Examining the disenfranchisement of women in Pakistan requires us to ask a broader question – why do Muslim countries, in general, perform so poorly when it comes to gender parity? According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap index, fifteen of the worst-performing countries are all Muslim-majority countries. Out of the 156 nations ranked in the report, Pakistan was bested for the bottom place by only three – namely Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Similarly, Muslim countries were over-represented in the Thomson Reuters Foundation poll (2018), which surveyed 548 experts on women’s issues to identify the countries globally perceived as most dangerous for women. 8 out of the 10 most dangerous countries were Muslim, with Pakistan featured at 6th place. The dismal performance of these Muslim countries, particularly Pakistan’s, can be attributed to patriarchal cultures that use religion as a smokescreen for female subjugation. Since Islamic jurists are, after all, products of their societies, Islamic literature has become so inundated with patriarchal interpretations of the Quran that many have come to view these interpretations asunassailable facts. Women have been politicised as symbols of cultural authenticity and carriers of religious tradition. Their demand for equality and justice is interpreted as demands to change the Divine message. Muslim women, who must live their lives governed by these patriarchal interpretations, naturally experience a great deal of inner conflict and frustration. But they are often forced into a Catch-22 of sorts: traditional Muslim jurists’ appropriate holy texts to enforce and justify oppressive regimes and legislation. Neo-orientalists then use these misogynistic interpretations of Islam to support their – often xenophobic – critiques of Islam and Muslims. Muslim women (and men) end up responding with a kneejerk defence of “Islam gives women more rights than Western societies” without having access to either scholarship on the subject or – as evidenced by these global indexes – the rights of which they speak.Advocating for women’s rights or freedoms in Muslim countries is also seen as advocating for western hegemony, for the ruin of piety, and the dissolution of Islamic tradition. Women remain passive because of the social cost of speaking out. With Islamic jurists throwing their support to the status quo, asking too many questions can be seen as practically blasphemous. The polygamy paradigm is a particularly contentious area of women’s rights in Islam. It has been at the centre of much debate, in both the Muslim world and the west. Muslim countries regulate polygamy judicially in various ways. For example, in 2009 a new family law was enacted in Bahrain that allowed Sunni women to prohibit their husbands from taking on second wives. In Pakistan, the Family Muslim Law ordinance (1961) requires the consent of the existing wife/wives and permission from the Arbitration Council before Muslim men can contract another marriage. In other countries like Turkey, Tajikistan and Tunisia there is a complete embargo on it. Tunisia, under its 1956 law, prohibited polygyny on the authority of Surah 4:129 which emphatically forbids polygamy by stating the inability of men to treat all wives equally: “And you do not have the ability to do justice between the wives, even though you may wish (to do so)…” (4:129). However, despite judicial provisions, polygamy is being practised unrestricted in many Muslim countries, including Pakistan. Traditional jurists continue to make a mockery of Quranic ideals of chastity and justice by allowing polygamy on the grounds that “men follow their natural instinct, which should then be made legal to avoid sin.” Some of them have gone so far as to advocate polygamy as a recommendation from God. Traditional jurists have also fiercely opposed attempts by Muslim governments to provide legal protection to women in violent marriages. For example, the Council of Islamic Ideology of Pakistan (CII) not only opposed the Punjab Women Protection Act 2016 but also issued a statement that “light beating” is a permissible act in Islam to “discipline” wives. Similarly, CII challenged government efforts to save young girls from becoming “child brides” by declaring minimum marriage age laws as un-Islamic. Unfortunately, many Muslims regard discriminatory family practices as directly derived from the teachings of the religion. Women have been politicised as symbols of cultural authenticity and carriers of religious tradition. Their demand for equality and justice is interpreted as demands to change the Divine message. This makes reform particularly difficult. Justice is integral to the philosophy of Islam. But justice is influenced by our lived realities and changes with time and context. This should be reflected in Islamic legal tradition. Since Islam and Islamic law are not monolithic, there will always be and should always be multiple understandings and interpretations of Islamic law. Pakistan needs to allow for more debate and contrasting viewpoints when it comes to Islamic exegesis. Our jurists live in an echo chamber and operate like a mafia. They strategically defame and ban scholars deemed as too liberal or controversial to suppress any parallel or progressive narrative to their patriarchal interpretations of Quranic text. Greater diversity of gender, ethnicity and thought is sorely needed amongst our jurists. Since women have a vested interest in readdressing the historical prejudices entwined in the current interpretations of traditional jurists, we need them to come forward and play a greater role in the exegesis of the Quran. It is only when liberation begins from within the Islamic sphere, that we will finally see a change in Muslim societies. The author is an Associate Professor and Director Population Research Center at Institute of Business Administration Karachi.