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Women are not outsiders
Men and women perform the 'tawaaf' together at the Kaaba during Haj. Why then is there a debate over women's rights to worship in the sanctum of dargahs?
The issue of women not being allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum in dargahs is nothing new. It has been raised over ages in many parts of the world. But it is now time it is challenged and challenged on the very ground on which it has been imposed.
I have been turned away from the astana many times. The simplest question to ask is this: would the Sufi saints whose remains are buried in the astana and whose creed embraced all regardless of caste, creed, sex or even religion, ever condone that a woman is forbidden to recite the Fatiha at their grave? The answer is a resounding 'No'.
The fact that Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has raised this issue with widespread political support is commendable. If you want to be enlightened about the spirit of Islam, dear reader, read on. If your mind is closed, stop here.
My study of the Quran the Sunnah and the Hadith has given me the confidence to claim before the world that Islam gives equal rights and status to women along with men. In pre-Islamic Arabia there was a time when the birth of a girl brought such shame that the child was placed in her living grave. This practice was prevalent then and is not unknown today in many other forms. At that time the new religion which was revealed (Islam), gave property rights to women and girls. Here begins the story of a woman's place in Islam;a story that the gatekeepers and so-called custodians of Islam continuously abuse by issuing false and damaging fatwas. These are placed on a religion that was the first to require that women when they earn, have a right to spend their earning as they wish. How many of these custodians of Islam even know this? And how cleverly those who do know it, conceal it.
Gyanvapi Masjid in Varansi, Hazratbal in Sirinagar, Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, Kalyar Sharif in Roorkee, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer;are a few dargahs that have restrained my movements. In Srinagar I was with a group of women of all faiths. When we were prevented from entering the shrine and asked to do the tawaaf (circumabulation) 'outside', I protested before the guards. I asked my host family, who are among the most respected, devout people in Kashmir, why this happened. They were shocked;they had never heard of these restrictions.
The arguments raised by those who support the Mumbai shrines' establishment - that the Sharia forbids men and women from performing rites together - negates the very basis of Haj where lakhs of men and women perform the tawaaf of the Kaaba together. They have strict instructions that when they tie their Ahraam they must leave their faces uncovered. The Ahraam is like a shroud;clothed in that one piece of garment, women and men stand equal in the eyes of God. Again, the Islamic injunction for modesty in dress, applies equally to men and women. Ayats in the Quran are clear. If men are permitted to give talaq women are free to give khula, I could go on quoting Surahs after Surahs.
During the life of the Prophet, women were free to enter mosques and question the Prophet on Quranic revelations. It was the query of his wife Umm Salama which resulted in the revelation of Surah Al Nisa, the second longest Surah of the Quran, elaborating on the rights, responsibilities, and defining the dignity of women.
The important fact which is conveniently forgotten by most patriarchs is that unlike Christianity, Islam has no organised church, no Pope, no religious head. Islam is the world's last revealed religion. The Quran says that 1, 24, 000 prophets preceded Prophet Mohammad. But post-Islam there is no 'guide' for the Ummah. The Quran therefore makes the momentous statement that Allah is closer than you shehrug (jugular vein).
Therefore, as Mualana Abul Kalam Azad has said in his monumental work Tarjumanul Quran, human beings are asked to understand the religion and its injunctions according to their "own light". With this clear direction given by the Quran, many sects, and many schools of jurisprudence came into being;each one interpreting its tenets in its own way. People were free to choose any or go their own way. Where is the place here for dictatorial muftis? La ikra fiddin is the revolutionary Quranic verse: there is no compulsion in religion.
I should have spoken up much earlier in defence of Islam which is endangered by false interpretations. To confuse archaic traditions with the religion itself is to do it huge disservice. I would rather join my voice with the poet Ghalib who has written: Hum muhid hain aur hamara kaish hai tar e rusm (We are believers in One Allah and our creed is to reject customs).
The author is a human rights activist and member of the Planning Commission
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