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Of Parks, Maya Khan & the Concept of Privacy in Islam

I start with the disclaimer that I have nothing personal against Maya Khan, and actually respect some of the shows that she has previously done that brought up certain important social issues to light. But this time, she crossed a line, and I am plain irritated.

Privacy is a basic human right. A right which Islam respects and condones.

When Maya Khan, on the show “Subah Saveray Maya ke Saath”  (aired on 17th January 2012 on Samaa tv) barged into a park of Karachi to “check out” what people were doing and air that on tv, she violated this basic human right. It irritated me as a journalist, as a human and as a Muslim. While Islam is not against people advising each other to abstain from acts harmful to individuals and society, it is certainly against infringement of the basic right of privacy.

I write at the risk of being asked the question “But what does Islam have to do with it?” To that I would say, “Oh, but it does”. The society that we are living in today, everything boils down to either being the “mullahs” or the “liberals”. And the so-called fundos are assumedly behind every act of moral policing, of being the “holier-than-thous” and of judging. Many a times, they are not. But somehow, Islam will be hash-tagged in everyone’s mind alongside any violation of human rights. And that’s simply not fair.

What Maya and her team did falls neither under the umbrella of true Islamic values, nor liberalism. It is just reflective of today’s age of media’s voyeurism (please excuse my language here) which feeds upon any and everything that makes news and gets ratings.

Privacy, as a right, is so stressed upon in Islam, that the Qur’an says: ‘Do not spy on one another’ (49:12). This would apply also to trying and finding out details of another person’s life that we have nothing to do with……who is she seeing, why did she get a divorce, why is he still not married, how much does she earn, are they practicing family planning, why don’t they have children when it’s been 3 years since they married….. curiosity that gnaws with claws of evil pleasure at someone’s protective covering of privacy.

Ibn Kathir said in his Tafsir commenting upon Ayah 12 of Surah Al-Hujuraat: “Allâh said ‘and spy not’ on each other. Tajassus, usually harbors ill intentions, and the spy is called a Jasus….In the Sahih it is recorded that the Messenger of Allâh said: “Neither commit Tajassus nor Tahassus nor hate each other nor commit Tadabur. And be brothers Oh servants of Allâh.” Al-Awza’i said: ‘Tajassus means, to search for something, while Tahassus means listening to people when they are talking without their permission, or eavesdropping at their doors. Tadabur refers to shunning each other.’ Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement. [Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Vol. 9, pp. 201 / 202]

This hadith says it all: Abu Huraira reported Allâh’s Messenger (SAW) as saying: “Avoid suspicion,  for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other, and nurse no malice, and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow-brothers and servants of Allah.”
[Sahih Muslim, Book 32, No. 6214]

Privacy as a right is so respected in Islam that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) who was generally known for his gentle and forgiving nature, went on to say: “”If someone peeps into your house, it will be no sin if you injure his eye with a piece of stone.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Yes, a park is a public place. Yes, in a public place a certain decorum should be observed. Yes, Islam encourages us to advise someone against doing something inappropriate or wrong. But should that not be a matter of context? How well do you know the person whom you are advising? How will that person take your advice? Is it solicited advice or unsolicited? And are you in a position to give that advice? What is your choice of words? Most importantly, even if we DO find out a grievous sin or mistake someone committed, shouldn’t we be covering it up? Look at this hadith: “Whosoever covers (the sins of) a Muslim, Allah covers (his sins) on the Day of Judgment. (Bukhari)

Hypothetically, even if someone were “sinning” in a park (and who has the right to judge that but Allah!), is an ambush with a brigade of cameramen that catch you in the act the way to stop someone?

Have we seriously run out of topics to discuss on Pakistan’s morning shows? Or are we so idle that we have nothing better to do than be part of or watch this atrocity?

Islam is beautiful, respectful and fair to everyone. And what was done on this show in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan makes no sense.

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Of the beautiful things in a person’s Islam is to leave what does not concern him.” (Muwatta Imam Malik)

Need I say more?

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