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Going back to the Quran


BUT first the one in the English-language daily. This report was based on interviews with young madressah-going girl students from Kerala. The madressah authorities had banned the press from talking to the girls. It is interesting to note that these girls, like others elsewhere, conveyed aspirations of their own. A 15-year-old said, ‘I want to become a pilot,’ another said, ‘I wish to become a doctor.’ A third girl said she wanted to become a civil servant. Most other girls also showed similar aspirations to achieve something great in life.


The other story in the Urdu daily reported a speech by Maulana Shamsuddin Chaturvedi who, while conferring the ‘turban of merit’ on students who had completed memorising the Quran, said that Islam was a complete code of life and that we must observe its teachings, not allow our women outside the home and make them observe the veil.


The maulana further said that women were the embellishment of the home and that they should not venture out; that unlike our ancestors, we do not observe the teachings of Islam today; that we dishonour our families by allowing women to become ‘lax’ in their morals.


The sum and substance of his exhortations was that Muslims should exercise strict control over their women. It is such ideas that have contributed significantly to decline amongst Muslims today.


Going back to the madressah girls’ story, what does the contrast in their thinking and that of the maulana show? That Muslim women want what some of our ‘ulema’ don’t desire for them. It clearly shows that many sections of the ulema today live in a world of their own. This, while they keep saying that even they do not live in an ideal world as endorsed by Islam. They live in the world of Islam but with a mediaeval mindset.


This is precisely the world in which the Taliban also live, and that is why they persecute, harass and even kill those, including women, who want to achieve something in this life. Just before I read these reports I was surrounded by some Hindu women who worked among Muslim women for their uplift in Bihar. They asked me why so many restrictions were put on women and why Muslims could divorce their wives by pronouncing the word talaq thrice. I began to explain to them that it was not the true teaching but that some Muslims used controversial traditions to allow these things to happen.


Two Muslim journalists who had come to interview me were also sitting by my side. When I used the words ‘controversial traditions’, they became angry and began arguing with me as to ‘whose’ Islam I was talking about. It is your Islam, not the real Islam, they said. They were apparently ‘educated’; yet they had a similar attitude to the faith as our traditionalist ulema do. These days our institute in Mumbai is conducting interviews with noted ulema in order to codify the Sharia laws pertaining to Muslim marriage, divorce, inheritance etc. as they are applied today very loosely in India. When they were asked about codifying rules for regulating polygamy, most of them maintained it could not be regulated as men had the ‘right’ to take up to four wives without even consulting the existing wife or wives.


This is necessary, they maintained, to check prostitution. The Holy Quran does not even indirectly justify polygamy on such grounds. When one points out that the verse on polygamy was revealed after the battle of Uhad, in which 10 per cent of Muslim males were killed and it was meant for taking care of widows and orphans, not to check prostitution, they say it is one’s own invention.


Some of the ulema interviewed even showed ignorance of Verse 129, which says you cannot do justice to more than one wife, even if you desire and do not leave the first wife suspended (mu’allaqatan). They still argued that a man had the unrestricted right to marry four wives. It is ironical that to such traditional ulema, the tradition as practised in mediaeval times should be more important than what the Quran spells out in clear terms.


There is thus an urgent need to re-educate our ulema running the madressahs so that Muslim women can breathe easy and be able to realise their potential in society, something on which we spend so much of our oratorical skills but then go on to deny them these rights in practice. One form of jihad in our times must be to struggle for women’s rights which are so concretely and precisely spelled out in the Quran, and which they continue to be denied.


The faith can no more be practised the way it was during the mediaeval ages. Islam must always be seen as being in conformity with the Quran over and above all else. The Quran is the revealed word of Allah; any departure from it and giving mediaeval tribal traditions precedence over it can only produce the Islam practised by the Taliban.


The writer is an Islamic scholar, who also heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai.


Source: Dawn News


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