Making a case for Islamic reform.
I HAVE in front of me the writings of two Muslim women on gender equality: Syeda Saiyidain Hameed and Farha Faiz. Hameed, a socialite of Delhi who has refused to comprehend the questions of equality, has wasted her life in the corridors of power defending Islam, not Muslim women's liberty. Faiz, an advocate and a rare mind among Muslim women, is the daughter of a hafiz, someone who memorises the Quran. Faiz is respondent number two in the Supreme Court hearing the case, Muslim Women's Quest for Equality vs Jamiat Ulema- i- Hind and others.
Intellectuals Hameed was the member of the National Commission for Women and the Planning Commission, now Niti Aayog.
On September 16, she wrote that in 1998 she met Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, then president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board ( AIMPLB), to formulate a policy. She presented her " argument about rights of women in Islam" and wrote " a roadmap for reforms based on injunctions of Islam." It is objectionable that a member of the National Commission for Women sought a cleric's advice.
We are living in the age of Indian Constitution, not in the era of Aurangzeb.
Numerous Indian Muslim intellectuals like Hameed are sleepwalking with Islamic clerics. Due to them, India remains a Shari'ah - compliant state in matters of Muslim marriage, divorce, inheritance, madarsas, waqf and other issues. Such Muslims, nursed in the continuing ' Khilafat' politics of the Congress, have thrived in power at the cost of ordinary Muslim women. Hameed says the Quran devotes " an entire" chapter to gender rights and " We Muslims want that perspective to be propagated." No, we Muslims don't want that perspective. In the current era, Muslim women's liberty cannot be subject to the Quran.
Hameed, in her words, " spent 20 years explicating the Quranic text" and argues, disturbingly, that there was " no need" for Shayara Bano of Uttarakhand to challenge triple talaq, polygamy and other issues. She says that Islam " 1,500 years ago gave dignity and status to women." This is incorrect.
Perspective Like many Islamists masquerading as liberals, Hameed cares for the Quran 's perspective, not the perspective of the affected Muslim women, not even for the perspective of the Indian Constitution which guarantees a fundamental right to equality to citizens under Article 14 and a fundamental right against discrimination under Article 15. It is the perspective of Shayara Bano, not that of the Quran, that must prevail. Islam, like other religions, curtails women's liberties and cannot be a benchmark for a policy recommendation.
In her submission, she has urged the Supreme Court to ban the AIMPLB and the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan ( BMMA) " to save" Indian Muslims from " fundamentalists" whose " ideology ( is) similar to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed" of Jamaat- ud- Dawa. Courageously, Faiz advocates change in madarsa education and notes that BMMA is a " dummy" of AIMPLB -- both being Shari'ah - compliant organisations.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan appears liberal to non- Muslim journalists because it is led by women. It works within the framework of Islamic Shari'ah, not the Constitution. Like AIMPLB, the BMMA trains Islamic judges and run Shari'ah courts, creating a parallel judicial system in India. This cannot be allowed to continue. India must have one Constitution, and only those judges and courts that work under it.
Rights Critics can argue that the Constitution guarantees a fundamental right to religion under Article 25. However, among all the fundamental rights, the right to religion is the most inferior right. Sub- clause 25( 1) makes it " subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions" and sub- clause 25( 2) states: " Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law." Therefore, the right to equality overrides it.
While Sir Syed formulated the case for change in a pre- democracy age, Farha Faiz ( and Hamid Dalwai before her) makes the case for Islamic reform for the era of democracy. Faiz argues that the Constitution is the new criterion for women's freedom. " India is a democratic country and its beauty lies in its democracy," she says and explains: " The Constitution of India provides a dignified status to all its countrymen without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, sex, religion and place." In this free country, authentic thinkers like Farha Faiz should be members of the Niti Aayog while the counterfeit liberals like Hameed should be teaching in Darul Uloom Deoband.
The writer is a former BBC journalist and is executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi
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