The words of Allama Iqbal have become my epigram for the last few years in the context of my work on Muslim women:
Apne bhi khafa mujh se, hain beganey bhi na khush,
Mein zehr e halahal ko kabhi keh na saka qand
(My own are annoyed, strangers are unhappy, I could never call lethal poison a sugar lump).
Having lived life on my own terms, I want to place those before the world once again as I have done many times since 1997, when as Member of the National Commission for Women (NCW), I began my work on Muslim women. I am a believing, practising Muslim, observing the five tenets which Muslims are required to observe by the Quran. I derive my religion directly from the Quran because of the injunction that Allah is closer to us than our jugular vein. So, He speaks to me and I don’t need intermediaries to tell me about my religion. The orthodox Maulana’s reject me because I don’t ‘look’ Muslim, the liberals reject me because I stand with Islam given to me by my own light. It is within this frame that I am looking at the current debate about Muslim women and Triple Talaq. I have on my table a small report, ‘No More Talaq Talaq Talaq’ brought out in 2015 by an NGO, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Its subtitle is ‘Muslim Women Call for a Ban on an UnIslamic Practice’.
The sample size is 100. I am trying to understand how a sample size of just 100 women could claim to speak for 90 million Muslim women. I am also troubled by the fact that my close friends and fellow travellers, whatever they say to my face, seem convinced in their hearts that Islam is anti-women. I have spent 30 years trying to explain to my universe, Quranic injunctions regarding the status and dignity of women which is reiterated again and again in verse after verse of Quran. Ordering property rights for women 1,437 years ago, to quote only one example, is one such provision. There are many more. Neither I nor the Moroccan scholar Fatima Mernissi has been able to make a dent in the obdurate mindset of those who have been brainwashed into stereotyping Islam. Our Ulema have not tried to bring the gendered face of Islam to public consciousness.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) projects nothing but patriarchy in its public discourse and image. Eighteen years ago, in my NCW report, I had warned this body that if it did not set its house in order, the government of the day would intervene in personal law. At the time I had held meetings with two Presidents of AIMPLB, Maulana Ali Miyan and Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi. My advocacy resulted in a meeting of the Board with several women across the gender spectrum. I believed we were getting somewhere in our quest to restore the original message of Islam pertaining to women.
Governments have a history of capitulating to religious lobbies in their quest for vote banks. This includes every shade of government. In my personal recall, the use of gender as bait began with Shah Bano in 1986. Cut to 2014 and the NDA sweep with its avowed anti-Muslim agenda. The best weapon to kill Muslims other than by lynching and torture was to show them as gross violators of women’s rights. Since 2014, words like Triple Talaq, Nikah Halala, Polygamy etc. have been bandied around with scant understanding of their meaning.
While AIMPLB was rallying innocent masses around the slogan ‘Islam is in Danger’, the report by the NGO appeared as inexorable truth about what Prof Tahir Mahmood refers to in his brief preface as the ‘horror story’ about Muslim women. It provided an entry point to the Supreme Court to act suo motu and open the issue in the legal domain. Battle lines were drawn; it was AIMPLB versus all the liberal and democratic forces under the overarching umbrella of the Supreme Court.
To cut a long story short, Triple Talaq will now become a criminal offence, a non-bailable and cognisable once it is passed by the Rajya Sabha. We Muslims are our own worst enemies. We chose to forget the core of our religion which profoundly advocates gender empowerment. We begin listening to falsehoods bandied around by dogmatic, self-proclaimed religious leaders and reject voices of reason which have always been there. Maulana Hali, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Maulana Azad, to cite just a few of them.
We forget that after the Prophet and Khulfa e Rashidin (4 Caliphs) there was no one ordained to lead the Muslim Ummah. We allow ourselves to become the victims of false prophets; a possibility against which there are many, many warnings in the Quran. Without understanding and propagating Islam as the only religion which fought for gender at a time when girl children were buried at birth, we join forces with powers that are avowedly anti-Muslim but who have the gumption to claim from the highest perch ‘Hum apni Muslim behnon ke saath mazbooti se khade hain’. Between these two grindstones of dogma and ‘jumla’ are millions of Kausar Bano’s, Ishrat Jahans and Kausar Bi’s. I fear the new generations of Muslims and other young Indians may soon forget the import of these names. But to use Sahir Ludhianavi’s lines, we cannot give up because
‘Woh subah kabhi to ayegi'
[The author is a social and women's rights activist, educationist, writer and former member of the Planning Commission. The above article is first published by National Herald.]
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