A young Muslim woman, Ayesha Khan, decided to end her life by jumping into the Sabarmati. A video which she made just before committing suicide tells us that she could no longer put up with the abuse directed against by her in-laws. She does not blame anyone, especially her husband, but her statement makes it very clear that her life had come to a breaking point; that she had already become an emotional wreck and reached the point of no return. In such a state, the line between life and death gets blurred. Her decision to end her own life must have come after a lot of thought wherein she must have realised that she had reached a dead end. A life which could have contributed much to society, a life which was bubbly and so full of energy, was wasted simply because as a Muslim woman, she could not think of an independent life for herself.
In all such matters, people jump to conclusions and our very first instinct is to blame the husband and his family. This may as well be the case with Ayesha and whatever became of her, but ultimately we should not forget that her poignant death is a collective failure, including that of her own family and of the Muslim society more generally. After all, it appears from the video that she was reasonably well educated and if that was the case, why is it that she did not walk out of an abusive relationship to chart out her own course of life?
While having all the sympathy for her parents, let us also acknowledge that it is their failure also. They must have known for some time what was happening to their daughter and yet they did nothing to address the issue. Like most parents in India, they must have told their daughter to stay put at her husband’s place, fully knowing the repercussions. Indian parents, including Muslim ones, succumb to the demands of more dowry and despite knowing the ill treatment which their daughters receive due to this scourge, decide to remain silent about it. In majority of the cases, despite knowing about violence committed on their daughters, they tend to send them back to their husband’s home.
The amount of money that a family saves for the dowry of a daughter can easily be invested in her education in order to make her financially independent. But then, the priorities of Indian families are very different; the sufferings of their daughters are simply immaterial. Muslim and non-Muslim families have been behaving similarly in this country for centuries.
Any death, especially of a young girl, should be a cause of concern for any community and should be an occasion to introspect what is wrong the practice of the community. It is true that Ayesha’s death disturbed many Muslims but far from analysing the reasons, most Muslims became pedantic and started to sermonise why it is wrong to commit suicide.
23 Year Old Ayesha Recorded Video Before Jumping into Sabarmati River
For these Muslims, the reasons why this woman took such a step was not important; what was more important was to tell the world that suicide was haram in Islam. The implications of such useless and bogus pedantry is obvious: since Ayesha’s indulged in a forbidden act, she was at fault. As true Muslim, she should not have taken her own life. And if she hadn’t done, then this problem wouldn’t have arisen in the first place. These Muslims are therefore more concerned about what ‘others’ will think about Muslims, rather than being concerned about a life lost. They are the same kind of Muslims who tried to ‘prove’ that Imrana was not raped by her father-in-law simply because such things are not permissible in Islam.
Then there are other sorts of Muslims, high on energy but low on content, some of them calling themselves Islamic feminists, but who also end up blaming the victim rather than offering any serious critique of the problem. These Muslims were aghast as to why Ayesha did not divorce her husband if she was abused by him. For them, Ayesha should have simply walked out of her marriage rather than ending her life. These kind of Muslims, women included, are extremely shallow in their understanding of both religion and society. They do not even know that Islam does not grant the right of divorce to women. That right only and unequivocally belongs to the Muslim man alone. Under the weight of women’s movement, such unequal laws have been changed in Muslim countries and Muslim women have been granted the right to divorce. Not so in India, where the Muslim personal law revels in its regressive provisions against women. And when some Muslim women campaign to change such laws, then they are branded as BJP agents. Muslim women in India can only ask for khula, which is to plead the husband to give her divorce. And it entirely depends on the husband whether he wants to accede to such a request or not. Why will a Muslim husband, who wants to torture his wife, agree to the request of a Khula?
Muslims who are arguing that Ayesha should have divorced her husband simply do not know how Islamic law works in India. It is painful to know that rather than advocating reforms in the Muslim personal law, they are blaming the victim for taking her own life. These Muslims are not very different from some of the third rate Muslim clergy whose sole purpose in life is to ‘rescue’ Islam, no matter whether certain aspects need rescuing or not. However, it is also heartening to note that politicians like Owaisi have spoken strongly on the issue and linked it with the menace of dowry.
Technically, Islam does not have the concept of dowry. Rather Muslim marriage is essentially about bride price, and hence dowry is a typical Indian Muslim practice. Often, demand for more dowry becomes the reason for mistreatment of women, as seems to have happened in Ayesha’s case. There should be a debate within Muslim society about the need to get rid of such practices as it is detrimental to scores of families whose sole purpose becomes to arrange dowry as soon as a daughter is born. There should also be a debate regarding Muslim women’s right to divorce their husbands in case they are abusive. For it is only with this right that she can walk away from a wasteful marriage and live her life with full human dignity. If, instead of these, we are debating whether suicide is permissible in Islam or not, then it must be said that a malevolent sickness has gripped us and that perhaps we are now beyond redemption.
The world's 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad. However, Muslims have widely differing views about many aspects of their faith. Raising the question of how important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim, and what is acceptable in Islam, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
[Quranic Reference: Surah Al-Imran, 103]
The survey finds many Muslims worldwide share other faith articles, including belief in angels, heaven, hell, and fate (or predestination). While there is broad agreement on Islam's core tenets, Muslims across the 39 countries and territories surveyed differ significantly in their religious commitment levels, openness to multiple interpretations of their faith, and acceptance of various sects and movements.
There are three major well-recognized sects, Sunnies, Shias, and Sufis. The survey asked Muslims whether they identify with various sects of Islam and their attitudes toward other sects and subgroups. The survey suggests that many Muslims worldwide either do not know or do not care about them.
Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa tend to be most keenly aware of the distinction between the two main branches of Islam, Sunni, and Shias. In most countries surveyed in the region, at least 40% of Sunnis do not accept Shias as fellow Muslims. Only in Lebanon and Iraq – nations where sizable populations of Sunnis and Shias live side by side – do large majorities of Sunnis recognize Shias as fellow Muslims and accept their distinctive practices as part of Islam. In 32 of the 39 countries surveyed, half or more Muslims say there is only one correct way to understand Islam's teachings. By contrast, in the United States, 57% of Muslims say Islam is open to multiple interpretations.
Sectarianism is the primary source of disunity and conflict among Muslim society, particularly in the Middle East and Pakistan. The political context of the Middle East necessitates the political mobilization and manipulation of sectarian identities to survive. Authoritarianism is the political context that allows sectarianism to flourish. In the last two decades, we have witnessed the rise of Shiite power all over the Middle East. Sunni rulers have viewed with much anxiety the new Shiite crescent that extends from Iran to Lebanon. Consequently, the Syrian crisis became more of a regional problem than a local and seen as an opportunity to weaken the Shiites and replace them with a Sunni government.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been the two main actors of conflict in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia overwhelmingly represents Salafism's ideology, and the country historically sees itself as the Muslim world leader since its territory includes the birthplace of Islam. On the other hand, Iran is directed by Shiite policies, especially since 1979 when the Islamic revolution of Iran took place, forming a theocracy that aims to spread its ideology to the outside world.
The Ummah is broadly divided against itself, torn up and fragmented into nearly fifty nation-states separated by artificial boundaries designed to create and ensure continued tension and confrontation, especially among neighbouring states. None of these states has had the chance to attain the outright freedom and stability, or social integration that would enable it to concentrate its energies on construction and development. Sectarianism, factionalism, and nationalism, all of which cause disharmony, have dominated affairs and have led to a continual state of instability, allowing foreign powers to manipulate at the time of their choosing. Such a situation only leads to more turmoil and anarchy. The lack of individual freedom prevents the people from pursuing their intellectual and cultural, and natural psychological development.
Muslims continue to live under the shadow of poverty, oppression, and terror, from military dictators who seize power and set their own frivolous, arbitrary, and whimsical policies through force, torture, and intimidation. In such dictatorships, political and administrative bodies and institutions' roles prevent and destroy all of the people's qualities and artistic potential. The few Muslim states that have followed the industrialization path have not attained complete self-sufficiency because they still depend on foreign sources for most of the equipment and the capital needed to develop their industries. As a result, these foreign sources can control the nascent industries and direct them according to their own political and economic interests.
The overwhelming majority of the Ummah is illiterate. The people's needs far outweigh the goods, materials, and services they can provide. Even in the critical and vital necessities of life, almost no Muslim state is self-sufficient. This deficiency is usually made up by imports, which only increases dependency on foreign powers. What makes the situation even more intolerable is that raw materials are bought from Muslim states at the lowest prices, or even taken for nothing, and are returned to them as manufactured goods at the highest prices.
In most cases, "Muslim industry" was not designed to meet the Muslim world's desperate, immediate, and vital needs but to meet only its inhabitants' tangential and secondary needs and satisfy and cater to the consumeristic desires. Unfortunately, the Muslim world has developed the habit of consuming new non-Islamic civilization products and has adopted many of its outer aspects, such as "modern" roads, buildings, and entertainment places in its capitals. It has also established some political and economic institutions based on the western model. Unfortunately, such measures have failed to bring about the desired transformation.
The Muslim world's current education system has failed to instil fundamental beliefs, sound vision, standards, or motives. Materialism has become widespread among the educated classes, which have lost any sense of a clear purpose in life. Academic syllabi have failed to establish a useful purpose in the Muslim conscience. In contrast, despite their secularism, the West's secondary schools teach students about western heritage, cultural history, and traditions in an integrated and comprehensive manner. It gives the students a sense of belonging and instils their nation's primary goals and strategy. They grow up with this feeling and carry their nation's vision and concepts of life, the universe, humanity, other cultures, as well as other aspects of its worldview.
In the USA, we have mosques and Islamic centres in all major cities and suburban areas. They are predominantly Sunni centres, and few are Shia and others. A majority of them are ethnically centred and have no cross-links between them. Unlike Churches and Synagogues, the Mosques lack centralization in education, which has created a power vacuum. In house Fitna, power politics and tribalism have hampered progress. The clergy is not inclined to adapt to modernity, tolerance, and pluralism, leading to chaos and isolation.
In light of the above, the first step toward formulating an Islamic cultural strategy is to redefine knowledge in terms of Islamic epistemology and in a way that will be acceptable to Muslims everywhere. In this context, we need to emphasize that all knowledge is derived from revelation, reason, perception, or experiment. Religious pluralism, interreligious dialogue, democracy, and a good functioning secular state are essential tools to overcome sectarianism within the Muslim community.
"Toward an Islamic Alternative in Thought and Knowledge." Issues in Contemporary Islamic Thought, by Shaykh Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, International Institute of Islamic Thought, London; Washington, 2005, pp. 9–20. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvk8w1ww.6. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Islamic Unity — The Ideal And Obstacles In The Way Of Its Realization." Islamic Studies, vol. 36, no. 4, 1997, pp. 657–662. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23076035. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021.
Tolerance, mutual respect and honor for dissent are the values that we profess daily. Most of the ills in society happen because we fail to tolerate each other give space to dissent and are non-democratic in our personal lives. We want and expect our government to tolerate, cherish and even prostrate before dissent, while in our daily relationships we are quite intolerant, abhor dissent and curtail alternative points of views. It is true even for those who publicly have created a false image of being protagonists, ideologues, upholders and stalwarts of dissent, freedom of speech and vibrancy of democracy.
Our educational system has failed to inculcate among us the values of pluralism, diversity and co-existence. We do not know how to handle criticism, alternative, antagonistic points of view; cherishing it is out of question. The culture of democracy does not have these flaws. The society becomes democratic only when the opposite view is tolerated and celebrated. It has little relation with the conduct of periodic electoral elections based on first past the post system that further reinforces the bias, prejudices and issues prevalent in the society, polarizing it further leading to greater divide among the communities.
People mostly exist at instinctual level where attaining the self-fulfilling needs of body is the ultimate zenith. At this level the world is centered on the self only. So any opinion that is different one from what one believes is witnessed as hostile, thus needs to be decimated. It is this mentality that gives rise to sectarianism in religion as every sect upholds its interpretation of religion as the only gospel truth and last word. Any other opinion and interpretation is to be opposed vehemently. So operating religion at instinctual level certainly results in sectarianism, intolerance and violence.
It is true for society too and this absence of democratic culture results in the birth of demagogues who feed on the fear of masses while making way to the corridors of power. But most of the liberal section complains that people are gullible so clergy and politicians exploit them in the name of religion and community. But these liberal elite too do not cherish the values that it claims to uphold and profess. It can be proved by examples and experience. It is just as a fashion statement that they flaunt to stand for values like democracy, dissent and freedom of expression.
I did experience one such incident recently that made me reinforce the belief that most of us are a bunch of intolerant lot who use the values of democracy and dissent as per our convenience. I am regularly invited to present academic papers or deliver speeches on different topics by various forums. I rarely do the background check of the organizations hosting such events, as I believe that one should speak without mincing words at every forum. If we start to do the background check of every hosting institution, forum and platform then we will have to opt for boycott or silence. It is good for sectarian mullahs and ideologues that boycott each other’s events and mosques as it is against their belief system to listen or pray behind each other.
I believe in an interpretation of Islam that is tolerant, egalitarian and believes in co-existence. So for me different forums mean interaction with people of varied hues. So I attended this particular event as a speaker and a friend who leaves no opportunity to be in limelight informed me that it was sponsored by agencies. The team agencies for Kashmiris invoke a very suspicious idea of a deep state. Also when someone is to be discredited he is labeled as being on the payroll of agencies. Sometimes I am intrigued by these allegations because every other person who is in limelight or public figure is supposed to be working for some agency in Kashmir.
It is something similar for sectarian mullahs too because they label their opponents as Israeli or U.S agents. The progressive Islamists and those working towards a liberal interpretation of Islam have to face it quite regularly.
Anyways every activity has its hazards so has the public life. I brushed aside these allegations by stating that it may be true but at least I am not on any payroll and spoke my mind quite freely at the event. Further the sectarian mullahs, some of who are on payroll and others who unconsciously through their sectarian interpretation did help the West particularly U.S.A win its war against U.S.S.R, this making the world become unipolar.
The mullahs still have not acknowledged their contribution to the goals of U.S that they now describe as Satanic, Taghooti system and enemy number one of Muslims. So in fact mullahs are the agents of West, particularly those who did spread Wahhabism in South Asia. Now it has been acknowledged by the Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman too that they were doing the bidding of West when they funded and advanced Wahhabism. Also the Afghanistan Jihad for a large part was funded and even the emphasis on Jihad in the form of violence was undertaken as a policy by different think tanks.
Anyways the said hungry minion for fame got himself listed in the editorial board of a magazine published by the same group who had invited me for the talk. Earlier that group was being funded by agencies and doing their dirty work of social engineering but now they must be indulging in saintly and godly work as the said person joined it. So when I tried to question this step, enquiring that how come he did join the same ‘agency institution?’ His reaction was escapist and revengeful. He knew he was exposed and all his lofty talks and claims had proved a great deception, he blocked my cellphone number and social media handles. It ended a decade long acquaintance that had evolved to friendship.
This experience made me ponder deeply about the human nature particularly in South Asian societies. People do not want to listen to criticism particularly the one that exposes them. The person who depicts the flaws of others, society and clergy becomes their enemy. They go to any extent to silence the voice. It is true for Prophets, Saints, Reformers and Revolutionaries. They disturb the status quo, lay bare the lived realities, point out the flaws and criticize the wrongs happenings in the society. These are crimes enough for them to be incarcerated, assassinated or sent to gallows.
The lives of most Prophets and reformers depict the similar trend. The minions, masses and criminals cannot stand the truth that leaves them exposed; the wise absorb the criticism as it helps them grow and remain thankful to their critics, whereas the dumb, mediocre become enemies of those who point out their shortcomings. So these people do everything to silence these critics. We have witnessed that in Muslim majority countries number of scholars have been assassinated or coerced to migrate. In case of Kashmir if I continue to toe such a line I may meet the fate similar to other critics, because these minions to cover up their mediocrity, illiteracy and flaws have to seek patronage of deep state to survive and eliminate critics like me.
To conclude, unless we do not strive for establishing a democratic culture in our personal spaces where dissent is not only tolerated but even cherished till then decrying curbs on dissent and freedom of speech by the government is certainly futile.
M.H.A.Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir
The Future of Indian Muslim Women: Fatwa Versus Feminism,
Author: Juhi Gupta
Publisher: Readworthy Publications, New Delhi, India
Pages: 378 Price: Rs 1595
Women since time immemorial have been victims of gross abuse and atrocities. These atrocities against women have been justified under different pretexts. They include social norms, religion, and misogyny. Women have been bearing them, accepting it as their fate, religious orders, or social responsibilities. Indian Muslim women have been bearing their own burden of patriarchy and misogyny like women of the world. But women in particular the Muslim women confronted peculiar problems that were rooted in religion, culture, and social milieu. Indian Muslim women are not a monolith so they face a plethora of issues given their environment, region, and society. But they do confront some general problems that are rooted in a selective interpretation of religion and following the same school of jurisprudence. This misogynist interpretation of Islam has resulted in disempowering women, and there are voices that now call for the reinterpretation and even doing away with the misogynistic message of constructed religion.
Islam has empowered women like any other despised section that existed at the time of its revelation. But over the centuries whatever the rights Islam had granted to women that empowered them and rendered them equal citizens were snatched away by men who were rooted in a patriarchal culture. These men could not do away with their patriarchal leanings when it came to the interpretation of Islam, so they evolved an interpretation of Islam, its shariah, and jurisprudence in a patriarchal manner. Against this patriarchy, undermining and opposing it arose the movement of equality demanding equal rights, wages, status, and opportunities for women known as feminism. Feminism as a movement was based on secular tradition and values antagonistic to organized religion and God. It evoked a huge response, and even some Muslim women scholars, jurists, and theologians adopted it, but with massive changes. God and religion were central to Islamic feminism. Islamic feminism as a movement again is not a monolith; it has diverse leanings and outlooks.
The present book written by a young academic and women studies scholar, Juhi Gupta engages with the question of Indian Muslim women for whom religion is an important aspect of their identity, culture, and whole life. Juhi discusses the future of Indian Muslim women in the context of changing trends in society, religious interpretation, and empowerment. Indian Muslim women are among the most marginalized sections of the Indian society, and very few studies are available about understanding them, their issues, how they view religion, misogynistic interpretation of religion, and new trends aiming at empowering them. Fatwa becomes essential because religion is the most potent driving force that gives meaning to their lives. Feminism as the new trend both empowers and threatens their religious understanding and roles.
In his Foreword, Prof Akhtarul Wasey, a prominent scholar and academic writes, “The basic premise of the book is that both Fatwa and Feminism, if applied in a positive and constructive mode, are indispensable for implementing attitudinal change among Indian Muslims in a bid to improve on the present status of their women and hopefully, this is viable, considering the present trends.” Thus Prof Wasey provides a gist of the book and what it covers regarding Muslim women. Fatwa has been given a negative connotation by media, because all of them are rooted in a certain medieval interpretation of Islam, that too in a sectarian context. In contemporary times the context, social milieu, society, and issues have changed but the jurists are trying to find answers in the same canonized and fossilized juristic schools that lead to retrogressive results. These results in the forms of Fatwas are then criticized by media as they are based on redundant interpretation of Islam, not a dynamic one conducted through Ijtihaad.
In her Preface, Juhi Gupta writes about the purpose and scope of the book in these words, “My solemn intention of research on this topic is to throw enough light on the present and future status of Indian Muslim women in face of the march of fatwas and feminism, and to develop new insight into certain social realities of India. The purpose of my research would be fulfilled if it could draw any attention towards the plight of Muslim women in India and bring any upliftment in their status.” (P-xii)
The economic, social, educational, health, regional and specific problems of women have been specified along with the reasons for the low participation of Muslim women in politics. Literature survey about Muslim women in India has added to the academic merit of the book. Juhi further discusses the role and status of women in Islam while drawing the inference, “It may be noted that it does not even associate sex with gender: There is not a single verse in the whole of the Quran suggesting that biological differences existing between men and women make them unequal.” P-54
The issues related with Fatwas, their impact on masses particularly women and misconceptions revolving around them are discussed too. While discussing the role of Fatwas and the tryst of Ulema with them, Juhi writes, “Ulema have never been the only educated class in the Islamic society but because they explained Shariah to the public, they used their moral power to control political clout and their role in politics surpassed that of any philosopher or natural scientist. The significance of traditional Fatwa can be judged adequately in the light of Islamic history which highlights that a number of renowned Islamic scholars refused to accept the most prestigious and coveted official positions offered by ruling powers of the day in order to resist their whims. Actually, some of them were killed for their refusal. In fact, the history of Fatwa is the history of Muslim Ummah’s quest to seek Allah’s pleasures, frequently at the cost of one’s life.” P-118
Media has always been painting Fatwas in a wrong color although there are Fatwas that do condemn domestic violence, dowry, female feticide but they are hardly covered by the media. Instead, patriarchal fatwas related Sania Mirza, Gudiya, Imrana, Taslima Nasreen are given huge publicity and coverage as they help in reinforcing Islamophobia. But Juhi also condemns the Fatwa giving institutions for their callous approach, “But if a fatwa is only for consumption a particular person who queried in his/her specific context, why print their collections or post them without any qualification on the web for global publicity and cross-referencing? The problem of context is ever so intriguing yet unnoticed.” P-159
Juhi also discusses fatwas as tools of progress and women empowerment. She also engages academically with feminism, its different strands, and schools of thought as well as with Islamic feminism. Overall the book is a very important contribution to the gender studies in Islam, in the context of new trends of Muslim feminism and Fatwas.