MUSLIM WOMEN LEADING THE WAY IN KERALA INDIA: JUST DO IT!
GUEST WRITER: K Hamza, Calicut, India
(Courtesy: From the archives of New Trend Publications 2007)
We pray that this wave of muslim women leading the way is progressing. Please update us if you have current information of positive progress.)
THE IMPACT OF LITERACY ON MUSLIM WOMEN
Today Muslim women in Kerala, India, are much better off than the women of their community in other States of India. It is because of Kerala State’s highest literacy rate, 98 per cent, and their persistent fight against injustice and male –dominated rigidities.
PRAYING IN THE MOSQUE
Women in urban areas have become more conscious of offering prayer in the mosques, and almost all mosques, run by the progressive Islamic organizations, have special areas earmarked for them.
Women in large numbers participate in congregational prayers on Friday, and tharaweeh prayer in Ramadan. Some older women spend the last ten days of the Holy month for “Ithikaf” (sitting for meditation). The general perception of the orthodox mullahs is that women’s entry to the mosque for prayers is as taboo and they stubbornly object to their offering prayers in the mosque.
SHOULD A WOMAN PRAY AT HOME AND NOT IN THE MOSQUE?
The orthodox Ulema narrate an incident in support of their objection that once a woman approached the Prophet (PBUH) to be excused from going to mosque to offer prayers because she had to nurse her ailing infant. The Prophet told her to stay at home and offer prayer inside the confinement of her house. The traditional mullahs have misinterpreted this hadees.
WIELDING AUTHORITY FOR FULFILLING SALAH
Once Justice Fahima Beevi of Kerala High Court, after finishing her official tour, wanted to offer prayer at a mosque at Ullal in Kasergode. But Mullahs turned her off. In a fit of pique, she came again with the Police escort to the mosque and offered prayer.
ORGANIZATIONS PROMOTING THE STATUS OF WOMEN ACCORDING TO ISLAM
The rise of some Islamic reformist organizations such as Nadavathul Mujahideen, Ahle Hadees and Jama’at-e-Islami in the past century has promoted the status of Muslim women in Kerala. It is a common sight in the Malabar region, which is predominantly Muslim, populated that women including older ones are pouring in to listen discourses on Islam.
CONNECTION WITH THE PRE-ISLAMIC PRACTICES OF ARAB SAILORS IN KERALA
The Malabar Muslims who are called as Mappila, economically and educationally a backward community are believed to be descendants of the Arab mariners who had been frequenting to the west coast for trade from the distant shores of the Middle East before Christ.
Since the Arab ships were sailing on the wind power during onset of the monsoon in June to October every year, the Arabs on their arrival in the region would marry the native Hindu women on temporary basis and divorce them when they return to their country of origin. Such a temporary marriage (Mut’a) had been prevalent in the Arab countries in the pre-Islamic era.
MUSLIM WOMEN AS SOCIAL ACTIVISTS
Admittedly, Kerala State has achieved 100 per cent literacy more than a decade ago. Kerala, with 1,058 females per 1000 males is the only State in India with a sex ratio favorable to females. The life expectancy is 70 years and infant mortality rate is the lowest (17 per 1,000).
There are now innumerable Muslim lady Doctors and Engineers in the State.
They raised their voice for securing their economic and property rights. They are well aware of the new trends and developments in the globalization, as they are enjoying unfettered access to the electronic communication and international TV channels.
They have almost recovered from the traditional view of the women’s duty is to bear pregnancy, give birth, rear the children and perform household chores within the confines of the home, while the man being the head of the household and the breadwinner.
Thanks to the higher education and global awareness, this age-old concept has been changed. Even if that were so, Muslim women are more caring and accepting of their husbands and strict to observe Islamic tenets.
THE VOLUNTARY EMERGENCE OF PURDAH
Equally noteworthy is that more and more women are turning to the purdah today without any imposition from the parents. When asked about this trend, Zeenath Begam, an Islamic activist, said that it gives freedom from the probing hands, which stealthily pinch to their midriffs while traveling in train or bus.
Furthermore, it is a protecting cover for them from the hawkish preying eyes of the public. The concept that women are to gratify the collective male gaze has been changed. The Islamic dress code is being considered as a dignity of woman.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF CHILD MARRIAGE IN MUSLIMS
The child marriage is a thing of the distant past. Muslim women have challenged the traditional decree that a girl has no say whatever in her marriage.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, ” Let no virgin be married without her assent, and her assent is silence”. Now the marriages in Kerala are performed with the assent of the bride, be she virgin or divorcee.
Women had been enduring suppression and oppression due to wrong interpretation of Qur’an and Sunna.
PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNANCE
In democratic India, women’s representation in the local administrative bodies continues to be pathetically dismal. Arguably, there is a consensus among the Muslim jurists that the supreme leader of an Islamic State should be male, but women have traditionally been entitled to participate in “Al Baya”- electing the supreme Ruler. And also, a woman is entitled to be a judge (According to Hanefi school). During election time, it is a common sight that a number of purdah-clad Muslim women are staying in the queue to cast their votes.
Quite remarkably, highly educated Muslim women are taking active role in the emancipation of the women in general, regardless of their faith, and rendering economic and medical care to them.
A few years ago, the conservative Mullahs were stubbornly against the use of loud speakers, the public address system, and slaughter by machine.
EDUCATION OPENING THE VISTAS FOR TAQWA IN WOMEN
They were also against translating Qur’an to the local language. Now Muslim women in Kerala have challenged this archaic and bigoted stand. They are now well aware that they have to swim against the odds. Insha’ Allah, let us hope, and pray, for their success in their endeavor. AMEEN