Islamic Voice
Safar 1422H
May 2001
Volume 15-05 No:173

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MUSLIM WOMEN


Cyber Veil

Cyber Veil

Muslim women networkers find it convenient to work online from safer confines of their homes.

M. H. Lakdawala in Mumbai

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The Internet is erasing race, class, gender and even age, the barriers that can impede progress in the real world. You can’t see how old or what colour people have in cyberspace. This provides the groups such as women and minorities to cross the initial hurdle in just one jump. Muslims women in particular are very excited by the all-new avenues opened up by the Internet.

Due to the unsuitable environment and hostile attitude of the men, Muslim women were confined to their home. Even talented and educated Muslim women lacked opportunities. Net is providing a non-corporate, gender-neutral environment that is a big lure, especially in cultures where women have education but lack opportunity.

Muslims have started talking about the potential of the “cyber-hijab”, or the cyberveil, which allows women who can’t work with men or shop without chaperons to see the world by surfing it. In Saudi Arabia, 26 Internet service providers have special portals for women surfers. Internet has opened slew of opportunities in various fields for Muslim women:

Education: Many of the parents are apprehensive while sending daughters to college for higher education. But net has opened up new avenues of higher education. Basically it is a concept similar to the correspondence course system, where students who sign up for a course can study as per their convenience. Onlinevarsity.com, Zd University, Touro University International etc., are some of the virtual universities offering courses at both graduate and postgraduate level. Recent statistics show that the typical outline learners are between the age of 17 and 57. Approximately 52 per cent of these students are females. Shamina Memon, who has enrolled with an online varsity for a course in software programming said, such online courses are very useful to girls like me who are from the conservative family. “My father refused permission for higher studies, although I secured 94 per cent marks.”

What convinced Shamina’s father Ismail Memon was chat room of online varsity, which provides a forum for real time interaction. “I am not in favour of co-education system. The virtual universities provide the facilities of the bulletin board on net. Their students submit assignments and check their grades online, often with highlighted comments and even with a recorded audio attachment from the professor”, he said.

 

A housewife wary of consulting a male nephrologist got treated by posting her complaint on the website of a community of kidney experts.

Medical: Muslim women’s some time face really tough times searching for a well qualified and experienced female doctor. Seamless access to medical information on the Internet is diminishing the physical barrier between physician and patient. Razia Sorathia who suffered post pregnancy complications was asked to consult a kidney specialist by her gynaecologist. Not finding suitable female nephrologist she posted her problem on the online community of nephrologists. She was not inclined to consult male nephrologist. “With the cooperation of my gynaecologist I was able to consult top nephrologist online and my treatment was completed within three weeks” Said Razia.

Marriage: In urban areas where communities are scattered, some time finding suitable partners is very tedious. No doubt marriage bureaus have been in existence for years, but, generally parents avoid registering with them. Online marriage bureaus are far more effective because of their reach, and confidentiality. One can register with them without revealing her identity.

Moreover, while fixing marriage parents were hesitant giving permission to meet the prospective bride and bridegroom. Through email more and more youngsters are communicating trying to know each other before marriage.

Islamic Scholars are fielding a slew of queries about proper online behaviour such as whether it is acceptable for men and women to have e-mail contact and whether online shopping is permissible in Islam. A few Muslim social scientists opine that cyberspace is a zone where there is no distinction between the veiled and the unveiled, since the computer itself acts as a form of veil.

Friendship: Once the girl completes education or get married she has to forgo even her female friend circle. Due to the restrictions on their movements, even their best of friends were hardly able to communicate. The net is helping rediscovering of old friends. Within the hijab now Muslim women are as free as men to meet their friends online.

Farida Shah, mother of two, devotes at least couple of hours every week communicating with her old forgotten friends. “I was in contact with most of my close friends through telephone after marriage but telephone has its own limitations. E-mail provides us with privacy which was lacking with telephones and it also eliminates the distance,” she said.

 

In a society where mobility makes women vulnerable, e-mail acts as a permeable veil through which interaction is possible without eye-contact.

Professional Advice: In the world dominated by men, professionally competent Muslim women find themselves isolated. In Muslim society even a competent woman interacting with man is seen with suspicion. The things are changing for better. With slew of online professional communities, the physical and geographical barrier has diminished. Saleha Shaikh an architect was finding very difficult to keep herself updated about the latest development in the field of Architecture. “I felt very awkward interacting with male architects but now online interaction keep us abreast of latest development in national as well as international level beside helping and maintaining our dignity”, she said.

Bilquish Ahmed repented her decision to become a software programmer. She was uncomfortable attending the male dominated briefing sessions of her corporate clients. “I could not bear the arrogance and searing gazes of many of my male clients,” she said.” Now unless and until some practical hitch is there I work online where I am very comfortable as it protect me from those lustful stares and awful comments.”

Women Forums and Sites: Sites such as ivillage.com, cosmo.women.com, oxygen.com, mom.com, village.com, womeninfoline.com, smartbahu.com and others exclusively deal with the women issues. Information on pregnancy, fertility, jobs, home business, home investing, breastfeeding, depressions, you name it, you have it. Womeninfoline.com probably addresses relationship issues better discussing as it does join families, care for the aged and adjustment with families settled abroad. Smartbahu.com true to it, the site encapsulates the changing mindset of Indian woman rather comprehensively.

The potential of net is gradually sinking in amongst the Muslims. Currently a fraction of Muslim women are logging in. As the importance and safety provided by the networking becomes known, more and more Muslim women who are very particular about Hijab are finding internet as boon.  

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