By Mohammed Wajihuddin
The Raza Academy wants the Haj Committee to be kept “clean of women”. Muslim scholars say this shocking misogyny has no place in Islam
13 July 2011
Haj House, near CST, houses the headquarters of the Haj Committee of India which facilitates the travel of over 100,000 Indian pilgrims to Mecca every year. Its administrative section has clerks, all male and many bearded, poring over files. At the far end are two rooms, occupied by the Committee’s CEO Dr Shakir Hussain and its deputy CEO Roohi Khan respectively. An officer of the Madhya Pradesh Service Commission cadre, Khan joined the Haj Committee on deputation a month ago and is the only woman among the 70-odd staff at Haj House. But if the Raza Academy, a conservative Sunni Muslim group, had its way, she would have by now been packed off from the male bastion and returned to her parent cadre.
Last week, the Raza Academy annoyed many within and outside the community with its sickeningly misogynist protest against Khan’s appointment to the Haj Committee on the grounds that she was a woman. “The government should keep a department like the Haj Committee, which deals exclusively with Muslims, clean of women,” reads the Academy’s press release. “Just as it is forbidden for a man to look at a woman, it is also forbidden for a woman to look at a man.”
Swallowing the insult, Khan refuses to join issue with her tormentors. However, the religious group’s ant women utterances, made in the name of upholding Islamic principles, have unsettled not just liberal scholars but even traditional Ulema. “The protest against Roohi Khan’s appointment is completely un-Islamic. I am ready to debate with anyone who says Muslim women can’t work with men,” says senior cleric Maulana Shoeb Koti.
Conservative elements have for long opposed women sharing space with men in the public field. How did the idea of segregation of the sexes among Muslims find religious sanction? Commentators refer to a few verses in the Quran which pertain mainly to women’s dress code but say the later jurists turned them into a doctrine of segregation. A part of the relevant verse goes: “Tell believing women to avert their eyes, and safeguard their private parts, and not to expose their attractions except what is visible (24:31).” Noted London-based Islamic scholar Ziuddin Sardar, in his new book, Reading The Quran, explains this verse. “The objective of the verse is to achieve modesty and public chastity by concealing nakedness and not sexualizing one’s appearance,” writes Sardar, adding, “Modesty cannot be reduced to a piece of cloth, whatever form or fashion it might have, but rather consists of the sum total of behaviour and a distinctive moral outlook.” Another famous verse which has led to the justification of patriarchal traits among Muslims is the one where men have been called qawwam (protectors) of women. Here too, the context in which the verse was revealed is often ignored—the vulnerable position of women women in the pre-Islamic tribal society of Arabia on account of polygamy and sexually exploitative powerful tribal chiefs. The qawwam ruling, thus, was meant to safeguard women, not to legitimize male subjugation. Sardar says: “The interpretation of the verse and the anti-woman rules and legislation based on it, I would suggest, defy the basic logic and spirit of the Quran.”
Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali pooh-poohs the conservatives’ demand that Muslim women should not work with men. “How can they deny that the Prophet’s wife, Ayesha, led a war and was part of the negotiations the Prophet held? When they say a woman cannot work on the Haj Committee, they conveniently forget that men and women circumambulate kaba, as part of Haj and Umrah, and pray at the holy mosque there together,” she says. But try telling that to the regressive minds. However, the stranglehold of conservatism on Indian Muslims seems to be slowly loosening as more Muslims educate their daughters. And the message to the conservatives who are desperately trying to keep the community in medieval moorings is resoundingly clear. A few days after the Raza Academy announced its displeasure over Khan’s new job, she was invited to address a Muslim professionals’ meet at crowded Dongri. “We are planning more sessions where she will talk to college students and encourage them, especially girls, to aim for the civil services,” declares NGO Milli Council’s M A Khalid. Does the Raza Academy have an answer?
Source: Times of India, Mumbai