By Prof. Akhtarul Wasey
Strange noises are being made in response to the Women Reservation Bill having been adopted by the Rajya Sabha. The chorus includes shrill protestations from many much respected Muslim divines and scholars who are the least expected of showing such a behaviour. They seem to pit Islam against women and that too going against all that Islam stands for.
Islam never drives a wedge between men and women, nor it at all segregates women. Far from it, the holy Quran makes them interdependent as it considers them as ‘clothing’ to each other as spouses who wear each other, saving each other from uncalled for exposure. For Islam, a woman is not merely a ‘body’, to be sexually exploited, but an independent and full-fledged human individual with an existence or a soul of her own which many religion and cultures have denied her. Women, according to Islam, have been bestowed with all the attributes as men, but they surpass men in their delicacy and sensitivity.
During the life-time of the Prophet, women enjoyed all the freedoms and rights that women in many societies are fighting for even today. Women had complete economic autonomy in those times, which is exemplified by the Prophet’s wife Khadija who ran a well-spread export-import business and which never faced any restrictions from the Prophet. Prophet’s wife Aaisha was among the most prominent in the fields of scholarship and education. Almost one third of the knowledge about Islamic Shariah is believed to have been delivered to the posterity by her. Zainab, the daughter of Husain, who gained martyrdom at Karbala, was a greater orator and repository of Islamic wisdom. Rabia Bari is well-known among the earliest Sufi Saints of Islam. Indian history too bears witness to the women achievers like Razia Sultan and Chand Bibi as rulers, Zaibun Nisa and Jahar Ara as poets and scholars and the women-rulers of Bhopal who have left a great legacy of responsible and responsive governance, education, particularly of women and enlightenment. Poet philosopher Iqbal and scholars like Shibli Nomani and Syed Suleman Nadvi heaped praises on these women of Bhopal for their extraordinary human qualities. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, one of the greatest divines of Darul Uloom Deoband had issued a Fatwa in favour of their rule.
The advances that the Muslim women are registering in Islamic countries like Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait are quite evident and well-recognized. Even King Abdullah has included a woman as member of his cabinet in Saudi Arabia. Khalida Edib Khanam in Turkey, Fatima in Libya, Jamila Bu Pasha are yet other illumined examples of the women achievers who made themselves prominent in the world of Islam.
Back home, how can one forget the glorious resistance that Begum Hazrat Mahal had put against the British annexation of Awadh. The wife of Hasrat Mohani, one of the front ranking leaders of India’s freedom struggle made sterling contributions to the Swadeshi movement. No fatwa was ever issued to curb her activism. Post independence, Muslim women have forged ahead whenever opportunity beckoned to them. Justice Bibi Fatima enjoys the honour of being the first Muslim Judge of the Supreme Court. Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rusul, Maimuna Sultan, Begum Haamida Habibullah, Akbar Jahan who was the wife of Sheikh Abdullah, Anwara Taimur, Mohsina Kidwai, Dr. Najma Heptullah, Mahbooba Mufti and Dr. Syeda Saiyyadain Hameed are some other prominent Muslim women who never faced any resistance from Islamic circles.
This author firmly believes that Islam accords equal freedom and opportunities to women to excel in all the fields of human thought and action, but of course, remaining within the bounds of decency, modesty and propriety set by the Shariah. We as Muslim s take pride in the fact that Islam as a religion took lead in emancipating women from the age-old bondages that had reduced women to being merely a shadow of men and a peripheral existence in almost all societies around the world. Nobody has any right to deny the women what the holy Quran and the Prophet, who is a Mercy on all Mankind, have so generously bestowed on them, and that too in the name of Islam. Any move of denial of rights to the women will not only dent the progressive image of Islam but also weaken the efforts to get an exclusive share for the Muslim women in Women Reservation Law.
Akhtarul Wasey is Head: Department of Islamic Studies, Director: Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia (A Central University), Jamia Nagar, New Delhi-110025, INDIA.