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Clerics Oppose Music, Dance At Pashtun Village Weddings

Brides sit together during a mass wedding ceremony in Peshawar. (file photo)
Brides sit together during a mass wedding ceremony in Peshawar. (file photo)

Hard-line Muslim clerics in a conservative northwestern Pakistani village have announced a boycott of music and dance at weddings.

Clerics representing three major Islamic sects this week announced that they will not administer marriage ceremonies in Ghondi, a large village in Khyber district on the Afghan border, if celebrations include music and dance. The district, named after the historic Khyber Pass in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, was a hotbed of sectarian tensions and Islamist militants a few years ago.

The announcement is part of a wider morality campaign in which clerics, conservative activists, and even government organizations have banned music, television advertisements, TV shows, and mobile phone apps in the name of battling vulgarity and immorality across Pakistan. On October 9, Islamabad decided to block social media App TikTok for failing to filter out "immoral" content.

Rights campaigners and liberal activists, however, have opposed such bans because they violate basic freedoms enshrined in the country’s laws.

Islamist clerics in Ghondi see things very differently. “The Ulema have decided to act against vulgarity because our area has suffered tragedies and calamities,” Maulana Dilawar Darwesh, a senior cleric, told Radio Mashaal while alluding to Khyber’s recent troubled past when attacks by Islamist militants and the military operations against them killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands into displacement.

“People complained to us because they were sick of the noise at night and the dance performances by transgender people during weddings,” he said. “Our decision is not arbitrary. On the contrary, we acted for peace and reforming the society.”

The decision this week says clerics from the Deobandi, Brelvi, and Panjpiri subsects within the larger Sunni denomination have decided not to administer Nikah or the ritual Islamic marriage ceremony that ties a couple into a wedlock if the wedding celebration includes music and dance, particularly by transgender performers.

Jalil Afridi, a local activist, says that while he doesn’t oppose the initiative, he is surprised no one outside the religious circles among Ghondi’s estimated 70,000 residents was consulted before the announcement.

“This announcement was very sudden,” he told Radio Mashaal. “They should have prepared the locals for such news.” Afridi says Nikah usually precedes other wedding ceremonies and celebrations. “I wonder how they will enforce this,” he said.

Amirzada Khan, a local journalist, says that in recent decades clerics from the three Sunni subsects have consistently opposed each other in Ghondi with their differences sometimes resulting in theological disputes leading them to question each other’s faith. “When they don’t even like interacting with one another and avoid praying in each other’s mosques, how long can they remain united behind this initiative?” he asked.

Lawyer Shahabuddin Khattak, a rights campaigner in the nearby city of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital, says Pakistani law protects the freedom of speech and artistic expression.

“The current laws do not prohibit anyone from celebrating weddings with music or songs,” he told Radio Mashaal. “In fact, our constitution and laws protect the freedom to hold such celebrations. So preventing people from holding celebrations is a form of extremism, which our government needs to curb.”

Jawad Ali, a local government administrator, says the Ghondi clerics have not informed them of the boycott. “It is everyone’s personal choice whether they want music at their weddings or not,” he said.

Local media reports indicate that in March 2019 the local administration in Jamrud, a major town in Khyber near Ghondi, banned transgenders from dance performances at weddings.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Anisa Ajmal’s reporting.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the clerics announced a boycott of music and dance at weddings.