WOMEN in our society or elsewhere are usually caught in the double whammy of abuse and policing. When a girl goes out at night there are fears and apprehensions surrounding her family that something untoward may happen to her – this represents one aspect of our collective social behaviour. At the same time, if somebody spots the girl out at night, they go on to pass all sorts of judgements and pre-emptive conclusions about her conduct and character – another dismaying social outlook. There is no dearth of incidents nearer home or elsewhere to demonstrate the challenges women have to face while they live in a society. These things do not apply to boys or men – they are somehow deemed as “more moral, more ethical, less erroneous” and even if they commit an error or two, they do not invite criticism or social backlash. As a typical example, an example oft-quoted, imagine a boy and a girl smoking under the same conditions of space and time. While most people will take it for granted to see a boy/man smoking, but in case of girl/women, all sorts of extrapolations will be made and judgements of moral order will be passed in her regard. Same holds for jogging, sports, driving and other activities of life, where these are deemed normal or obligatory for men, they come to be seen as taboo when women participate therein. From what they wear to where they go and from what profession they chose to what hobbies they want to pursue, women/girls are almost invariably subjected to criticism, moral derision and religious backlash. This last denomination of religious backlash deserves particular attention and we shall engage with it in the following.
To invoke religion and to use it as a whip to lash out at women under one pretext or the other has been the misfortune of religion itself. This trend has been on prowl endlessly across the divides of space and time and has brought such a bad name to Islam that it is now by default seen as misogynist and patriarchal religion by its critics and the common masses.
In our own land, women bashing behind the veneer of religion (Islam) has now become a standard paradigm and is almost seen as normal. Any random Friday sermon and for that matter any religious sermon is considered incomplete if it doesn’t incorporate the elements of women bashing and imposing such laws and restrictions on women which find no mention in Quran or the Sunnah.
The mediation of religion, as it has undergone here has assumed particular antagonism and crusading spirit of criticism against women. The roots of this prejudice are to be seen in two centres of origin – one that our religion and its interpretation and explication has been male dominated across centuries and secondly, that some apocryphal and detrimental biblical stories have entered our religious corpus which see women as agents of evil and corruption. It were men who explicated religion for women historically and this led to the subtle seeping in of male chauvinism in the interpretation of the religion. The inability of women to interpret and actively participate in the historical construction of religion construed them as marginal elements and at times deprived them of their divinely gifted liberties and dues, not to speak of the excesses committed against women under the false pretext of violating the norms of Shariah. Kecia Ali, in her article, has vividly demonstrated the malice and marginalisation that women suffer due to their ignorance of Shariah and Islamic laws pertaining to women and various domains of their lives. As they say in a different context that “knowledge is power” , but here in case of women and their representation in religious affairs by men, knowledge is indispensable, for only then will women know their legitimate rights and voice for the same. This enlightenment can’t undo the errors of history and the blaze of marginalization which women have been subjected to, but it will play a seminal role in disarming man’s monopoly of religion and the misappropriation of religion by women to subvert, subdue and subjugate the women.
Islam restored to women the glory they had lost in the myrrh of history and carried out its legislation in a way that secured marital, social educational and other rights for women – rights which were hitherto unknown. Karen Armstrong, a reputed scholar in comparative religions notes, “Muhammad was a great advocate of the emancipation of the women and women liberation was an ideal close to his heart”. This is amply testified by the legal and practical precedents set by prophets and his companions in a regressive and degenerative society like Arabia for the betterment of women – and some of these legislations shocked the Prophet’s contemporaries. What an irony that the religion of liberation be deployed as the religion of subversion and those bestowed with a manifesto of change and enlightenment shall foster and perpetuate the darkness of misogyny and misosophy.
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