by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, May 12
What is worse – the Dar-ul Uloom Deoband’s decree that a woman’s earnings are illegal because according to the Sharia her working among males is wrong or the Allahabad high court ruling that a non-Muslim bride must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim?
In both instances Islam is used to denigrate the position of women.
In the case of the edict, I fail to understand how it is being referred to as a fatwa by the media. This word is being abused in the most blatant manner. What the clerics of the Deoband seminary say is their point of view and they are often responding to specific queries by individuals. Their pronouncements and the questions asked are not universal statements or a general matter of concern or confusion among the Muslim populace.
Here is the Deoband version:
“It is unlawful (under the Sharia law) for Muslim women to work in government/private sectors where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without a veil.”
As happens often, newspapers have collected stray comments, and all from the religious perspective. Historical examples are a good foundation and place to start an argument, but they need not be used to deal with contemporary lifestyles and attitudes.
Why have the clerics woken up now? If they are supposed to be of any consequence and wish to be taken seriously, then must they wait for someone to raise a point? Don’t they see that thousands of women work and earn and help their families?
Have they not seen women beggars at traffic signals asking for money, displaying maimed children? There are Muslim women among them, too. If groups of Muslims keep talking about the real issue of economic backwardness, it is related to social backwardness that is forced upon them by these mullahs.
It is a tragedy that even where political issues are concerned women have to bear the brunt. Do the mullahs recall how they brought their women out with the same frankness they are against to reiterate their anti-terror position? Do the mullahs realise that everytime there is some backlash and they feel their religion is threatened it is the women who have to start observing the dress code, whether or not they themselves do as a mark of respect to their identity?
While there is no doubt some merit in making references to the Prophet’s liberalism and his wife Ayesha’s participation in the war, these are seen as special cases. For, in a monotheistic faith where the Prophet is held in complete reverence no one wants to emulate him or anyone from that period. They only wish to use their limited understanding of certain sayings in the Quran and either twist them or use them without any concern for the changing mores and requirements.
How many such edicts have been passed against men?
To be fair, there have been voices within the religious fraternity that have objected to this edict. These voices will be very few and not really stand out. It is the women who need to make themselves heard, both with their actions and their words.
The Dar-ul-Uloom is based in India and while the country does have provisions for personal laws, there is the Indian Constitution. If this gives us freedom to practise religion, then it will also intervene in criminal cases and any form of cruelty.
It is for this reason that the Allahabad court judgement goes against the principles of choice provided in the Constitution. The ruling states that matrimony between a non-Muslim woman and a Muslim man will be considered void as it goes against the tenets of the Quran.
This sort of blanket judgement bringing in religion can have disastrous consequences later. Sunita Jaiswal had filed a FIR against Dilbar Habib Siddiqui alleging that he had abducted her daughter Khushboo; she contended that she did not convert to Islam to buffer her case.
The court verdicts states:
“In our above conclusion we are fortified by the fact that in the affidavit and application filed by Khusboo herself subsequent to her alleged contract marriage, she has described herself as Khushboo and not by any Islamic name. As Khushboo, she could not have contracted marriage according to Muslim customs. In those referred documents she has addressed herself as Khushboo Jaiswal daughter of Rajesh Jaiswal.”
Therefore, her marriage is void, says the judgement.
One assumes that she was not abducted because she made the subsequent application. Therefore, unless she was forced, one cannot use that against Dilbar. While many people choose to use religion-specific names, some don’t. Khushboo is an Urdu word and could be a Muslim name. There have been several cases of celebrity nikaahs performed where the couples belong to different religions and opt to retain the cultural rituals of both sides of the family. It may not have religious sanction, but some qazis do conduct such nikaahs.
What if the couple got married under the Special Marriages Act and had it registered? No conversion or name change is required. I should hope the girl is not pressurised as this could well be a ruse to prevent a cross-religious alliance.
If the judge believes she is abducted, he should handle the case at that level as a criminal offence. There is no need to bring in religion and humiliate the young woman. This is just an invitation to divide people and bring in the religious heads to intervene in a personal matter. Incidentally, there was no reference to a non-Muslim male marrying a Muslim woman. The patriarchal mindset even of a secular judiciary believes that only the woman has to convert.
At this rate, the Deoband edict could well reach some high court in the country and we might have an Indian judge pronouncing that Muslim women in the work-place goes against the Sharia and therefore will be kept out of any professional role.
The state and religion are two entities and it is the business of both to protect all its citizens and members. Women are not lesser human beings and if we are expected to perform our duties, we are also in a position to demand our rights. And our rights include non-interference of the state and religion in matters of our well-being.
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Updated on May 13 around 6.30 PM IST:
The role of the state and religion had come to the fore with regard to such religious edicts when P.Chidambaram applauded some maulvis on their stand against terrorism.
Here is an extract from my earlier piece The Farce of Fatwas:
Have the Jamiat or the Darul-uloom ever come to the forefront and fought for the dispossessed within the community? What has been the role of religious organisations during times of riots and such crises? Do they work with traumatised victims as human beings and not merely god’s soldiers? Give us the instance of a single head of such an organisation who is leading such proactive movements. They merely pontificate and pronounce edicts. The opinion of a handful of maulvis cannot be elevated to a diktat.
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Updated on May 14, 5.25 PM IST:
Updated on May 14, 5.25 PM IST:
Why does the TOI insist on using pictures such as these when talking about Muslim women in Mumbai? How many women dressed in this manner do you see even in the mohallas? They did it in the initial report and this one is in today's paper where the topic of discussion is the Urdu press opposing the fatwa. So, in effect, TOI is following in the footsteps of the Deoband. Why am I not surprised?