|the-south-asian.com NOVEMBER 2001
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NOVEMBER 2001 Contents
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Muslim Women challenging Islamic Fundamentalism
by Roopa Bakshi
"Women are oppressed
most in places where the hold of religion is strong. . . Women are almost
equal to men in places where the hold of religion is loose. Here religion
should be understood in the sense of social laws based on religion. Some
might say: why are you discussing religion when you are talking about
social problems? The answer is, religion as made the bond of slavery
stronger. Men are lording it over women in the name of religion. That is
why religion inevitably enters into our discussion.I hope the religious
persons will forgive me."
Islam is among the younger religions of the world - one that promised equality and greater dignity to women. Yet, the lower-rung clerics and the fundamentalists, especially in societies with high rates of illiteracy, have used it as an instrument of control and misrepresented the religion, inadvertently, as a medieval, primitive school of thought. Some Muslim women call it ‘political opportunism’. The recent incidents of ‘honour killings’ in Pakistan and Bangladesh – where women are killed to save a man’s honour – have left most women asking ‘Why’? The Taliban – a Fundamentalist Group in control of Afghanistan – have ordered Afghani women not to appear unveiled or unescorted in public; women may not work in a male environment, if at all; they can be doctors but can only treat female patients; female education is not a priority – women have been shot to death for appearing in public with a male other than their husband, brother or son; women have acid thrown on their faces for not covering it well enough; they have been stoned to death for loving a man – and so it continues. Women are not expected to protest in Afghanistan, yet the courage of one Afghani woman – Dr. Sima Samar – won her the International Humphrey award this year. She will be honoured with the award next month in Montreal, Canada. Asma Jahangir and sister Hina Jalani in Pakistan have, against all odds, relentlessly fought for the cause of women and minorities. Sultana Kamal in Bangladesh fights for women victimised by the fatwas (decrees) of illiterate clerics. Asma, Hina and Sultana are senior advocates, Sima is a medical doctor – all are professional Muslim women – fighting a mind-set that denies a woman her basic rights. They have all, at one time or the other, received death threats, been verbally abused, and threatened by the fundamentalists – yet they work – even harder. Or are the fundamentalists threatened by them?
A recent discussion on Indian television on the subject of ‘Muslim Identity’, invited well known Muslims, and among them, Imam Bukhari (the Head of all Sunni Muslims in India), and Shabana Azmi, a well-known screen actress and also a social activist and a member of the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of the Indian Parliament) to participate in the debate. In the course of the discussion, Shabana Azmi asked the Imam a question to which he retorted "- "Main naachne-gaane wali tawaif ko jawaab nahin deta." (literally translated, he said "I don’t reply to singing and dancing prostitutes"). Arnab Pratim Dutta later asked Shabana how she reacted to the Imam’s comments. Shabana replied, "it does not bother me a wee bit. In fact, I feel sorry for the poor fellow. It shows him up for what he is and the kind of respect he has for women, for artistes and for those who dare to challenge him… This one statement will do him great damage, because he speaks in the name of Islam, and Islam accords the greatest respect to women. Muslims can now see through him…. men like Bukhari are the self-appointed leaders, who speak on behalf of Muslims of their own accord…. who among Muslims listens to Bukhari? I will give you an example to convince you. You see, a couple of years ago, Imam Bukhari had issued a fatwa that all Muslims must vote for a particular candidate in his own Muslim-dominated Jama Masjid area. That candidate even lost his election deposit. So much for the following he has…..- the media reported that Bukhari called for jihad. Did the media report that not a single Muslim has taken up his call? Did anyone from Delhi go on jihad? You see, the self appointed fundamentalist leaders re-enforce only the "communal" aspects of Muslim identity, using rhetoric to whip up communal frenzy…. Muslims have no moderate leadership. The moderate, on the other hand, speaks about education, employment and health. Muslims have now learnt the pitfalls of falling into the fundamentalist trap. Therefore, they do not listen to the call of the fanatics."
Dr. Sima Samar, Asma Jahangir, Hina Jalani and Sultana Kamal are four such women who are doing just that – not paying heed to the call of the fanatics.
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