On this Womens Day if we could revisit some of our prejudices that have had devastating effects on women over all these centuries. We have, all along, through a systematic, organised and institutionalised method invented, crafted and designed arguments only to interpret faith to their disadvantage cutting across sectarian lines, geographical boundaries and time intervals. Both in private conversations and public discourse.
Unfortunately we have used the pulpit, the mosque and the madrassa to propagate promote and practise patriarchy under the guise of dogma while boasting and often gloating that our faith was the first to invest women with rights including the right to inherit. Here is something that may open our eyes;
1. 90 to 95 percent of women in the subcontinent including Kashmir don’t inherit ancestral property. A recent statement by Dr Arif Alvi President of Pakistan attests this.
2. The hue and cry we witnessed regarding women driving in Saudi Arabia or women watching football in Iran.
3. We have had hundreds of men writing the tafaasir throughout history from different parts of the world. Amongst women I think “The Sublime Quran” by Laleh Bakhtiar written quite recently is the only such work by a female. Our Mullahs have already drawn some daggers against the work. In the field of Ahadith among thousands of Muhadiseen we find the names of half a dozen women throughout our history. Similarly we don’t have many names to quote other than Sheikh Rabia Basri amongst the sufi schools.
4. Before the time some geographies that Muslims inhabit which have adopted the democratic model of governance and let us not forget our experiment with democracy is less than 100 years old, I don’t remember the name of any female Muslim ruler other than Razia Sultan and everyone knows how her rule and life was cut short based on the arguments I have referred to above and would discuss a little later. After the adoption of democracy we have had four female Prime and one Chief Minister among a thousand or so elected rulers. I am not aware of the other four but treatment by the male opposition in Pakistan meted out to Benazir Bhutoo has been at the least disgusting. The misogynist remarks made by none other than the three times elected former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the floor of the Parliament are pathetic. His other actions against her are not even mentionable. Didn’t we share and rejoice in private conversations some absolutely ludicrous posts against our ex Chief Minister just because she was a female. I don’t endorse her governance in any way but pity that,at times shamelessly, we based our opposition on our misogynist mindset rather than on sound available alternate argument/humor.
5. We are not far behind anyone in establishing and maintaining the negative sex ratio of the population by resorting to shameful selective abortions at all clinics, public and private.
6. Similarly female representation in all spaces of public life is less than minuscule.
7. In terms of honour killings Muslim societies across the globe excel all others be it Afghanistan, Pakistan, Middle East, Turkey, Bangladesh or Northern Africa.
These are some of the facts that I would like learned readers to correct me if and wherever wrong.
Coming back to the prejudicial narrative that we have built over hundreds of years to interpret our faith and build a social order inimical to women welfare here are some of the arguments that I have heard and learnt;
- “Eve is born out of Adam’s rib, and since the rib is bent, a woman’s argument or view point is generally twisted”
The holy Quran doesn’t say so. It doesn’t even say that God created Eve out of Adam. The rib story is from the judochritian/ biblical tradition that is clearly against the express verses of the holy Quran and somehow this story was assembled into the fabric of Muslim societies later on.
- “Adam ate from the forbidden tree at the behest of eve”
Again this is from the judochristian/ biblical tradition and entirely different from what the holy Quran says. The holy Quran blames both and equally punishes both by displacing them from paradise. There is no concept of original sin in the holy Quran.
- “All prophets have been men and, therefore, females are inferior”
Firstly Quran doesn’t mention the names of all the prophets excepting very few in particular if we accept the number of prophets to be some one lac twenty four thousand. Secondly there is a view that you are entitled to disagree that a person is a Prophet who received revelation from God either directly or through a messenger. Quran testifies to the fact that God spoke/ revealed to Prophet Moses’ mother directly before God spoke to Prophet Moses. Again Quran says that God revealed to Mary through angel Gabriel before God revealed to Prophet Jesus.
- “Two female witnesses are equal to one witness”
To this end we refer to verse 282 of chapter Al baqara. Without reproducing the verse known as the verse of the debt it says that a contract of debt must be witnessed by two men and if only one man is available it must be witnessed by one man and two women so that if “one of the two forgets the other may remind her.” Does it say one male witness is equal to two female witnesses?
- “Men are, which women are not, empowered/ authorized to divorce by pronouncing talaq either by way of talaq e ehsan or instant triple talaq”
We all know that marriage in Islam is consensual, bilateral and contractual on terms and conditions negotiable except that Mehar can’t be altogether not provided for. So if all other terms and conditions are negotiable how come the method, mode and authorisation of talaq isn’t? In case, say for example, it isn’t negotiated at the time of Nikah/ contracting the marriage, how does that mean that authority to pronounce talaq vests with the male. It means it is to be negotiate at a future date and if it is never done and divorce is inevitable it has to be through mutual consent only or through legal arbitration/ judicial intervention.
- “Men are entitled to have more than one wife”
Now when marriage is a contract to be negotiated freely, a man can’t have more than one if the first marriage contract doesn’t allow it. Again if the first marriage contract is silent, how does it impliedly entitle a man to marry again during the existence of the first marriage.
- “Men are entitled to two thirds share in ancestral property while women only to one third”
True that is how the holy Quran prescribes but that is in view of the fact that a woman after marriage is entitled to share the earnings of her husband while the husband is not, although in practice it is completely otherwise in our societies. It is in this context that the holy Quran describes men as “providers” to women. Arguing whether modern parliaments are entitled to legislate to provide exactly half share in the ancestral property would be another and too lengthy a topic to be discussed in this piece.
- “Women get periods”
It is correct that women are absolved of praying and fasting during periods but does it make them “impure” as we tend to suggest.
- “Hell will be filled with more women than men”
It is against the very essence of our faith but we still hear it in public discourse despite the fact we firmly believe that the keys of Paradise are with Fatima (AS).
- “Women are not authorized/ entitled to lead Muslim men in prayers”
We have had a consensus about it despite having this curious case of Umm Waraqqa who memorized the holy Quran by heart before it was written down and was asked by the holy Prophet Peace be upon Him to lead the prayers of her home/ tribe.