IRFAN ENGINEER | 10 APRIL, 2016

MUSLIM WOMEN SEARCH FOR GENDER JUSTICE


It is worth visiting some of the fatwas (opinions of the jurists) issued by the muftis (those who are trained in Islamic jurisprudence and authorized to issue fatwas), even though they are not binding. Given the socio-economic and educational backwardness of the community, these fatwas cannot be ignored, particularly those against the women who find themselves in a hopeless and helpless situation. In the year 2010 there was a fatwa of Darul-ul-Uloom Deoband opining that Muslim women working in establishments which required interaction with male colleagues was haram (forbidden). An all Kashmiri girls’ music band was called haram by another fatwa. There have been fatwas banning Muslim women from exercising their voting rights, contesting elections, viewing most channels on TV or listening to music. In the Imrana case, fatwa was issued directing Imrana who was sexually assaulted by her father-in-law to be divorced as she was now haram to her husband. Fatwas have upheld divorce when given in fit of anger, or under influence of liquor, via text messages, over telephone and in one case even in a dream.

A survey carried out by Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan brings out that ninety per cent of Muslim women are against talaq-e-bidat and polygamy. Seventy five per cent of the women were against child marriage. Muslim women, according to the survey, were overwhelmingly demanding codification of Muslim family law within Qur’anic framework (Bhalla, 2015). Muslim women suffering the patriarchal religious structures have clearly given their verdict – they want liberation from the patriarchal mindset with which their religious institutions are run. Are the religious and political leaders of the community listening to their voices?

Muslim women’s organizations have agitated against such interpretations of Islam. They have engaged with the religious leadership, including the AIMPLB. Uzma Naheed from IQRA International Women’s Association has been engaging with the religious leadership for quite some time and she even finds some Ulema to be sympathetic. The only difference her long engagement and hard efforts to reason with the religious leadership in general and AIMPLB in particular is for all to see – AIMPLB has opposed the petition in Supreme Court for a declaration of talaq-e-bidat as null and void. The only silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud is that a tiny minority of women have now been included as members of the AIMPLB, including Uzma Naheed. They have the opportunity to sensitize the members of the consequences of their actions on Muslim women.

Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan (BMMA) has been agitating for the rights of Muslim women within the Islamic framework. Having membership of about one lakh Muslim women throughout the country, they have come a long way. Organizing Annual conventions and flagging issues of Muslim women, they have established Shari Adalat wherein women Qadis try to adjudicate matrimonial disputes brought before them by Muslim women in accordance with Qur’anic principles. However, Shari Adalats have achieved limited success as it is difficult to get men to attend counselling and if they do, it is difficult to convince them about equal rights of women in Qur’an given the fatwas of religious leadership which favour them. BMMA has also developed a model nikaahnama wherein marriages are solemnized on equitable terms to both and the husband delegates his right to divorce to his wife and agrees not to go in for second wife during the lifetime of their marriage.

BMMA has also approached the Government to bring in suitable legislation against talaq-e-bidat, halala nikah and polygamy. Islamic scholar Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Institute of Islamic Studies and BMMA collaborated to draft a codified Muslim family law within the Qur’anic framework taking the best provisions from various fiqhs and from the laws of Muslim majority countries. Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer had consulted Muslim scholars and debated with them before evolving this draft code. He found some sympathetic Ulema who felt that shari’a as practiced in India needs reforms. However, they would refrain from taking the same position in public as their bread was buttered in opposing reforms. Dr. Engineer approached the AIMPLB to discuss the draft code proposed by him but they did not show any interest whatsoever.

BMMA has been agitating against the recent ban of women’s entry in the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji imposed by the management. They have petitioned before the Bombay High Court on the issue. Their petition is resisted by the Dargah Management.

Shaista Ambar established All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB) consisting of a 30 members in their executive board. Ambar is the President of the Board. The AIMWPLB has also formulated a twelve page Sharai Nikahnama or a model contract of marriage. Islam gives rights to Muslim women to stipulate her conditions at the time of marriage. Ambar has also established a mosque 20 kms from Lucknow in which men and women pray together. Dar-ul Uloom had opposed such prayers but women asserted their rights. In Tamil Nadu, D. Sharifa Khanam runs a Muslim women’s organization called STEPS for their development. Sharifa Khanum is also mobilizing to build a women’s mosque and has established women’s jamaat.

Bebaak Collective is a collective of Muslim women’s organization which agitates for gender justice in accordance with secular laws without reference to religion. They believe religion is private affairs of the citizens and laws of the country, including family laws should not be based on any religion as women in every religion are always discriminated. They run marriage counselling centres and centres to struggle for Muslim women’s educational and other rights. They struggle against discrimination of Muslim women by the state as well as patriarchal religious institutions.

“Speak Out on FGM” and “SAHIYO” are two organizations of Bohra (Shi’a Muslim) community women. They have written letters to their religious leadership to stop the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, but the religious leadership is only advising them not to interact with media as that brings a bad name to the community. Speak Out on FGM and SAHIYO have effectively used social media to mobilize women against the FGM.

What options are the victims of patriarchal Muslim religious leadership – Muslim women – left with except to agitate before courts and secular institutions of secular democratic country which is duty bound to ensure non-discrimination on grounds of gender and religion and ensure that women are treated with dignity and as right bearers and not as chattels?

(First part of this article can be seen at: http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/4/7360/Muslim-Law-Board-Defends-the-Indefensible)

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