV star -- can seem as routine as the call to prayer. All the more reason, then, for shock when she responded to religious critics by taking on Muslim clerics themselves, some of whom she said "rape the children they teach in their mosques, and do so much more," adding, "Since you have set up a court here, I demand that the court dispense justice."

But this was no courtroom. The venue was a TV studio in Lahore, where a shouting match erupted between the brazen 27-year-old and a respected cleric named Mufti Abdul Qavi.

Moments earlier, Qavi had admonished Malik to examine her conscience for her behavior on a popular Indian reality TV show, telling her she had "disgraced Pakistan, as well as Islam." Qavi later admitted he had never watched Malik's show.

WATCH: Veena Malik and Mufti Abdul Qavi trade accusations and counteraccusations on Pakistani television:



The debate over Malik's moral obligations had millions of Pakistanis glued to their television sets. The sheer audacity of an actress openly challenging a religious figure left many thunderstruck.

Divisive Figure

Veena (real name Zahida) Malik is a tremendously polarizing figure in Pakistan.

Her supporters praise her as a trailblazer, a young Muslim who stands for an emerging strain of progressive Islam committed to women’s' rights.

Her detractors -- a coalition of conservative religious figures, nationalists, Taliban loyalists, and a 13,000-strong "I hate Veena Malik" Facebook page -- question her moral credentials.

Malik's recent participation in the hit reality show "Big Boss 4," the Indian equivalent of "Big Brother," has been plagued by rumors of illicit behavior.

These rumors were used by Qavi to upbraid Malik, leading to a showdown that made television history in Pakistan.

Mariyam Ali, a producer for the Express News television channel that broadcast the debate in late January, says her opinion of the controversial actress changed after seeing Malik confront the cleric. "She's not a hypocrite, at least," she wrote in an e-mail interview, adding that Malik's decision took some serious "guts and courage." Speaking for herself and her circle of friends, however, the 25-year-old said that while they "may not dislike her," they "don't look up to her either!"

'Thinking For Themselves'

Malik ranks among a small but diverse group of defiant women in Pakistan. They range from assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to the young and still relatively unknown Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain former Governor Salmeer Taseer, a vocal supporter of the rights of religious minorities. Taseer recently came out in support of her father's work, vowing to continue in his footsteps even if it put her in danger.

For her part, Malik says, "you won't believe the kind of huge response I have received from the women of Pakistan, even the women who wear the burqa and all." She quotes messages from girls who say things like, "you have given us hope, to stand up."

She thinks things have "already started" to change in Pakistan. But with Islamabad mired in political infighting and the country confronted with growing insurgent violence, she says the time has come for women to "think for themselves.... Because no one else is going to give a damn [about them] in Pakistan."

Weeks after the debate's airing, Malik was injured in a suspicious road accident. She was hospitalized and has since sought refuge in Dubai, where she continues working for "Voice of Women," a nonprofit organization she founded to help female victims of domestic violence and other abuse throughout Asia.

Violence against women is a widespread problem in Pakistan. Some 1,000 women die in honor killings every year. Reports suggest that as many as four in five women are subject to abuse in their own households.

Standing Up

Malik is no stranger to any of this. Born into a poor family of seven children in the northern city of Rawalpindi, her mission comes out of personal experience, ever since she was "a kid."

"I've been watching my dad hitting my mom for no reason, for the food. 'You did not cook the food on time,' and things like that. Little things," she says.

"When I grew older, my elder sister, she was 14, my father married her off. The other sister was 11, my father married her off. I was in the sixth standard [sixth grade in secondary school], when my father said that, 'Now it is your turn.' I stood up. And I was hardly 12, 13 at that time. I said, 'No, why should I get married? I mean, why, why should I? I mean, I don't want to!' And then my father said, 'No, you have to.' And this was the first time I stood up for myself."

In Malik's telling, her father, a retired army officer, told her he had no more money for her studies so she worked to put herself through school. At 17, she decided to go into show business, a decision derided by her relatives as an unconscionable disgrace.

She fell in love for the first time, she says, when she was 20 years old. Rumors abound, but she says she is not in a relationship at present, adding that things fell apart with a former boyfriend after she became a victim of physical abuse.

But she emerged from that experience with a message for Pakistani women. "I want to tell them that 'You are beautiful, and strong, and you don’t need to hide under the shadow of a man just because you're a woman,'" she says. "They have to be told that they don’t have to wait for a man to feed them, they have to be told that they are strong. These women don’t know how strong and beautiful they actually are."

Rising Tide Of Youth

Her decision to debate Qavi in public was an impromptu move -- she was not given advance notice, she says, that he would be participating in the interview.

"I had no idea," she says, "whether they would kill me when I stepped out of the [television] studio or they would welcome me."

As a 27-year-old celebrity, Malik is part of a growing majority in Pakistan, where over two-thirds of the population is under 30.

Pakistan is home to deeply rooted conservative values with unprecedented exposure to the modern world due to the ready availability of cheap modern technology and the country's widespread use of the English language.

Nineteen-year-old Siraj Ali, a Pakistani studying in Karachi, says Malik "was right about that cleric [Qavi]," adding that he and his friends "all support her." He doesn't think this is the dominant opinion among his peers, however, warning that many young people have been influenced by the fundamentalist Taliban.

Others believe more positive changes are afoot. Umar Saif, a 33-year-old Pakistani professor recently listed among MIT's prestigious Top Young Innovators, thinks Malik's generation will change Pakistan.

"Pakistan's really come of age, as most nations need to, and the next generation will usher in a time of modernization and usher in an era of political awareness, usher in an era of political tolerance, and just enlightenment," Saif says. "And we hope to embrace, you know, the civilized way the rest of the world has gone about their business."

Malik's encounter with the mullah may not be a glowing example of civilized discourse, but the bigger question -- for Pakistan -- is whether or not it's a step in the right direction.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wiseman
September 28, 2011 03:27
MEMRI TV is an anti-Islamic propaganda lying machine. Everybody knows it. I stopped watching as soon as I saw MEMRI. Got tired of these imbeciles.
In Response

by: Ruben from: NYC
September 29, 2011 06:01
Calling yourself "Wiseman" does not make you wise. You can still be the same imbecile, you were before.
In Response

by: Wiseman
September 30, 2011 14:31
blah blah blah Islamophobes are crazy and here is the proof:

Quran 8:36
"Indeed, those who disbelieve spend their wealth to avert [people] from the way of Allah . So they will spend it; then it will be for them a [source of] regret; then they will be overcome. And those who have disbelieved - unto Hell they will be gathered."

Are you already regretting that you spent more money in Afghanistan than during WWII? Well, start thinking about Hell.
In Response

by: sailfish from: sydney
September 30, 2011 08:43
İslam has a long and proud tradition of misogyny....everybody knows that.

by: Barakuda from: Paris
September 28, 2011 11:26
Go girl go!!! You are a brave woman, indeed with guts. The change in Pakistan has to come from within and not imposed from outside.

by: Don from: America
September 28, 2011 15:34
She made some serious accusation about what happens in the dark with many Islam men. Are these true? and if so, are they being brought to justice? What is the truth?
In Response

by: Sey from: World
September 28, 2011 18:33
Of course it must be true, just like Catholic priests are accused of the same thing. Will there be justice? No. Religious institutions, wherever they may be, are just too powerful to go against them.

by: Hassan Abbas from: Islamabad
September 28, 2011 16:43
You people should made the subtitle of Mufti's replies too, I know urdu language and at the end of the video clip I have the only comments left that in such type of videos one must listen to both parties however in this video only Malik's comments were high lighted while Mufti's comments were ignored I guess. :)
In Response

by: Ruben from: NYC
September 29, 2011 06:13
You are right. I noticed that while he was saying something, there was no subtitles with his words.

However, the point is not as much who said what, but that a woman stood up in public for her rights. Some Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere have been taking advantage of Quran and local traditions to abuse women and get away with it. That is very disrespectful towards Islam and towards human rights, no matter how you look at it.


by: Viks from: Mumbai
September 29, 2011 06:58
Awesome gal...:-) Be independent and brave. One should learn women are not slave...they have their own goodwill ... give respect to every living being.

God may help you to win your ways.

by: Seidkazi from: Ma Wara An-Nahr
September 29, 2011 12:57
:)lol This non-incident is about half a year old. I wonder why they bring it up now.

Anyway, pretty much like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Waris Dirie and Sabatina James, this Veena Malik mainly serves as a poster babe for anti-Islamic lobbies whose REAL agenda is far from noble and who actually don’t care a iot about the well-being of women in Pakistan, Somalia or elswhere. They mainly USE them.

Now that we’re at it, by juming on the anti-Islamic bandwagon, international feminism has lost its last remnant of credibility. The only liberation of Muslim women is that, which comes through Islam.

Understanding the role of Muslim women
http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/the-khilafah/social-system/626-understanding-the-role-of-muslim-women
In Response

by: Cycloneous from: America
September 30, 2011 05:42
This is NOT an anti-islamic lobby. This is a legitimate concern that many people in Pakistan agree with. The religious clerics hold too much power.

Are you this blind to what the issue is?

And no:

I am not a Jew, Mossad, or CIA
I am not reading this form CNN, Fox News, etc.
I do not hate muslims
My religion is NONE of your business

I'm sorry, but in your mini-rant about liberation of muslim women, islam has had 1400 years to perfect "the role of women" and the results do not really show much progress. You can tell how progressive a society really is by how it treats its' women. It is fair to say, islamic countries have a long way to go!
In Response

by: Seidkazi from: Ma Wara An-Nahr
September 30, 2011 07:23
It IS an anti-Islamic lobby, using women as their last alibi.

Even if you were a Jew, I wouldn't mind. I do not hate Jews and I do not consider anyone who disagrees with us as a Jew. I do have the right to hit back though if some of them want me dead or enslaved.

by: Max from: Doha
September 30, 2011 05:40
Seidkazi, agree with you. There is a hidden agenda to destabilize asian societies. While working in Iran in ther 70's under British-US domination the western attitude was to treat every Iranian you woman as an easy target.There were brothels in every corner, supposedly run by the Shahs sister. The ruling elite treated the normal iranian population as mere cattle. A very few Iranian women did do better but the vast majority who were 'not good looking' were treated like shit.

Look at the REAL west, and live there for a while...majority Women in Britain, US, Europe are fat, ugly and have a very hard time in getting treated equal to men. British women only got voting right AFTER women in countries like Srilanka.....we need to really know the facts and not get brain washed by the mainstream media run by a handful of evil people.

Another factor is the international pornography industry is mainly run by this very small group....research & check from where?? This industry treats women like meat.

Ask women in the US/British/European showbusiness how they got to the top...you will be amazed.

We all should protect, respect and nurture our young so that they do not fall prey to the false propaganda which is using the angry or disgruntled women, especially, to heep our societies devided.

The real behavior of the western men at the top who are part of this brainwashing machine??....you judge for yourself....Clinton, Bush, Dominique Strauss Khan, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, etc,etc....they dont give a shit about really suffering women like our mums, sisters, wifes.
In Response

by: Seidkazi from: Ma Wara An-Nahr
September 30, 2011 07:52
Brother, I myself am very interested in colonial history and when you do some research you will see than in the 19th/early 20th centuries, colonial institutions and missionary societies very often, and very eagerly, used 'the plight of native women' as an excuse to do what they did (e.g. in French Algeria, the Egyptian Protectorate, Congo Free State).

"the western attitude was to treat every Iranian you woman as an easy target.There were brothels in every corner, supposedly run by the Shahs sister. The ruling elite treated the normal iranian population as mere cattle. A very few Iranian women did do better but the vast majority who were 'not good looking' were treated like shit."

Why does this reminds me our present-day Uzbekistan? :-( Do you know that there are even European women activists who consider Gulnara 'GooGoosha' Karimova to be a positive role model for 'Muslim women'?

In the West, feminism has largely outserved its purpose. Its main REAL agenda - the complete destruction of the family - has been realised. Now, in order to ensure its own continuation and justify the funding of all these consultants, UN agencies, NGOs, parliamentarians ... , feminism has jumped on the 'liberation' of women in the Muslim world.

And you know what the tragic thing is, brother? Look again at the West. Many Western women can not handle their 'emancipation' (cf. the massive use of antidepressants in Europe) or even don't WANT this sort of life. But they're socially forced to.

http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/the-khilafah/social-system/6345-western-governments-attack-islamic-marital-law-but-ignore-plight-of-women-under-liberal-democracy

by: Barakuda
October 01, 2011 08:43
It seems that "Max" and "Seidkazi" is the same person, so having a monologue with yourself?
In Response

by: Seidkazi
October 02, 2011 06:48
Hm, just like 'Barakuda' is the same person as 'Sailfish' perhaps? Speaking of schizophrenia... :-)

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