Burqa Ban is Pushing Muslim Women out of Sri Lanka’s Public Spaces
Mosque Heroes Fearless Muslim Worshippers Risk Lives To Rescue Hundreds Of Women And Children From Tower Block Blaze
Visually Impaired Women Praise Services in Madinah
Sentencing Set For Woman Who Took Items from Arizona Mosque
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Why a PIL on women’s entry at the Nizamuddindargah cannot be compared to Sabarimala
MOHSIN ALAM BHAT
04 June 2019
The HazratNizamuddinAuliyadargah in Delhi is the only major shrine of a sufi saint which does not allow women access to the inner sanctum sanctorum. SARAVANA BHARATHI S B FOR THE CARAVAN
On 6 December 2018, three female law students from Pune filed a public-interest litigation in the Delhi high court, seeking the entry of women to the inner precinct of the HazratNizamuddinAuliyadargah in the capital. The PIL was filed barely weeks after a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court lifted the ban on women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Evidently, the Sabarimala judgement has had a cascading effect, with the Supreme Court now hearing another PIL, filed by a Muslim couple, demanding that the prohibition on the entry of Muslim women in any mosque be declared illegal in India.
Historically, policies of social reform have arisen from the political branches of the state. Throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, a wave of social-reform legislation created a state-supervised infrastructure that managed prominent religious institutions and removed caste-based restrictions on entry. But in the last few years, the courts seem to have become the chief interlocutors in the social-reform process, raising enthusiasm for the judicial process as its main mode.
However, there is a deep and unresolved tension at the centre of our constitutional practice. We care about religious freedom—the right of individuals and groups to autonomously conduct their religious lives and practices. But our constitution also requires that we be sensitive to removing the entrenched practices of subordination and domination. These two values are often in conflict.
The problem is not that the practices of organised religions are inherently hierarchical and exclusionary. Religions discriminate against genders and classes to restrict access to religious spaces or religious offices, exclude certain social relations from religious recognition and follow practices that manifest a deeply patriarchal culture. If that were the problem, then reform would require most of what we know as religion today to give way to state intervention.
Rather, the problem is that religious practices in India have a material and symbolic impact on excluded individuals and groups, far beyond the acts of worship. Religion in India has consequences for people’s civic rights and their right to live with dignity. The constitution-framers recognised this and consequently regarded religion as one of the crucial domains of reform. The constitution not only prohibits the state from discriminating on the grounds of caste, religion or sex, but also empowers it to reform Hindu religious institutions and criminalise abhorrent practices, like untouchability.
But there are good reasons to be suitably circumspect about the courts driving social reform. This is not only because social reform is politically risky, as became evident from the reaction to the Sabarimala verdict, but also because courts must work within the constraints of legal principle and reasoning. They must show that they have given due regard to all the constitutional values at stake, even if they are in tension with each other, and deliver a legally tenable result independent of the judges’ personal views. The PIL demanding the opening of the inner sanctum at the Nizamuddindargah to women embodies these challenges.
The descendants of the Sufi saint Muhammad NizamuddinAuliya conduct religious ceremonies at the dargah under the guidance of the AnjumanPeerzadganNizamiyaKhusrawi Coordination Committee—an organisation comprised of the direct descendants of the saint who handle the running and maintenance of the shrine. The NizamuddinDargah Trust—which handles the financial affairs of the shrine along with the committee—has no power over these customs. While women are free to access the shrine, they are not permitted inside the small inner room that houses the saint’s grave. As any visitor to the shrine will testify, this does not come in the way of women participating in other facets of worship. Women usually sit around the room, facing the sanctum sanctorum while offering prayers.
Should religious institutions be made to respect egalitarian values in all their practices? What is the limit for state intervention? And how should this conflict be resolved while being equally respectful to both the values? The answers to these questions are contingent on the context. The legal assessment of egalitarian claims in religious practices cannot generalise, despite the temptation to do so, and must make nuanced distinctions based on the nature of religious customs and the historical role of state institutions.
The Nizamuddindargah case differs markedly from the Sabarimala case. The Sabarimala temple is governed by legislation—the Kerala Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965—which is based, in part, on the constitutional mandate of opening Hindu places of worship to “all sections and classes of Hindus.” This anti-caste value, derived from the constitution, was meant to override all the contrary religious customs.
Despite this legislation, in 1991, the Kerala government passed a rule recognising the customs and practices that restricted women between the ages of 10 and 50 years from worshipping at Sabarimala. In the Sabarimala case, which challenged this rule, the judges did not offer uniform reasoning—three opinions held the exclusion unconstitutional and one dissenting opinion rejected the petition. Nevertheless, the underlying view among the majority opinions was that this exclusion violated the legislative imperative of opening Hindu temples in the state to all Hindus.
This imperative is missing in the case of the Nizamuddindargah. There is neither a clear constitutional mandate of opening Muslim places of worship to all Muslims nor a legislation that demands it. However, the absence of the legislative imperative does not automatically mean that the exclusion is legally justified. Ordinarily, the courts are expected to enforce existing customs. This is where the Bombay high court’s decision in the Haji Ali dargah case appears to be distinct from Nizamuddin.
In 2014, a PIL filed by civil-society members challenged the denial of women’s entry into Haji Ali, a mosque in Mumbai. The dargah administration asserted no custom that barred the entry of women to the inner shrine—evidence before the court suggested that women were not prohibited till as late as 2012. The dargah administration merely asserted that their decision of exclusion was based on Islam. Since this interpretation of Islam was tenuous at best, the court was bound to side in favour of the entry of women.
Interestingly, even in the Sabarimala case, some petitioners challenged the very existence of the exclusionary custom on the ground of its inconsistency over the years. Only the judge DY Chandrachud accepted this argument and relied on it as one of his many grounds for holding the exclusion illegal.
Thus, the legal assessment of the exclusion must significantly depend on the historical tradition and custom in the case of the Nizamuddindargah, particularly its continuity and consistency over the centuries. If the petitioners show that historically, the dargah authorities restricted the entry of women inconsistently, the high court is likely to not recognise the practice as a custom altogether and hold the exclusion to be without the authority of law.
Of course, the mere existence of the custom would not necessarily make it legally acceptable. The Article 25 of the constitution enumerates religious freedom as “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion,” which is subject to “public order, health and morality.” The provision also makes the freedom subject to other fundamental rights as well as the need for “social welfare and reform.” But the courts have not always laid down clear and consistent guidelines to govern the application of these constitutional safeguards. For example, in an important 1962 case, the Supreme Court considered a legislation that sought to prohibit the practice of excommunication among DawoodiBohras because it violated the civil rights of the affected individuals. Despite this, the court held the law unconstitutional, noting that it was neither a social-reform legislation nor could religious practices be restricted on grounds of protecting civil rights.
Nevertheless, there appears to be a pattern of courts holding religious institutions and practices to the constitutional standard of civil rights. One route was offered in the Haji Ali case, where the court held that since the dargah was a public trust, all fundamental rights were enforceable against it. Under Indian constitutional law, fundamental rights are ordinarily not applicable against non-state entities. Consequently, enforcing them wholesale against religious institutions would be both unusual and unlikely in future cases.
Chandrachud’s opinion in the Sabarimala case offers hints of a different strategy. Among other things, he held that the practices that stigmatised some classes of people based on conceptions of “purity and pollution” would run counter to the constitution’s prohibition of “untouchability.” In his view, what made the proscription at Sabarimala unconstitutional was the belief that menstruation made the female body ritually impure and hence taboo in religious spaces.
This innovative interpretation of untouchability significantly shifts the question from the fact of customary exclusion to the reasons for exclusion. It provides a crucial link to the constitutional mandate of social reform and articulates a persuasive legal principle that demands intervention in those religious practices that are harmful because they deepen subordination and domination.
In the Nizamuddindargah case, the court must not only ask if the exclusionary custom exists, but also if the custom is based on conceptions of female inferiority and impurity that would run counter to the constitutional prohibition of untouchability. It must assess the nature and basis of the custom, in the eyes of those who enforce it and those who are subjected to it.
The key to this inquiry is to understand the social meaning of the exclusion. Specifically, it is to ask what the exclusion means to the community of believers, and whether the exclusion is understood to be either based on or seen to deepen subordination. This cannot be done seriously without considering whether women among the community of believers consider the exclusion stigmatising and objectionable. From the perspective of rejecting stigma, the identity of the petitioners may not be determinative, but the inclusion of the voices of the excluded must remain pivotal.
While she did not lay it out like I have, the judge Indu Malhotra’s dissenting opinion in Sabarimala voiced the concern that it may not be appropriate for the courts to intervene in religious practices on the basis of petitions filed by non-believers. Hence, there is a good reason for the courts to be more careful in determining the social meaning of exclusion where the excluded believers have not filed petitions. This seems to be the case in the Nizamuddindargah case, where the petitioners have not indicated any spiritual or religious association with the shrine in the petition.
The court’s decision in the Nizamuddindargah case, like the other recent cases on religious reform, will be interesting because it will chart the ways in which the courts will navigate religious freedom and constitutional equality after the Sabarimala judgment.
Burqa Ban is Pushing Muslim Women Out of Sri Lanka’s Public Spaces
ChandniDoulatramani | Updated:May 9, 2019
Following the deadly attacks that killed more than 250 people in the country’s capital on Easter Sunday, the Sri Lankan government banned the burqa. It is forcing women to stay indoors.
Burqa Ban is Pushing Muslim Women Out of Sri Lanka’s Public Spaces Representative image.
27 year-old Farzana Hussain* from Wellampitiya, a town about 4kms east of Colombo, Sri Lanka, has been wearing the burqa since she was 11.
Following the deadly attacks that killed more than 250 people in the country’s capital on Easter Sunday, the Sri Lankan government banned the covering of face that “hinders the identification of individuals in a way that threatens national security.” This includes the burqa and the niqab, face coverings worn by several Muslim women.
Since the ban on April 29, Hussain hasn’t left her house.
A schoolteacher by profession, who teaches the Qur'an – the way of reading and memorizing it – she says the ban has made it ‘difficult’ for her to go out.
She says she’s lucky that the school holidays haven’t ended yet, but if the ban isn’t lifted by the time schools reopen for the new session, it will be hard for her to teach.
“We have been advised to stay at home unless there is a dire need to go out. If I’m not allowed to cover my face, I will stop going out to teach because I prefer covering to teaching,” Hussain says, hoping the ban is lifted soon.
Meanwhile, 18 year-old Zareen Rashid* from Colombo is scared that even if the ban is lifted, it will be hard to avoid the racism.
“The niqabis are still going to go through racial discrimination and will be asked to remove it in public places. Going out with the niqab after the ban being lifted will be equivalent to walking in hell because people will call you a terrorist. Staying indoors will be a better option than going out,” she says.
She may be right.
Back in 2016, after France banned the burkini – a swimming costume that adheres to the Islamic rule of dress that requires women to cover much of their body and heads – following a terror attack, photographs and videos emerged showing the police stripping women at the beaches.
Rashid hasn’t left her house since the ban. However, she knows she will have to remove her niqab as soon as college begins. Rashid started wearing the niqab at 14 after her father advised her to.
But, she says, wearing it has strengthened her connection with God; making her feel brave and confident, and it hasn’t stopped her from achieving anything she has wanted to. Without her niqab, she says she feels ‘naked’.
However, Mariam Wadood, a lawyer and activist who works with the Colombo-based NGO Women In Need, wants the ban to be imposed permanently.
She believes “everyone's rights and liberties must come with limitations. Freedom must stop at the beginning of someone else’s fear or discomfort.”
Mariam, who herself does not cover her face, believes that the burqa and niqab are Wahabi influences and although they are not a symbol of terror, they are a symbol of radical Islam. “The burqa and niqab create disconnect and division in the country, among communities, and even within the community,” she says.
“We must now put our country first. National and public security is threatened, and if it is law that the niqab and burqa must be removed then we must adhere to it,” she says adding that the niqab is not compulsory is Islam.
Kolkata-based women’s rights activist and researcher Mariya Salim agrees that the niqab is, in fact, not compulsory in Islam adding that the tradition is itself dictated by patriarchy.
“But these are deeper questions and the state cannot impose these restrictions by force,” she says.
Mariya says that while banning the burqa and niqab might seem like a progressive thing to, the reasons for the ban are completely wrong.
“It restricts the mobility of those women who use it to navigate spaces. They are anyway living under severe patriarchy in the name of religion, and now their movement will also be restricted, especially if they come from conservative families that require them to wear niqab. It will make life more difficult for women who are dictated by patriarchy in their everyday lives.”
For 33 year-old Ayesha Muhsin in Colombo, wearing the niqab made her feel safe and secure, even if sometimes she felt she was being judged.
“Travelling alone with the niqab is easy, as you don’t feel uncomfortable about the trishaw driver acting funny,” says Muhsin, who has given up wearing the niqab after the ban to make sure her face is very visible but is still faced with suspicious glares because she wears the hijab that covers only her head.
Burqa is a garment that covers the entire body from head to toe, while niqab covers only the face, leaving slits for eyes. The hijab, on the other hand, covers only the head and the face remains revealed. The burqa and niqab are banned in Sri Lanka, while the hijab isn’t.
But, she believes, not wearing the niqab is equally dangerous. “There’s a lot of hatred towards the Muslim community at the moment and wearing the niqab in public might result in the niqabi becoming a victim of some serious harassment.”
Women like Hussain, Wadood, and Muhsin believe that the ban will indeed help with “public protection”, a narrative the Sri Lankan government has sold to its citizens.
“I think the ban is a sensible move as it was taken due to security reasons and not for racial reasons,” says Muhsin, who has been wearing the niqab for twenty years.
Salim, the women’s rights activist and researcher, believes that by banning the burqa and niqab the Sri Lankan government is “clearly putting forth the ‘all terrorists are Mulsim narrative’.”
“When an attack like the one in Sri Lanka happens, it affects the entire sub continent. Muslims across South Asia have been trying to prove that it is not ‘their Islam’ the kind that ISIS claims to be representing because they fear the backlash of this decision which is nothing but Islamophibic.”
Even 18 year-old Rashid is perplexed about how exactly banning the burqa and niqab might solve any security issues.
“It’s because they (government) think it’s only those that wear the burqa and niqab are terrorists,” she says.
*Names changed to protect identity.
Mosque Heroes Fearless Muslim Worshippers Risk Lives To Rescue Hundreds Of Women And Children From Tower Block Blaze
By Joe Duggan
4th June 2019
HERO Muslim worshippers “risked their lives“ to storm a burning 18-floor London tower block and rescue hundreds of sleeping residents from a fire.
The group raced from late-night prayers at Madina Mosque after spotting the blaze on the eighth floor of Gooch House at 2.40am last Thursday in Clapton, East London.
Hero Muslim worshippers raced into a tower block fire to rescue sleeping residents
Hero Muslim worshippers raced into a tower block fire to rescue sleeping residentsCredit: Hackney Gazette/Archant
The group stormed into Gooch House in East London and began banging on doors to warn people
The group stormed into Gooch House in East London and began banging on doors to warn peopleCredit: Hackney Gazette/Archant
The group had been at late prayers at Madina Mosque in Lower Clapton, East London
The group had been at late prayers at Madina Mosque in Lower Clapton, East LondonCredit: Hackney Gazette/Archant
They charged to the top floor and banged on doors yelling “fire, fire” as they spent an hour evacuating families and children.
It came just two weeks before the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster in West London, which killed 72 people.
Ahmed, who lives on the seventh floor, told the Hackney Gazette: “They helped my mum downstairs while I took my wife and checked on an elderly resident on the first floor who is recovering from cancer.
"They made sure everyone got out. They knocked on each door until someone opened.
They knocked on each door until someone opened. If it wasn't for them we would never have got out
Ahmed, Seventh-Floor Resident
“There was six or seven of them and they were only young. If it wasn't for them we would never have got out.”
The group evacuated residents from the 80-flat block before firefighters arrived.
Ahmed hailed the mosque worshippers’ heroism as "a really important show of community spirit”.
He said: “They broke their way in not knowing what was inside. It could have been a lot worse.
“It shows there are still people willing to help others and risk their own life."
The worshippers had been fasting for Ramadan, but raced up and down the stairs to warn people.
It is believed a cigarette caused last Thursday’s fire on a balcony, which was badly damaged.
This is the Islam people don't read about. You sacrifice yourself for your neighbour.
Mohammed Sidat, Madina Mosque Chair
One man from the blazing flat was treated for smoke inhalation and the flat suffered smoke damage.
One of the hero worshippers Zakariya Ahmed, 24, from Clapton, was Mosque in Lea Bridge Road with three pals when he spotted the blaze.
Zakariya climbed a wall and smashed a window to enter Gooch House and warn tenants.
He told the Hackney Gazette: "Our purpose was to help our neighbours out. Being a Muslim it's a norm - it's what we're taught.
We were not thinking about [the fact that] our lives might be at risk. I had nightmares of Grenfell at the back of my head
Zakariya Ahmed, Hero Rescuer
"I had nightmares of Grenfell at the back of my head."
Mosque chair Mohammed Sidat said he was “very proud” of the group and was going to prepare a big dinner for them after Ramadan.
He said: "They were very brave and ran right to the top floor. They didn't think for their safety and were very courageous.”
The fire broke out just two weeks before the second anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, which killed 72 people
The fire broke out just two weeks before the second anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, which killed 72 peopleCredit: Andrew Styczynski - The Sun
"They did amazing and it's because of Islam. This is the Islam people don't read about.
"You sacrifice yourself for your neighbour."
Ahmed said fleeing residents were “shaken up” and “crying” over fears of another Grenfell disaster.
He said: “I was watching people run down stairs with kids in both arms."
Mavis Holsworth, who Ahmed helped down from the first floor, wrote a letter of thanks to the mosque.
She wrote: "Without thinking of danger to themselves, they went from top to bottom waking people.
"Our thanks and blessings are with them all."
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Watch Manager Adam Mosely of Homerton Fire Station said the fire was out when crews arrived as the occupant had tackled it.
He added: “Thankfully they were not seriously injured, but we would always advise people to leave their property immediately upon discovering a fire and to call 999.
“If you smoke, it is also important to ensure your cigarette is disposed of carefully by stubbing it out, preferably in an ash tray.”
Visually impaired women praise services in Madinah
June 04, 2019
RIYADH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has been praised for providing services especially for special-needs and visually impaired women visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Sarah Al-Hazimi, a guide at blindness charity Vision, praised the services available at the mosque, such as providing copies of the Holy Qur’an in Braille. She also praised the guidance and counseling services, as well as the dedicated spaces set aside for visitors with special needs.
Amani Masleh Al-Sa’idi, who is visually impaired, expressed her happiness at the care she was given at the Prophet’s Mosque, especially the copy of the Braille Qur’an she was provided with. Fellow visitor Aminah Ahmed Qa’id agreed, saying they were a blessing for the visually impaired. She noted that providing those copies helped her to memorize the Holy Qur’an.
SafaaFateh Al-Rahmen commended all the services provided by the government to serve female visitors. She said that she did not have difficulty in finding what she needed in the Prophet’s Mosque, with the help of female guides, supervisors and workers.
Sentencing set for woman who took items from Arizona mosque
BY JACQUES BILLEAUD, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted Jun 3, 2019 10:19 pm PDT
PHOENIX — A woman captured on video making derogatory comments about Muslims as she and a friend took pamphlets and other items from an Arizona mosque is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday on an aggravated criminal damage conviction.
The guilty plea previously struck by Tahnee Savanna Gonzales calls for her to serve a sentence of probation, write a letter of apology to the mosque and complete 225 hours of community service.
Gonzales was with a friend and three children in March 2018 when they removed pamphlets, fliers and other items from bins in a fenced-in courtyard behind the mosque in Tempe. Qurans also were taken, but it’s unclear which of the two women was accused of walking away with them.
The two women, known for making anti-Muslim statements at political events in the Phoenix area, walked past a no-trespassing sign posted on a gate to the courtyard, where only members of the mosque were allowed to go without permission.
Gonzales posted a video of the visit on her social media account. The video shows Gonzales starting a shouting match with a Muslim man after he walked out of the mosque and tried to pet her dog.
Her friend, Elizabeth Ann Dauenhauer, had previously pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal damage and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 200 hours of community service. At sentencing, Dauenhauer expressed remorse for her actions.
Gonzales, who does most of the talking during the 23-minute video, complains in the footage about Sharia law and said Muslims engage in bestiality and are destroying America.
When she sees a no-guns sign on a gate on mosque property, Gonzales said, “Ahhh, but they carry around AKs and kill people all the time.”
Near the end of the video, the two women, children and their dogs stood in the parking lot as a man exited the mosque.
One of the dogs trotted over to the man, who, in response to a question from Gonzales, later identified himself as a practicing Muslim.
“Stay away from our dogs, please. Don’t eat them,” Gonzales told the man, prompting a guffaw from Dauenhauer.
“Really?” the man responded, later explaining that he was trying to be peaceful and didn’t understand what Gonzales was talking about.
Gonzales kept yelling insults at the man as the shouting match continued.
The parents of the three children who were with the two women at the mosque haven’t been publicly identified by authorities.
Her plea agreement calls for charges of burglary, disorderly conduct and other counts to be dismissed.
Before Gonzales pleaded guilty, her lawyers contended her comments were protected by the First Amendment. They said the mosque was open to the public and intended for people to take the materials that Gonzales and Dauenhauer walked away with.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at www.twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.
Jacques Billeaud, The Associated Press