When her parents asked her to wear a “burqa” (veil) while attending classes at the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, Rubina refused to comply with the demand. She was barred from going to the university and sat at home washing dishes.
Barely 16, Safia, a brilliant Class 10 student, was on the warpath against her parents who had fixed her marriage with a man almost triple her age. Safia, who aspired to be a doctor, had no option but to discontinue her studies despite being a topper in her school.
Fauzia, a graduate from Delhi University’s upmarket Lady Shri Ram College, joined a computer programming course. Her parents asked her to marry not the boy of her choice and she committed suicide.
These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg as abject illiteracy for various reasons among Muslim women lies at the root of the endemic backwardness of the community at large. After the debilitating trauma of the sub-continent’s vivisection, Muslims struck to the traditional forms of education in a futile bid to retain the very vitals of their religion, drawing flak from religion as well as secular world. That’s why we don’t have many Fatima Biwis, Najma Heptullahs, Shabana Azmis and – well, the list is too small!
Even in the new millennium, the haplessness of Indian Muslim women continues at the same rate. In most of the rustic areas and even in the urban settlements the rate of literacy among Muslim women is as low as 90 per cent.
Muslim women in India are also handicapped owing to the dictates of Muslim Personal Law that is not scriptural in nature and the conservative ulema have further complicated the issues by interpreting them in a very orthodox manner.
The inherent weakness of neglecting one half of the community has, over the years, taken its toll on the Muslim community. Today, there are only a few girls in the community who are educated ones. Muslim girls’ lot is reduced to that of a prisoner without parole according to Fehmida Riyaz, a globally acclaimed Pakistani poetess.
One has heard Muslim men casting the decree of talaq on matters like the favourite dish, the colour of the suit worn by women or simply sharing the responsibility to look after a small child. Talaq-e-Bidat is the one that is ordained in one sitting. Talaq-e-Sharia is the one that aims at spacing the entire process over a period of three months so that frayed tempers on both the sides are cooled down resulting in the rejuvenation of matrimonial link again. It is Talaq-e-Bidat that has been the real culprit behind breaking of many families.
Prophet Mohammed abhorred divorce. Even a Muslim woman can seek divorce from her husband, but nevertheless, such cases are far and few. If her husband refuses to grant her divorce, she can go to a law court and obtain a decree in her favour. This may seem to place her at a disadvantage in comparison to her husband, and it may be asserted that this implies the inequality of rights, as between husband and wife.
The bane of Muslim women is that time and again, they are dragged in one controversy or another. Be it the debate of Muslim women to be allowed to pray inside the mosques or the Shah Bano imbroglio or the case of the young Ameenas being “exported” to the Arab Sheikhs, the politicians as well as the clerics try to eke out political mileage out of it. No one is worried about their dwindling literacy figures and the problem of their uplift. The Muslim fundamentalists throughout the world and more prominently in Muslim dominated states are trying to make Muslim women faceless and nameless.
Quite interestingly, rights of women in Islam are umpteen as we see in the notable reforms effected out by Prophet Mohammed, who restricted unlimited plurality in the matter of wives, discouraged divorce, forbade female infanticide and disposal of widows as part of the deceased man’s possessions. Moreover, he established a law of inheritance for women, secured to wives the right to mehr (dower), enjoined kind treatment towards female slaves and at the same time promised religious favours as a reward to those who helped to support widows and orphans. The Prophet abhorred the announcement of divorce. It is the Muslim men who are not following their prophet’s dictates.
It is high time that Islamic laws were interpreted and understood in the right perspective and progressive order to do away with discrimination based on distinction by the present day ulema. Prophet Mohammed made no distinction between men and women when it came to their rights.
(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is an educator, social activist and the grand nephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)