The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister and activist Benazir Bhutto is a brutal crime that disgraced a society that doesn’t know how to protect its distinguished individuals. This Islamic figure started her political life at the age of 35 in 1988. She was an ambitious young face who was looking forward to a future when she studied at Harvard and Oxford. She found in herself the strength and capabilities to achieve her dreams. She wasn’t just any girl. She was the daughter of the former Pakistani politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who served as president of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973 and as prime minister from 1973 to 1977 and was the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), one of the largest and most influential political parties in Pakistan.
She was distinguished in her thinking not only among her Pakistani peers, but also among American and British students. Just before graduation, Benazir was elected to the Standing Committee of the prestigious Oxford Union Debating Society becoming the first Asian woman to head the society.
Feelings of sorrow over Bhutto’s death overwhelmed the entire world with its different religions and ethnicities. As a Muslim woman, her death was a real loss to the Islamic world even if she opposed some of the conservative ideas that people saw as basic and others viewed as intellectual deficiencies holding back advancement.
Nevertheless, Benazir led her people to condemn violence against women and to despise discrimination and any kind of abuse of women. She even emphasized the importance of reviewing various judicial sentences, especially in the light of the difficult and poor social circumstances society was going through which led women to break some rules. She spoke of things that were so advanced for her society who couldn’t keep up with her enlightenment. She clearly understood that Taleban was a cultural and political disease and she fought their existence and way of thinking. She was bold in taking a stand against their influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Talking about Benazir’s political history would require a long article to include her successes, failures, disappointments and official triumphs. But she was a charismatic unique character coming from Kurdish-Farsi roots with a vision that believed in the Pakistani community regardless of its different ethnicities. She believed strongly that the country had so much potential to progress and advance so that its citizens would achieve success strongly.
Most importantly, Benazir’s was not just an active political figure, she was also a wife and a mother who supported her family and practiced her normal role. Therefore, she was close to the hearts of many women that she loved to sit simply on the floor with them and talk about family life, the country, the youth, the society, health, education, men and women’s rights. Muslim women rarely have such Islamic political figures and that is because of many political, social and religious reasons. Muslim women are normally governed by family tradition that relates the woman’s role to the household and the man’s role to everything else.
But if we talk about the woman’s political role, we could understand that her weak political role is due to the fact that she didn’t care enough to be present in the political arena as if she believed that it was for men only. Despite the fact that Muslim women do exist and participate in political sphere, Arab Muslim women are politically ignorant.
Other discouraging reasons against women climbing up the political ladder may be due to social opposition, especially in conservative communities, and religious interpretations that don’t accept the idea of women being leaders. And because the man is still the strongest part of the social equation, it intimidates him to see a woman gaining political substance that changes her traditional image. Getting to know Benazir’s legacy, and becoming familiar with her way of thinking is a very essential for all women. When we talk about Saudi women in particular who shares so much with Pakistani women regarding conservative traditions, we can easily see that it’s not that difficult for a Saudi woman to be active politically. If she follows Benazir’s steps, her boldness, her strength and creativity she will change not only her life but also others. She should be able to think differently and work hard without paying so much attention to the social rejection.
It’s not enough to console ourselves for the loss of such a Muslim woman, murdered by cowards. Let us try to understand the spirit of a bright woman who argued and defended her message with passion till the end. It’s an invitation for everyone to understand and read about Bhutto.
— Dr. Maha Al-Hujailan is a medical researcher at King Khaled University Hospital in Riyadh.