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July 7, 2005
The Times of India


Let’s Call the Ulema’s Bluff 

Muslims must stand up for women’s rights


By Javed Anand


We Muslims proudly proclaim that Islam is the only religion that from its very inception gave justice, honour and dignity to women. But from the spate of fatwas in the recent past, it is obvious that the high priests of Islam remain a bastion of male supremacy. Among educated Muslim circles today, you frequently hear the refrain: “ Our ulema have made us laughing stock before the world”. But drawing conversations are no longer adequate. We must either stop parroting the boost about Islam treating gender justice or publicly challenge the outdated, outmoded worldview of our ulema.


In September last year, Gudiya from Meerut district made frontpage news. She had got married to an army jawan, Mohammad Arif, in 1999. soon after, Arif went missing from his posting and was declared a deserter. After waiting for him for four years, Gudiya remarried another man Taufeeq. In the midst of her pregnancy, news came that Arif was no deserter but was in Pakistan jail. Released from imprisonment, he returned home only to find his wife had remarried and was pregnant.


What was Gudiya to do? Nobody asked her that question. The local panchayat decided that she belonged to her first husband while her unborn child would go to Taufeeq. Through TV debates and other media, Islamic scholars and the ulemas endorsed the panchayat’s decision as being in accordance with Islamic principles, no one bothered about Gudiya.


In June this year, the Darul Uloom Deoband, pronounced that Imrana, a woman from Muzaffarnagar who had allegedly been raped by her father-in-law Ali Mohammad, was no longer lawful to her husband, Noor Ilahi. In short, Imrana was asked to pay for the crime committed by her father-in-law. Around the week ago, the same seminary issued another fatwa proclaiming that Muslim women must ideally not contest panchayat elections, and never without a veil. In other words, the venerable maulana wants people to elect as their representative a woman whose face they must not see, before or after the polls.


But the latest pearls of wisdom have emanated from the 130-year-old Jamia Nizamia, Hyderabad. Mufti Mohammad Azeemuddin of this respected institute issued a fatwa early this month saying that no only is it perfectly fine for a Muslim male to have four wives, he can marry all of them at one go.


Relying on the fatwa Qazi Muhammad Abdul Wahid Qureshi married off two teenage girls from Hyderabad, Farheen Sultana and Hina Sultana, to a 45-year-old Arab from the UAE in a single sitting on August 1.


Isn’t it an offence to solemnise a marriage before the age of 18?  Even in self-proclaimed Islamic stated today there is a clearly defined legal bar on the minimum age for marriage.  The ulema, however, inhabit a world of their own.  At is national meet in Hyderabad in late 2002, the All India Muslim personal Law Board (AIMPLB) had demanded that Muslims be exempted from the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.


But for some spoilsport journalist who ruined the show, Al-Rahman Ismael Mirza Abdu Jabbar could have enjoyed marital bliss for a few months, weeks or days maybe, used triple talaq to instantly divorce his current wives and start all over again with a fresh batch of teenage Muslim girls. This is nothing but flesh trade with ‘Islamic’ sanction. Yet, I am willing to bet my last rupee that a fatwa cold easily be obtained from JAmia Nizamia or any other centre of high Islamic learning to pronounce such obnoxious pratice “bad in theology but good under Islamic vew”.

For far too long, the AIMPLB, a non-elected and non-representative body dominated by ulema who subscribe to the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence has functioned as a Muslim male club. In the last year or so, some Muslim women have launched a rival personal law board and are openly challenging the AIMPLB. A few months ago a young Muslim activists tore to shreds the worthless ‘model nikhanama’ that had just been adopted by the AIMPLB with much fanfare. In Tamil Nadu, a Muslim women’s group is setting up a separate jamaatkhana for women.

Muslim women are now voting with their feet. We must ask ourselves why rather than turning to Muslim men, many of these groups actively seek the support and solidarity with secular, non-denominational women’s organizations. Shariat courts are now in the news and the Supreme Court wants an explanation from AIMPLB, the Darul Uloom and others. Attempts are afoot to drum up support for these wonderful institutions that deliver cheap and quick justice in a country notorious for judicial delays. Mubai’s notorious don Vardharaj Mudaliar and the Shiv Sena supreme Bal Thackeray are also also known to dispense speedy justice. Why not wind up all courts than and parcel out the dispensation of justice to such speedy deliverers? The choice is ours to make. It needs to be made now and the choice is simple: Islam or the ulema?


The writer is co-editor, Communalism Combat