By Nigar Ataulla
The Dar ul-Uloom Deoband, India’s largest madrasa, is back in the news again—this time for a fatwa it has just issued that lays down that Muslim girls above the age of 13 should not ride cycles on the grounds that it would be difficult for them to do so while wearing their veils. Besides, so claims the fatwa, cycling has an adverse effect on girls’ physiques.
A recent fatwa, issued some months ago by the very same madrasa, advising Muslim women not to work in offices left me dumbfounded, but this one, I must confess, made me burst out laughing. Gobbling up my breakfast, I jumped into a three-wheeler, zoomed into my office and marched into my editor’s cabin. I told him that I was going to speak my mind to the world about this latest decree. He did not seem to share my indignation, though. “Don’t get sucked into negativity,’ he advised, seeking to me to calm down. “Forget about them. Let them do what they want. In any case, people don’t listen to such fatwas”. But, gosh! I cannot be a saint like him and I really must speak out my mind, I said to myself.
My mind travels back to years ago, when I was just a little girl. In those days, one could hire a cycle for just three rupees for an entire day. So, thinking that one day I would begin to cycle to school, I hired a bike and tried to learn to use it. There was little traffic around the colony where I lived, and it was safe to learn cycling there. Nobody told me that because I was a Muslim girl, I could not ride a cycle.
The great thing about a cycle is that it has no motors, and so all one needs is to learn how to balance. That was where I goofed badly, however. I never learnt the art of balancing. Despite several attempts, I swished and swayed, tossed and turned, but could never learn to ride straight. So, after months of experimenting, which, by the way, almost completely exhausted almost all my pocket-money, I gave up struggling to learn the fine art of balancing on a cycle.
But now this latest fatwa has rejuvenated my desire to hop on to a cycle again. It has also enthused me to share with the manufacturers of this fatwa news about the 6000-odd cyclists who took part in the cyclathon held in Mumbai in February this year to promote cycling as an environmentally-friendly alternative mode of transportation that can help bring down levels of air and noise pollution, especially in crowded urban areas.
But apart from its environmental benefits, cycling is also a great form of exercise that packs in a mighty punch a host of health benefits. Quite the opposite, you will agree, of what the men who have penned this latest fatwa claim, who, rather intriguingly, argue that cycling is bad for women’s physiques! Cycling boosts cardiovascular health, and does miracles for your heart. Regular cycling can thus protect you from heart disease and other related conditions such as high blood pressure and Type-2 diabetes—so say the experts. In fact, a study estimated that people who cycle regularly moderately cut down their risk of death from heart disease by 22 percent.
Cycling also helps maintains body weight. It is a simple and easily accessible form of exercise that successfully burns calories. Cycling for about 30 minutes, five times a week, may provide you with enough exercise to remain trim and healthy. Cycling also relieves depression. It is an enjoyable activity that imparts self confidence and a sense of cheer.
Now I am not going to argue with my ‘learned religious brothers’ about why they have decreed cycling to be ‘dangerous for Muslim women only.’ Only they have an answer, and I am not particularly interested in it. My concern is why these men presume that they must do our thinking for us. Surely, God has given brains to us women, too, and these are meant to be used by us, rather than left to rust and rot! Surely Muslim women must use their God-given brains to decide what mode of transportation to use!
For a girl to ride a cycle is now, so the fatwa has announced, ‘irreligious’ on the alleged grounds that it would be impossible for her to be suitably veiled while doing so. Hmmm. And the cow jumped over the moon, you could well say. For heavens sake, will you leave this problem to be sorted out by Muslim women and their tailors themselves? Women who wish to wear the veil, or a headscarf or a black burqa or whatever and still ride a cycle will find a way out themselves if they have to. As for me as a Muslim woman, if I wish to I will hop onto to a bicycle, or, if I still cannot manage to balance on two wheels, then onto a tri-cycle if I please, with my husband behind me, riding pillion.
A fatwa is an opinion. One can follow it or not. As for me, I’m clicking my computer mouse and dispatching the fatwa about cycles to my re-cycle bin.