By Ziya Us Salam
April 24, 2015
In the season of Islam bashing, Noor Zaheer comes up with “Denied by Allah” denying the reader the complete picture
Noor Zaheer is a compulsive fiction writer. Her reputation, limited as it is, has been built around the success of “My God is a Woman”. She should have stuck to fiction. Here, she steps into the domain of society, religion, clerics and scriptures and ends up tying herself in knots.
Cannot accuse her of hypocrisy though. Right from the name of the book, “Denied by Allah”, which forced a Muslim cleric invited for the book release ceremony in New Delhi last week to refrain from lending a helping hand, to the contents, Noor goes around with the intention to provoke. She succeeds. In the author’s note itself, Noor says, “This book is not an attempt to reinterpret the Quran, find inner, deeper meanings, or to prove that the original text gives equal rights to the woman. This is an attempt to show the contradictions within Quran, the way they have been highlighted and interpreted to give an edge to patriarchy, the manner in which tribal customs have been made out to be the actual Islam and the woman has been relegated to the position of being a non-entity.” She subsequently proves herself to be a wonderful bundle of contradictions, a virtual non-entity as far as matters of faith and society go. The verses she quotes later in the book come back to disprove her avowed intention!
Truth to tell, Noor is consistent in her follies. She hides behind no fig leaf – oh, that word stemming from faith! In the author’s note she writes, “The Quran relegated women to a secondary position, right from where it describes the formation of the universe and the creation of Adam and Eve. It accuses Eve as the cause of the original sin and the reason for Adam being thrown out of paradise…” A simple reading of Surah Baqarah at the beginning of the Quran would have enlightened her. Agreed it is the longest chapter of the Quran but even a cursory reading would have ensured that she won’t mix up her Bible and the Quran. But who is to suggest that to the author who has never read/understood the scripture in the original and concedes, “I have relied in (her expression) the translations of the Quran by Syed Yusuf Ali and M Marmaduke Pickthall.” Sorry, but isn’t it a little like trying to understand Rabindranath Tagore through the pen of Gulzar?
Her declared cause for this book has been the alleged maltreatment of Muslim women at the hands of insensitive husbands, often unlettered, temperamental and drunkards. Yet she goes on to launch a diatribe not against such men, or indeed the Maulvis who facilitate the ignoble actions of such men, but against the scriptures. The anomalies do not end there. Almost throughout the book, she quotes verses from the Quran which project women in a very positive light yet insists that the scripture is unfair to them. For instance, writing about triple Talaq, she quotes from three different verses of the Quran, all correct in letter and spirit. She reproduces the opening verses of Surah Talaq wherein men are allowed to divorce women at fixed intervals and instructed to keep them during the duration from one pronouncement to another, thus giving reconciliation a chance. It tells, in other words, that Talaq has to be pronounced at the passing of a menstrual cycle, an inability or unwillingness to do so for the second or third time nullifies the earlier pronouncement.
Amazingly, after such clear promulgation, it strikes Noor not that it is the society, not the book to blame. In doing so, she harms the cause of women. Talking of Halala, like a commercial Hindi film director, she shows women as helpless beings, weak and vulnerable with no powers of thinking or reasoning. Indeed, in her case studies they hardly come across as human beings. For Halala cases, Noor heaps all the blame on scriptures whereby, according to her, the woman has to marry another man to marry her husband again after divorce. According to her, the scriptures punish her for the fault of the man who might have divorced her in a fit of rage. On the contrary, they strengthen her making sure she takes no hasty decision to go back to him. Noor answers no obvious questions. Why would a woman want to rejoin an abusive husband? For kids, for social or economic society? Well, the man gets two chances to reform. If he commits the deed for the third time, does he really deserve her consideration? Isn’t he responsible for the maintenance for a fixed period, even giving money in case a baby has to be suckled.
For Halala, a woman has to agree to marry another man, she is no dumb doll. Without her consent, the marriage does not take place. She has to fix her Meher, loosely termed as dower. Pray, why would a woman fix her Meher, find another man, and give her consent to marital tie-up only to ask him to break it after the nuptial night? There is no provision of temporary marriage in Islam. But so obsessed is Noor with Halala that she even imagines one in Belgium, quoting Sultan Shahin! Now when was Shahin an authority on jurisprudence?
Of course, the scene at the ground-level could be quite removed where uneducated or poor women may not know their rights, Maulanas may not have read the Tafsir of the holy book, and men may be both ignorant and ill tempered. But does that explain the assault on the book closest to a believer’s heart?
Noor could have done better had she read Surah Noor in the Quran. Talking of modesty, verse 30 advises men to keep their gaze lower. Only the following verse advises women accordingly. Right through, men and women are addressed together; an act of sin or piety is the same for both genders. Quite removed from the UAE case she quotes where three men were not charged with promiscuity/rape for outraging the modesty of a woman. Again the problem lay with the patriarchal set-up, not the laws; the Quran instructs lashing in such cases. She finds women relegated to an inferior position in the Quran yet the quoted verses prove otherwise. Does it strike her that in Islam no woman is expected to change her name following marriage and she can even walk out of it without giving any reason whatsoever? The prophet’s wives retained their maiden names. And a woman enjoys three times the rights of the man over her children.
These nuances would not have struck her mind. In the season of Islam bashing, she adds to the din. Full of contradictions and anomalies, low on facts, “Denied by Allah” is a book that denies readers the right to complete picture