23. October, 2010Activities No comments

My Dear Sisters and Brothers

At the outset I must confess that I am a controversial person. I say things that many, especially those in the orthodox camp of Islamic thought, will find difficult to digest. But my thoughts are the product of long years of research and reading and are intended to create critical thinking about our received wisdom. My views on Muslim women represent the yearnings of a person who wants to see the one half of the Muslim community, which is also responsible for bringing up the other one half to this world, liberate itself from centuries of male dominance, deprivation, and discrimination imposed by a patriarchal culture championed by an orthodox clergy.

The place of women in the sight of Allah, the creator is even closer to the place of men in the sight of Him. Among the ninety-nine attributes of Allah, the two most repeated ones are Al-Rahman (the most Merciful) and Al-Rahim (the most Beneficent or Compassionate). These two nouns have the same root, rahm in Arabic and one of the meanings of this word is the womb and the womb belongs only to women and not men. The qualities of mercy, compassion and beneficence arise from the very womb of the woman. How close is this quality to Allah the creator and one of his creations, the women? Which mullah is going to deny this closeness? I leave these questions for you to think about and contemplate.

Until the dawn of the modern era, in many societies both in the west and the east, women in general were considered to be a property like land, cattle or furniture and utensils over which the owner had absolute control. The owner of this property could do whatever he liked. He could sell it, destroy it, lease it or gift it. But, as long as the property was in his possession he had to protect it from being stolen by others; and therefore the women were covered from head to foot so that no outsider could see them, and they were involuntarily kept under a type of home-detention without being allowed to mingle with members of the wider society. They were deprived of receiving any formal education, of earning any income on their own, and of holding any social position. They were even considered as pieces of dirt that would pollute any social environment. They were even prevented from entering places of worship, because they were considered to be a source of temptation to the men whose devotion to God would be distracted by the sheer presence of women. In essence, the women were considered useful only for one purpose and that was to procreate children. They were the God-given child producing machines.

Islam came to liberate the women from this state of subjugation and oppression. An intentional and not literalist reading of the various verses in the Quran relating to marriage, inheritance, orphans, slaves, modesty etc. should make it clear to any intelligent person that the religion came as a liberator and not a subjugator of women. The life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), his reported sayings, and his treatment of his wives and carers endorse the Quranic mission even further.  His first wife Khadijah was a remarkable woman in Arabia of the Bedouins. Even before Allah the All-Mighty chose Muhammad as Rasoolullah, Khadijah had the intellect and intuition to choose Muhammad bin Abdullah as her husband. She was a business magnate and an employer who had the rare ability to observe and study the character of a person through simple business dealings.  Similarly, Ayesha, the youngest of the Prophet’s wives led an army of soldiers to fight her cousin Ali. Weren’t these women leaders in their own way and independent? What happened to this leadership and independence after the death of the Prophet and his immediate disciples?

When Islam entered new territories and new societies which had a different culture and different social environment, the jurists who interpreted the Quran and Hadith viewed the teachings in those sources through the prism of their own culture and environment.  Patriarchy, feudalism and tribalism coloured the teachings of the Quran and the community of Muslim women became the victim of the clerics’ distorted teachings.  Contrary to what the Quran intended the so called shariah of the medieval clergy drove the women back to the pre-Quranic days and for more than one thousand years Muslim women had remained virtually deaf, dumb and blind in almost all of our societies.

However, thanks to the spread of secular education, which is one of the few positive consequences of the colonial era, our sisters are wakening. All these years, it was the men who read the Quran and the hadith and told what these sources said about women. Now the women themselves are reading those sources and are coming out with new facts and meanings. Erudite women like Fatima Mernissi, Amina Wadud, Lyla Ahmad, and Laila Baktiar are leading this movement and many more will soon join them. Yet, the struggle for liberation among Muslim women has only just started and there is a long way to go.

According to the Quran, Allah had a purpose in creating every insan or soul. Every insan has a hidden individuality and capacity to create; and creation is one of the Attributes of Allah. This dynamic attribute of Allah was bestowed by Him to His Kahlifa the human and in the original pair of humans there was a man Adam and a woman, Eve. They were equal in every aspect except in their physiological shape and functions.  It was not Eve who tempted Adam as some say but it was both who were equally tempted by the forbidden fruit.  Why was this equality denied in the course of history? This is a long story and I have no time to go into it.

The fact of the matter is, Muslim women like you are agitating for their God-given rights which have been denied to them in the name of a misunderstood religion. You will definitely succeed in your struggle. This success may not come in my or my children’s or even my grand children’s time. But it will come. I wish you well.

The Regional Islamic Da’wa Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific (RISEAP) has a membership of more than twenty countries in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region. Its main aim is to involve in da’wa work not in its narrowly religious meaning but in the wider meaning that includes the general welfare of Muslim men, women, boys and girls. The South Pacific Da’wa Council (SPDC) which is a sub-organization under RISEAP has recently decided to pay attention to the empowerment of Muslim women in this region; and the best way to do that is to increase their educational capabilities. As one of its measures in this regard SPDC has established in Fiji a hostel for Muslim female orphans, young female converts and even young females who are entitled to receive zakath, who will be accommodated and educated free of charge so that they can go out in the society at the end of their education and be independent and play a contributory role in the upliftment of Muslims in this region.  This is a noble task that we have undertaken and we pray to Allah the All-Mighty to give us the strength and resources to accomplish our work successfully.

As one of the vice-presidents of RISEAP, I thank MWNNA for inviting me to this function and May Allah Bless all your efforts.

Thank you.

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