Islam granted several rights to Muslim women but menfolk deny them all that - Safia Iqbal examines as to how the Qur’an and Hadees are misinterpreted.
As the train pulled up slowly at a junction, my co-passenger, three ladies and two men, alighted. The ladies, two Muslims and a Hindu lady, had travelled alone, like many others do today. But were they safe? Freedom of movement had been attained but security and safety had eluded them often. BJP leader L.K.Advani’s recommendation of the death penalty for rapists, reflects the seriousness of the question of woman’s safety and security.
As the train moved on, I reflected on the conversation with my just departed co-passengers on the issue of women’s condition and rights today. The two Muslim ladies and a Hindu lady, cutting across barriers of religion, pinpointed dowry and its related tragedies as the major evil which topped the list. Fathers committed suicide and girls often worked rigorously to death to earn enough for a dowry.
Women, whether they are educated or not, are second class citizens in today’s enlightened and technologically advanced world, regardless of the country, community, region or religion they belong to. In some cases, they are just like bonded labour, chained to physical and mental torture in return for the poor maintenance they receive from their husbands.
Glamour and glitter, beauty shows, women’s lib. programs, silky parties and smoothened conferences, cannot hide the all-too obvious fact that women at the turn of this century, are the most tormented creatures on this planet It is not money or power which is misused today. It is the woman who is most misused today. From birth to death, her existence is lamented. In the market, she is turned into a commodity or “thing”, to enhance sales and advertisements. At home, she is turned into a mere cook, nay, even worse, into a slave. Even prisoners enjoy some rights which are not available to some women.
Her birth is lamented. Her death is engineered at times, her education is stalled as it will not benefit her parental family, her taking up a job is welcomed as her earnings would benefit the family. Her salary is snatched, her assets are frozen. She cooks and cleans, bears and rears children. She works double at home and outside too, and then, this tired, ill-fed, ill-clad, ill-treated woman is expected to be a fresh, glamorous bed-partner at night. Had it stopped at this, it could have been rectified. But what made matters worse is the complete stifling of her voice and inability to express her woes. She is not allowed to speak up at home or in social or political circles, she turns up as a mute painted doll keyed to dance to a male tune, and God help her if she refuses to do so, for she is then thrown out at the mercy of the storms, unprotected and unsung. She works more, eats less, gets a lower salary in comparison to men. We find very few anaemic men but most women are anaemic.
The Muslim Women’s condition is the same. Here, we are not talking of the lucky few who enjoy the sunshine under bluer skies and on greener pastures. A lucky few cannot represent the half billion Muslim women across the world. The dilemma of the Muslim woman is doubled as she neither has a platform or political or social representation, like her Hindu, Sikh or Christian counterparts, to highlight her woes. Men grow up seeing a woman weeping as a mother, a sister, a wife and as a daughter.
In all these roles the Muslim woman suffers. But she suffers the most as a wife and a daughter-in-law. Her rights are glorified at the highest pitch from microphones on bedecked stages by garlanded leaders, her duties counted endlessly. True, Islam gives her unbelievable rights, exalted status and a constructive role in society, but that is what Islam gives her. What has the community given her? All her rights are mentioned in the Shariah. All her duties and extra-duties are imposed on her in totality. The yawning gap between theory and practice has swallowed up the Muslim woman like a hungry lion.
The rights granted to women by Islam, are rarely practised, resulting in a pitiable, nay, shameful condition of Muslim women. They do not enjoy the rights supposed to be their’s. Though bride-burning or dowry-deaths do not yet top the list of the Muslim women’s woes, they do suffer the woes of dowry and other tortures, and they suffer in unimaginable ways.
For the unmarried Muslim girl, dowry still remains a horror though it has no place in Islam. A Muslim girl gets less freedom in educational pursuit or participation in activities at home or school. She still does not have the right to reject her parents’ choice of a partner or to insist on her own choice. The “Mehr” or bridal gift is turned into a “status-symbol” and mockery and never given to her. The husband, in case of nearing death or divorce, meekly begs her to forgive and forego the “Mehr” whereas to have it is her undisputed right.
Islam guarantees complete freedom of expression, movement and activity, trade and investment to the woman but she is not allowed these rights in practice. Her personality is crushed, her voice is muffled in the male-oriented social order. She is turned into a servant, nay, worse than a slave who can never raise a voice. She is kept in dark about her rights while constantly admonished about her duties. She has no holiday from her drudgery, not even on Eids.
Islam gives her rights to divorce, and to be socially active but it is said that if she is informed of these rights, she will misuse them. It is men who have always misused their rights in order to enslave her. The un-Islamic practice of pronouncing three Talaqs in one sitting is a case in point. In the name of Purdah and family status, she is kept chained indoors while Purdah or “hijab” is actually meant for outdoors. She is consigned to a life of dull, drab drudgery while Islam grants her a balanced, spiritually rich and socially active life. Islam holds her to be equal to man but she is told by society that she is not. Even the Qur’anic word “Qawwam” is wrongly translated to create the ‘inequality myth’. While the world Qawwam means “protector and maintainer”, it has been translated as “king, master or ruler” by many. Conferences are held to discuss her status as if she is not a human being.
Hadees (the Prophet’s words) call her the “Queen of the house” but the Muslim woman cannot take decisions in the family, invest her own property, work outside, pursue higher education. Nay, even her pregnancies are planned and abortions are decided by her men folk. In fact, it is a common sight to see in Muslim families that she is not allowed even to speak more when her menfolk are conversing as she is considered as less intelligent or un-worthy enough of decision-making.
Islam frees her from the joint family or from attending to her husband’s male relatives yet she is forced to live in a joint family and the brothers-in-law often become a constant thorn in her life.
Hadees calls her the “delicate crystal” but this delicate Muslim woman is loaded with innumerable burdens which a man would never bear, child births, violence, illiteracy, denial of rights, physical and mental torture, subjugation, mal-nutrition, financial problems, over-work, miscarriages due to weakness. Unemployed husbands are moreover ‘burdens’ which the Muslim women suffer silently. She is expected to “behave” like the happiest woman on earth, even against unemployed husbands.
Crushed by men at home whether in joint or nuclear families, the Muslim woman is exploited by social and even political forces all the time. The hue and cry over the Muslim women’s quota in the reservation issue is a case in point.
The working woman’s problems are multiplied when she works doubly at home and outside too, bears and rears children and finally this tired and worn out “sacrificial lamb” is expected to keep her man happy and satisfied at all times in the name of Islam. The main reason for the woes of the Muslims, is the crushing and stifling of half their population. Unless and until, the women are given their rights in practice, Muslims can never develop as a community even if “all the kings men” shout themselves hoarse about women’s glorious status in Islam.
(Safia Iqbal is principal at the Scholars School in New Delhi. She has authored several books.)