Muslim Women Lead the Way!

Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz

We as Muslims are going through very difficult times. There is Islamophobia on one hand and an increasingly dangerous and inhuman set of emergent Muslim groups on the other. Both are bent on destroying the Muslim community and the Islamic fabric. We have earned a bad name because of the misdeeds of others as well as of our own. But this phase also gives us an opportunity to recreate and rejuvenate ourselves and break free from old shackles which will only further target and marginalize us. Easy as it may sound it is not. For a new dawn to break in the Islamic world the hitherto silent majority must speak up. This silent majority has for too long put up with the conservative, narrow, patriarchal, misogynist, demonical and dominant voices. As a result all Muslims across the world today are despised and hated. If we the liberal voice do not speak we are doomed, to say the least.

Indian Muslims are a lucky lot so far to be belonging to a nation state which is deeply rooted in secular, democratic and liberal values. Rights of any community and specifically of vulnerable communities are ensured only in a political space which is democratic, respects all kinds of plurality and diversity and allows freedom of expression. We Indian Muslims need to now at a faster pace move towards ensuring, protecting and promoting this democratic political space, processes for the same have begun albeit in a small way. Here it is important to highlight that Muslim women have almost taken a lead in contemporary times to take advantage of this Constitutionally guaranteed political space by organizing and mobilizing themselves across the country. Demanding implementation of Sachar Committee report, drafting and making public a women-just and Quran compliant Muslim family law, forming Women’s Shariah Courts, aligning with state structures for entitlements and benefits, fighting for a secure and fear-free social and political life are some of the very momentous and significant socio-political actions of Indian Muslim women. These initiatives of Muslim women need to be supported and complimented by other Muslims so that the community as a whole is able to lead a life of dignity and safety. It cannot be that the community demands security and democracy for itself from the state but does not allow the same for the women. Democracy within is the crying need of the time.

Also within the Islamic framework there is a strong need to appreciate and distinguish between the normative and contextual writings in the Quran. There are many verses of the Quran which have a normative, immutable and prescriptive appeal. They point towards universal values of justice, equality, wisdom and compassion which must permeate life of each and every human being for all times of come. On the other hand are the contextual and descriptive verses which were relevant for those times and for that particular society. As a principle new age Muslim women and men must root for the universal principles and base their laws and their way of life on those. In other words a humanistic understanding of the Quran will ensure that as Muslims we are able to live in peace with other communities and also ensure justice within.

Allah is a universal power which as per the Tawhidic understanding permeates all beings, living and non-living. This universal power is rahman and rahim, merciful and beneficent and is embedded in the Islamic notion of Taqwa or moral/ethical notions.* It is very heartening and encouraging to note that across the Muslim societies Muslim women are embracing this very Islamic and universal ideas of Tawhid and Taqwa which encourages us to love all as creations of one God and live and let live everyone in peace and tranquility. Emboldened by the conceptualization of God as merciful and just, Muslim women are now seeking justice and equality within the families and are reclaiming their right to read the Quran and arrive at their meanings based on their own lived realities. In the last couple of decades we have had Islamic feminist scholars like AminaWadud, Fatima Mernissi, Riffat Hassan, Ziba Mir Hosseini and many others who have taken up the challenge of rereading, retranslating and reinterpreting the Quran from a feminist perspective. And what has emerged is a vast amount of literature which debunks many misgivings and misunderstandings about Islam and women’s rights. What has been liberating and empowering is the assurance that the Quran wants justice for all humans so that life can be led peacefully and in tranquility and in complete harmony with everything around us. So ‘…. problem is not with the text but with the context and the ways in which text is used to sustain patriarchal and authoritarian structures’.*

With the emergence of Muslim women’s religious leadership, we get to hear a completely humanistic and enabling version of Islam. Women are no longer just recipients of knowledge and objects to be studied but are now agents of knowledge creation including religious knowledge. Islamic laws and understanding of Islam itself has been the domain of men for many centuries now. Extremely patriarchal interpretations and even translations have created a hierarchy in women-men relationships. Superiority of men over women is God-ordained and hence cannot be challenged at all. This understanding closes all doors of negotiations within the familial relationships.Contemporary Muslim women have inadvertently opened the doors of ijtihaad by creating knowledge from their own perspectives and their own lived realities which are largely experiences of injustice and inequality. In other words there is a move towards ‘democratization of the production of religious knowledge’.* Women are no longer dependent on men to know what God wants from them. They no longer have to accept what men have been telling them. They no longer have to believe that God has created them as inferior to men. They now read, translate, interpret and explain to the world that their God is just, loving and merciful and has created them on par with men.

As Muslim women gain strength and voice there is hope for the community as well, for women’s voices will be voices of peace, harmony, justice and equality.