by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, May 15
“You cannot represent Islam,” I was told by a Muslim friend. It isn’t the first time and it pushes me into an uncomfortable position.
I am also not a ‘communist’ who appears regularly on TV to call the ulema “mad and insane”, for which Javed Akhtar gets into trouble, though the nature of the trouble is not known. So, I don’t get brownie points from non-Muslims.
I have not done research into madrassas to understand the working of the minds of mullahs nor am I a convert to Islam that I can pretend to give a ‘balanced’ picture. No espionage here. So, I am not terribly smart.
I am not a trained religious acrobat who has done time with the faith.
Then why am I a Muslim and why do I now state that I can speak for some of us? Because I was born one; I am secure in my ability to not follow any rules unthinkingly. And I can speak on behalf of my kind of Muslims because I do not feel the need to appease any group.
Hence, I feel quite disappointed to read letters to the mullahs that are an apology for the faith as well as a desperate attempt to sound like the ‘nice Muslims’ that non-Muslims wish to see us as. It is offensive to women who have had to fight several odds to read the “sister-in-Islam”, Nigar Ataulla, write an open letter to the fatwa-makers wherein she states that besides giving a large part of her zakat to the madrassas she is not a “a radical feminist out to attack you out of blind prejudice”. Is one to suppose that radical feminism is about blind prejudice? When any person who believes in an ideology takes a position there is embedded in it a prejudice against the contrarian position. It is done with open eyes and a questioning mind.
While there is some attempt at sarcasm, it does not flip the coin but furthers the stereotype:
“While some of you have issued fatwas declaring watching television (including even Islamic programmes) as wholly haram, I do turn on the TV once in a while, but only to watch my favourite cartoon show ‘Tom and Jerry’ (It’s about a cat and a mouse chasing each other and having loads of fun. You can also watch it, its clean stuff!). For my job as a writer, I have to interact and interview people, and not just women. Given all this, perhaps I do not fit your description of what the ideal Muslimah is.”Perhaps the writer might have added Discovery Channel where animals mate. Islam has never said anything against cohabitation. The problem with the cat and mouse game is that the positions can get changed. Even in Islamic countries that have a strict code there are programmes that show women in strong positions.
I take exception to a comment like:
“What I wish to convey to you as a Muslim working woman is that your fatwa sends out wrong signals to not just us Muslims but to non-Muslims as well.”
I had already stated in my piece Subjugating the Muslim woman (that led to an interesting discussion on this blog here) that women do earn and contribute. However, it does not mean a non-working woman does not have access to similar rights in other spheres of life. A letter such as this sends out even worse signals. It strives too hard to please. Take this example:
“I sometimes wonder how religious scholars from other communities, such as Hindus Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs, interact with the common folk among their co-religionists. Frankly, sometimes I really envy them. Non-Muslim women can freely ask questions to their priests, gurus and so on and discuss religious matters with them. I simply cannot, for the life of me, fathom why Muslim women cannot have a healthy and positive dialogue with the ulema. Is it because of some deep-rooted fear on both sides? Is it because of a totally unwarranted hierarchy that seems to prevail between the ulema and the common folk, paralleling that between medieval kings and their subjects? I don’t need to explain who the ‘kings’ and the ‘subjects’ here are, for surely you will understand.”
This is a most ridiculous argument. This fatwa was issued because there was a specific question asked. Therefore, some woman felt the need to discuss it with a maulvi. How many women from the other communities mentioned consult their religious heads? The Confession in churches is not about a religious discourse. Ashrams do not encourage inconvenient queries and are essentially a spiritual salve.
Which woman will have the courage to question any of these holy men about the patriarchal nature of all religions? There is also the aspect about who truly represents the priesthood. There are several sects in all faiths and they have their own cushy set-up. Women as well as men, when they do become a part of the active believer fraternity, end up as slaves to religion and therefore the priests running the establishment. Such slavery can be emotional or physical, as we have seen from some recent reports.
If fatwas have to be opposed, as some of us have done, then it must not become a mandate for everyone else to jump on one community. There is no need to show Muslim women wearing slit-eye veils in the media, when there are very few such women in this country. If we oppose the fatwa, we must be actively involved in opposing the state machinery too that uses these same organisations when it comes to garnering votes or to appease the community. Why is there no anger when the liberals go out to claim that we are not terrorists and use the mullahs for their rallies? Why are the voices silent then?
When there is anger against the Deoband, which the writer has not mentioned by name, then there must be no need for a dialogue. I am not interested in having a chat with the mullahs just as I am not interested in a chat with any establishment figure.
They can refuse to accept me as a Muslim. My friends can say that I do not represent the community. It does not bother me. I work, I wear what I want, and I do represent myself and those who identity with me. I won’t play into the hands of the mullahs or those who watch from the sidelines tittering, “Look, Islam is such a problem”. It is. And so is every religion that seeks to interfere in the public domain that is outside its periphery.