IXth Ravinder Kumar Memorial Lecture – “Women in Islam: Inverting Reality and Myth”

“What Islam has given to women is different from what is being portrayed in the media and practised by Muslims”: Dr Syeda Saiyidain Hameed

By Manzar Imam

New Delhi: It was a brainstorming session in which students raised serious questions about Islam in general and about Muslim women’s issues and the role of ulama in particular at Jamia Millia Islamia recently, when women’s rights activist and educationist, Dr Syeda Saiyidain Hameed tried to pull the answers apart by separating certain myths from realities.
She was delivering the IXth Ravinder Kumar Memorial Lecture titled “Women in Islam: Inverting Reality and Myth” organised by the Academy of International Studies (AIS), JMI on October 5.
Calling women in Islam the “hot topic” which you cannot escape when you look at the media today, the former member of the Planning Commission of India suggested that there was need to ‘segregate the myth from the reality’ because we are all “victims of that myth” and mostly relatively “ignorant of the details of the subject”. Placing the topic into a context, she said that the global image of the Muslim woman could be explained in 3 Bs and 3 Cs. The Bs are burqa, backward and beleaguered and the Cs are chulha, chakri and char-diwari, words to define the role of women as being limited to cooking, doing other household chores and being confined to home.

Verses of inheritance
What Islam has given to women is different from what is being portrayed in the media and practised by Muslims, she asserted. She quoted a verse from the Quran (Verse 35 of Chapter 33) revealed in answer to a question raised by Umm Salama, one of the wives of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) as to why only men were addressed in the Quran. The verse clearly mentions women along with men for whom Allah announces forgiveness and great reward without distinction on account of gender which means that women in Islam have equal status to men.
Hameed demanded that any text must be understood in the context in which it is revealed. Elaborating that, she said that laws pertaining to inheritance and right of women in land for example should be viewed historically. At the time when the verses of inheritance were revealed, women were completely deprived of any right. She said that Surah Al-Nisa of the Quran gives detailed instructions about women’s rights with new provisions, all to do with talaq, marriage, property rights. The order for the right of women in inheritance and property was like a bombshell as it deprived men of the old traditional privilege, she said adding that media had damaged the image of Muslim women. Many of the achievements and glories of Islam have been forgotten. “It is very convenient to stereotype Muslim women as meek and voiceless.”
It is important to understand that Islam was born in a context. It was meant to address the ills of an era called the Era of Jahiliyah that is an era of ignorance. The problem is that we Muslims hung on to each and every word without understanding the profound spirit behind the language. Despite Islam having everything, Muslims haven’t taken few strides. They have stood still.
Dr. Hameed cited Maulana Abul Kalam Azad that deen (religion) was easy, but we make it look difficult. We stopped reading and understanding the Quran. Instead of importing good things “We took from other cultures all the patriarchal values”, she said adding that there is “no dowry but dower” in Islam. This is how things have been inverted and we have wrong things like dowry. Many of these are open to critical explanation, she said, hinting at the rigidity of some ulama.

Burning Issue of Triple Talaq
While talking about the burning issue of triple talaq, Dr Hameed, also a former member of the National Commission for Women, said that issues like poverty cut across societies, but there’s a double whammy for the Muslim women as they are under the fear of the Domiciles’ sword of triple talaq.
Hameed also hit back at some of the arguments of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board given in support of triple talaq like, if a man is not allowed to give talaq, he would do more harm to the woman either by killing her, poisoning her or in other ways. She rejected them as “ridiculous arguments”.
(Extracted and with some modifications from twocircles.net)

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