Mirorr to the Social Mess
Islam in the US
Voice of the Voiceless
Status of Muslim Women in India
Syeda Saiyidain Hameed
National Commission for Women
New Delhi, pages 76
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
MUSLIMwomen are under renewed focus what with several courts almost nullifying the 1986 Muslim Women’s Rights Act and the National Commission for Women coming out with this (under review) report after two years of public hearings. The report holds mirror to the social mess within the community, civil laws and their implementation, impact of various official schemes and measures and a comparison between laws regulating Muslim family affairs in Muslim countries and India.
As is generally admitted, the lot of women could not be any different from the general lot of the social group they belong to. Add gender related deficiencies and the picture is complete. In case of Muslim women, an additional factor of personal law also becomes important. The report takes stock of the situation from all three angles, though the personal accounts gathered through public hearings held in 12 cities and towns seem to dominate the analysis. These should serve as eye-opener and sound an alarm for all those labouring under the misbelief that Muslim women generally received a better deal because of Islamic ethos.
As could be seen, the plight is only worse. Multiple marriages, demand, torture and even murder for dowry, wife beating, unfair divorces, desertion of wife, economic irresponsibility of males, ridiculously low amount of Mehr and often its denial, use of Talaq e Bidaa (by uttering Talaq thrice in one sitting much against the Qur’anic injunctions), marriage before prescribed age, male bias in adjudication at the Qazi’s courts have been cited as frequent abuses of law that contribute to woes of Muslim women. Some Razias and Khaledas also revealed that they knew about the right to khula only at the public hearings. A good number of women also cited insecurity and killing of their husbands at the hands of the communal forces as source of misery.
Of course, several of these maladies are traceable to the ills of poverty. Any community with similar economic profile is expected to behave in similar fashion. But there is some degree of difference. Auto driver Akram Pasha of Bangalore and Nazrul Islam of Tezpur extract double advantage. They are aided by Indian customs and as well as the lenient provisions of the Muslim personal law. Look at the irony of wives being discarded with three talaqs in one go just for not bringing sufficient dowry. While the children are left in the custody of sulking wives, the Pasha and Nazrul can set up new homes. Hameed observes: “She (the Muslim woman) must accept being on the streets after instantaneous triple talaq and token mehr (if any) because of her personal law permits it and she must accept her husband’s multiple wives because that too is part of her personal law. As for mehr and maintenance, whereas it is equally a part of her personal law, it is hardly ever recognised as an injunction by the men, who flaunt it, first by getting the Qazi to insert the most nominal amount in the Nikahnama and second by refusing to pay maintenance, regardless of its compulsory status.”
The report builds up a strong case for reform in the law as well as sincere initiatives on poverty alleviation front. It goes on to report a few self-help initiatives from across the country which certainly inspire hope. It also recommends compulsory registration of marriages, making polygamy difficult, adoption of nikahnama drafted by some Muslim social activists, banning of three talaq in one sitting, and measures for a fair deal for the Muslim girl child.
The Voice of the Voiceless is a voice of sanity couched in a cautious language. Taking due cognizance of the extremist slogan of cultural bulldozing, it calls for urgent reforms on all fronts, legal, administrative and behavioural. It is hoped the report would be debated in informed circles for an intellectual consensus.
A Century of Islam in America
By Yvonne Y. Haddad
Islamic Affairs Programs
The Middle East Institute
1761, N.Street, NW, Washington, DC. 20036.
Page 16, Price: $ 4
THIS booklet is an occasional paper under the programme of exploring current issues under the Muslim World Today series.
The author has presented a bird’s eye view of a growing Muslim community in the United States. An active participant in the country, the community however still begs for recognition of its role. Haddad steers clear of varying arguments on Muslim population which is put between six lakh to nine million.
The community’s history of origin points to four sources. Earliest Muslims were black slaves. Records mention arrival of these slaves who ate no pork and believed in Allah and Muhammad. Then there were Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and South East Asia. Third, America’s rise as the home of new technology brought a vast number of students who mostly settled here. Fourth, the ethnic amalgam of the community began to win white converts after 1960.
A democratic society indifferent to religion, the US offered an altogether new terrain to Muslims and Islam where they could not grow by conquests or by phenomenally large immigration. Islam encountered difficulties that were not in the nature of religious opposition but because of secular ethos and ideals. Muslims bought churches to be turned into mosques, hired spaces in Christian graveyards, started Sunday classes and adopted potluck dinners and bakes sales, all bearing a distinct stamp of Christian life. America even modified the role of mosques from centres of worship to that of community centres. Imams too donned the mantle of spokesman. But then pork and wine, free mixing of sexes, dress codes for females, a different set of family laws, clash of rigmarole of Ramzan fasting and Friday prayers with strict work schedule raise questions about practicality of Islam in the American life.
The study provides an objective analysis of the Black Muslim Movement, an overview of Islamic organizations, marshalls some statistics on the mosques and Islamic centres and a chronological data dating from 1539 to 1985. Bibliography too will help the students on the subjects. It lightly touches upon the problems Islam faces in the US Society. Media myths, popular biases and administrative partisanship come under review but the study hopes to mould the disparate groups of the community into a homogenous whole as has been the American experience with numerous ethnic ingredients. MAS