Looking Beyond the Decade
This issue of Islamic Voice marks completion of a decade of publication of this tiny monthly. Ten years in the life of an institution are a small period to judge its worth. But for its continuity against odds, formidable at times, this journal makes no special claim about its content, quality and appeal. But a hindsight on our formative years provides us a confidence that would not have been gained through any other means. If we are avoiding any fanfare and celebration at this occasion, it is as much due to our resourcelessness as to our minuscule role in the world of journalism. With this issue we are entering the eleventh year.
Ten years ago when we launched ourselves, we were sceptical about our survival, though very clear in our aim and objectives. Projection of the life-giving message of Islam to the people of India and removal of cobwebs of confusion and misgivings was our motto. We were fully conscious of the situation obtaining in India and the demands it was placing before the Muslims in their quest for dignity, prosperity and justice. Professional urges of journalism too were needed to be honoured. We realised fully well the need to temper the Islamic idealism with realism. Living true to the time-honoured credo of journalism "news is sacred, comment is free", our editorial columns were often called upon to comment on situations arising out of conflict between noble ideals of Islam and the distorted practices by its followers. These put us to real test. We did tread on some toes and offended the sensibilities of the puritans. But we did not shirk from putting fingers at the sore points of the community. In counselling moderation, we often sounded like preaching heresy. But we did all this with pain and pining for a change. Not with malice. Our sincerity was transparent. So at no occasion such introspective writings provided a handle to the communally biased media. While this monthly is well known in media circles, it leaves hardly any scope for turning the guns against Islam or Muslims. Our entire struggle has been focused at providing the readers what they get from nowhere else. It often necessitates going beyond the rut, looking for newer sources, providing new perspective to apparently usual events. But there were risks. New sources of news lacked credibility. Absence of a credible news network was our greatest handicap.
For us, the Islamic news originating from the non-Muslim West has been rather easy to gather than the one from the Islamic world. The West respects the free flow of information but not those His Majesty Governments it sustains in the heart of the Islamic World.
The last decade saw phenomenal increase in the pace of information due to expansion of telecommunication and computerisation. Events bypassed us mocking at our pace. The only way we could survive out this made race was by being distinct in news and views. Monthly periodicity too acted as a constraint.
Producing an Islamic journal in English is an exercise in trepidation. And doubly so in India due to the fractious Muslim past. Extra reserves of rationale and logic were required to marry the urges of the traditional and the modern. Purists often tended to mistake the criticism of the deviant practitioners with the pious precepts of the religion. What constituted sacred for some, was sacrilegious for others. The twain could have few meeting points. Only an evenhanded allowance for expression for each could buy peace. Yet we remained committed to the freedom of expression believing that the pious could triumph over the profane through argument and reason.
We bow our heads in humility before the Almighty Allah for having crossed this milestone. We thank our readers whose unstinted support helped us cross the decade successfully. Thanks are also due to our advertisers who may have had less to do with pure commercial considerations. We look forward to the new decade with hope and rededicate ourselves to the cause of dialogue and understanding.
Call from Chennai
Though the call for establishment of a University for Muslim Women in Chennai will be welcomed with due circumspection, the first-ever Muslim Women's Education Conference that concluded there will be remembered as a significant advance. It provided the maiden rendezvous for the Muslim women, educationist, social workers and teachers to share their diverse experiences. The organisers also deserve credit for not allowing the occasion to turn into an opportunity for male-bashing as is the wont of orthodox feminists. Contrary
to the customary slogans of male-female competition, the conclave and its participants displayed a distinct preference for male-female co-operation as desired by the Quran.
Yet the entire conference was unique in that the dias was entirely loaded with women activists, majority of whom did not consider hijab a stumbling block for public appearance. Except for the few male dignitaries on the dias - who owed their presence to their position and not to gender-the proceeding were conducted by women. Some of the delegates did protest and disapproved the definition of hijab-head-covering being the main bone of contention. But the conference kept itself steady on its course by sticking to its main business of discussing education. The convener of the conference, herself clad in a black cloak, through an intelligent intervention sought to assuage the ruffled feelings of delegates opposed to the head cover. Former Tamil Nadu Minorities Commission Chairman Mrs. Bader Sayeed introduced some strident notes by pleading for permission from the Ulama for women to pray in the mosques and urging codification of the Muslim Personal Law. But Dr. Tahir Mahmood, the most known expert on the Islamic and Hindu Law (and the new Chairman, National Commission for the Minorities) deftly sealed the scope for polemics by declaring that the right to pray in the mosque awaited exercise by women rather than permission.
It was desirable that the conference should have gone into the question of education for Muslim Women from the standpoint of Indian ambience. The socio-economic and educational status of Muslim women became the object of exaggerated attention in the wake of the Shah Bano case and the three talaq controversy. Yet these had been almost no discussion on the far greater negative impact of physical and cultural threat to under which the whole community is made to live. This is due to total abdication of the basic responsibility of ensuring rule of law by the administration. Lot of the Women of the community can be no better or safer than the menfolk. Communal insecurity will deter the higher education prospects of Muslim women in perhaps greater measure than it does with their males. Naturally such factors come in the way of Muslim households allowing their hijab observing girls to attend colleges. Provision of unisex schools or polytechnic that may take care of community occupations will better suit the Muslim women. It is rather ironical that a government control among Muslim women, fights shy of a similar approach for education. Behaviourial changes are universally acknowledged to be culture specific. The UK's social welfare department appoints family counsellors are white-skinned they are trained to speak Hindi and don salwar-kameez.
Much against the propaganda, more Muslim girls are studying and graduating in vast number of Indian cities. While most boys drop out early to assist fathers in continuing ancestral occupations or taking self-employment, Muslim girls ascend the ladder of learning. Infact this has rendered the match-making an arduous task in most cities. These are several other gender-specific issues will need to be considered in the follow-up of the conference.
It was therefore quite legitimate for the Chennai conference to demand the publication of statistics pertaining to literacy and education religion-wise, and gender-wise within the community. The demand for the Muslim Women's University in Chennai has been made with context to Justice Basheer Ahmad Sayeed's dream to see his college (i.e. Southern India Educational Trust College) growing into a University. But going by the inadequate number of feeder institutions, it seems, this must wait some years before actual realisation.