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Marginalisation of Muslim Women

A three-day International conference on Status of Muslim Women in South Asia was organized by the Maulana National Azad Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad on March 6-8. It had been convened by the Centre for Study of Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) headed by Prof. Kancha Ilaiah. It was inaugurated by MANUU vice chancellor Prof. Mohammed Miyan while the valedictory address was delivered by Dr. K. Rahman Khan, Union Minister for Minority Affairs. Rajya Sabha TV organized a debate on the situation of Muslim minority with particular focus on Muslim women in the backdrop of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report on March 8, the International Women’s Day. Islamic Voice reports the proceedings in brief.
Codify Muslim Personal Law to remove injustices
Teesta Setalvad
Human rights activist, Mumbai
It is very important that a debate is opened about codification of the Muslim Personal Law in order to remove injustice done to women which will not be tolerated in any Muslim country. We want a common civil code, not a Uniform Civil Code.
We see diabolical image of women in Kodnani, a doctor and a minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet who distributed swords among Hindutva activists. Media makes martyr of a Muslim woman who may be unfairly divorced but the foeticide among Hindus is reduced to mere statistics. It is falling prey to Hindutva prejudice. One must remember that Savitribai Phule who set up the first girls school in Pune was ostracized by the Hindus and it was a Muslim, Osman Shaikh who sheltered her during that period of boycott.
Muslim mohallas in UP are identified by police stations and the Hindu localities by schools.
Progressive Interpretation of the scriptures is the need of the hour
K. Rahman Khan
Union Minister for Minority Affairs, Government of India
Social inclusion of Muslim women through education is the top priority of the Ministry. There is resistance against as well as awareness about women’s education among Muslims. Changes have come in considerable measure during the last 40 years.
Most of our (Muslims’) problems are not due to others, but due to our own follies. We bring forth the emotive issues of sharia being in danger and the Muslim Personal Law. Why do we become prey to the propaganda of the enemies of Islam. There is a need for progressive interpretation of the Quran. A Quranic verse of Surah Nisa was previously translated as “Men are the masters of women”. But today I hear it being interpreted as “Men should stand up for women”.  Only through such progressive interpretation of the sacred scripts we can move forward in the 21st century.
Muslims must nurture youth into politics as democracy, however muddied the process might be, is the only way to carry one’s voice to decision-makers. At one end the Muslims criticize politics and another end they seek politicians’ help to redress their grievance. This is contradictory.
Identity Politics Disadvantages Muslim women
Keynote Address by Prof. Zoya Hasan, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
Arab Spring witnessed massive participation of women across the Islamic world. Even otherwise, remarkable mobilization of Muslim women has been seen during the last three years. Generally the debate on women has followed familiar issues such as rape, personal laws and violence against women. We need to look beyond the religion. There have been strong voices from among the Muslims to reform personal law. This realization has been seen after the passing of the Muslim Women Act 1986.The right wing forces frame issues merely in terms of gender justice for Muslim women which hinders the debate as it is perceived in antagonistic terms by the community. There should be options for people to regulate their personal affairs either by their personal laws or under the common civil laws.
Muslim women suffer from disadvantages such as social opportunities, economic power, poor representation in public employment. Agenda of Muslim women’s rights has been pushed back in the wake of identity politics and the fact that the Government listens more to the highly conservative leadership dwarfs the voices of the progressive sections within the communities.
“Imperilled Muslim Women” is a Western construct
Prof. Hameedah Nayeem,
Kashmir University
Hegemony of the Muslim clergy will be disturbed if ijtihad’s doors will be opened. We should interrogate laws that were formulated 300 years after the passing away of the Prophet and are misogynist in nature. One of the missions of the Holy Prophet was to liberate the humanity from the tyranny of patriarchy. ‘The imperiled Muslim women’ is a Western construct which is deployed in the larger battle between Islam and the West.
Taliban had tribalised Islam. 900 rapes have been documented by the Amnesty International and other human rights organizations in the Kashmir Valley at the hands of the security forces in Kashmir and this oppression is directly attributable to the AFSPA. Defence Minister says they cannot revoke AFSPA because Army is not willing. It effectively means that Army has supremacy over the Constitution and democratic structure. If it is so, we need to question under what kind of a democracy we are living. The culture of impunity and immunity has been legitimized by AFSPA.
There is diversity in sharia laws even in matters of veil. We must create a modern seminary for modern fatwas.
Problem is with interpretation of the Quran
Mazher Hussain
Secretary, Coordination of Voluntary Agencies, Hyderabad
Most women NGOs highlight two issues pertaining to Muslim women i.e., Burqa and Divorce. It is simply degrading. Secondly, if Muslim NGOs think of empowering women, they do it by training them in tailoring and zari. There is no talk of giving them access to assets and representation in public spaces. Some people think that the problem lies with the Quran and the sharia. I say it is with interpretation of sharia. We need to do a dialogue with our own religious leaders.
Seema Khan
Secretary, Nepal Muslim Women Welfare Society, Kathmandu
Muslims constitute 4.4% of Nepal’s population. Early marriage of girls, rampant dowry, and dowry-related divorces, poverty etc are the main roadblocks to empowerment of Muslim women in Nepal. NGOs like ours are suspected of working against Islam by conservative clergy.
Azra Aabidi
Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Azra Aabidi presented the outcome of a survey of 50 Muslim women from Darbhanga district of Bihar which elicited their status on six different variables namely education, marriage, divorce, decision-making, inheritance rights and Purdah. In matters of marriage, two women out of the sample said they exercised free choice, 47 said the consent was merely namesake and one of them said she was forcibly married. 60% were aware of the inheritance rights of Muslim women, 70% said they would claim their share; 40% said they were married earlier than 18 under the pretext of good matches being available at that age; 10 % said they were married much before they wanted as parents did not want to take risk of love affairs; 60% were observing purdah while 40% were not.
Defining Patriarchy
Prof. H. Y. Siddiqui
Dept. of Sociology, MANUU
Mechanism to dominate over women is called patriarchy. It is not region and religion specific. It creates a mindset and wants women to surrender and urges men to dominate. This process generates dependence and a feeling of helplessness and keeps the women away from education and economic roles. It also creates myths about feminine qualities and results in glorification of social responsibilities of family and children. It can be modern too and need not be the outcome of the primitive mindset alone. The tribals or Adivasis did not have patriarchy as they did not have landed properties. Several communities where land ownership is the mainstay of economy, patriarchal tendencies are very strong such as in Punjab.
Women are Patriarch in Haryana
Prof. Ehsanul Huq
Retired from JNU
In Haryana it is the women who are patriarch as they who want the male child and decide about the foeticide of the girl child. Patriarchy is found rampant among educated class too. In Delhi, a survey was taken about the number of missing girl children and it was found in Preet Vihar, an elite colony, that the population had a deficit of 342 girls.
Marginalisation of Muslims Affects Women
Dr. Arvinder Ansari
Dept. of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Ghettoisation among Muslims is affecting mobility of Muslim women. Though most Muslims may not have experienced or witnessed physical violence against the community, they seek residence in Muslim colonies of Delhi such as Zakir Nagar or Abdu Fazl Enclave. Collective memories of the past are passed on to the younger generation.  Due to the communal violence, the spatial location is becoming ethnically exclusive. Muslim girls may have Hindu friends among their classmates but they feel embarrassed to invite them homes in exclusive Muslim localities where civic amenities are abysmal.  In such localities, Muslim women are supposed to go to only certain categories of jobs, surveillance is maintained on their movement during leisure  hours. The communal violence is therefore marginalizing the Muslim women even more.
Equality does not mean Sameness
Maulana Ibrahim Ismail Bham
Secretary, Jamiatul Ulema, Johannesburg, South Africa
Men and women are equal but not identical. Equality does not mean sameness. Otherwise there would not have been need for separate restrooms for each of the gender.  In this separateness lies the beauty. Men and women have complementary roles, not confrontational. Most of the oppression does not happen because of Islam but due to the traditions that are steeped in primitivity. If women are asked to take up the home front, it does not mean they are being consigned to inferior roles. In the US, 15 million children are at risk because they are growing out of the families. The US is worried.
Need to Re-examine Muslim Personal Law
Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Journalist, Bangalore
Mostly the duties discourse under sharia is unidirectional i.e., stressing women’s duties towards their husbands. Experience of social work in Bangalore suggests that women suffer because of economically irresponsible Muslim husbands who recklessly contract marriages with more than one woman and desert, rather than divorce, their wives. Arab grooms poach upon such women. There are cases of a single woman being recurringly married to the several foreign grooms. Women remain trapped in inharmonious marriages as sharia courts insist on husbands giving consent for khulaa. There is need to reexamine the provisions of Muslim Personal Law. The Quran does not approve of three talaqs. There is no harm in accepting the Constitutional condition of 18 being the legal age of marriage and registration of marriages. All Muslim marriages must be registered.
Shariat is Changeable
Prof. Alim Ashraf
Department of Arabic, MANUU
It is wrong to say that shariat is not changeable. The Shariat is to facilitate the people, not to straitjacket them into immutable laws. But it is equally wrong not to recognize the basic physical, psychological and mental differences between men and women. The West is trying to impose its definition of family on the Muslim world by striking at their traditional roles. This will only cause disintegration of the society and its homogeneous nature.
Prohibit Three talaq, no Harm in 18 years for Marriageable age
Uzma Nahid
Member, Muslim Personal Law Board, Mumbai
We had presented the 30-point modern Nikahnama before the Muslim Personal Law Board which has not done anything on this. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi had urged the need to enter conditions from the spouses in the Nikahnama. We had urged that the women should give their consent in writing prior to Nikah. It had also talked about prohibition of three talaq. (It may be reminded that Hazrat Umar introduced the punishment of 100 lashes to those men who divorced their wives unfairly.) We had said that insistence on 18 years of age for marriage should not be opposed. Similarly, there should be no opposition to registration of Nikah and similarly even the divorces should be registered.  In Egypt, there is a law that if a man divorces his wife, he will have to leave his matrimonial home and pass its ownership onto the woman.
Delegates from Sri Lanka, Iran, Germany and Bangladesh also presented papers in the Conference which devoted one session to Muslim women in literature and films.
(This report has been compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj who participated in the proceedings on all three days.)