March 8, 2008
International Women's Day
She hides her face behind the veil. Her eyes speak of submission and power simultaneously intermingling with a sense of confidence in herself but at the same time fearful of the society. She has in her the meekness of a child and the inner strength of a super human being. She is the Muslim woman of the 21st century.
The world at large views the woman donned in ‘burkha’ as suppressed and backward with no voice of her own. She is looked upon as one who is dominated by her male counterparts, lost in the midst of societal and religious mores.
However, it is not right to consider burkha as being synonymous with suppression and oppression. A woman in burkha is as much about freedom as she is about religion. The attire is a symbol of restraint to the world, but not to herself. Those who offer testimonies of women under Taliban rule or even those in Saudi Arabia are citing all the wrong examples, which are nothing but a result of misinterpretation of the Quran. Islam has given equal status to men and women, in everything from seeking education to working to claiming divorce.
A saying of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) goes, ‘whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, God will enter him into Paradise.' (Ibn Hanbal, No 1957). Islam gives woman the right to education, take up jobs, own property and to voice her opinion to the world.
Nevertheless, today the Muslim community finds itself polarised between extremism and modernity, and sadly, they do not co-exist. Each one’s interpretation of Islam is different from the other. While one chains its women, the other believes in liberation to the extent of losing basic Islamic values.
In between the two, there is another sect – that of moderate Muslims, and it is here that the new Muslim woman is beginning to find her voice and bringing in a revolution in the way the world looks at her.
The Muslim woman of today carries her identity with pride and honour. You will see her in doctor’s coat, behind the steering wheel and as a speaker at an international seminar, performing each role with confidence and élan. The burkha neither restrains her nor mutes her voice.
Realization of the importance of women’s education especially among males has played a major role in bringing about this change. Muslim women are slowly and steadily stepping out of their homes for education as well as for jobs and even sharing financial responsibilities of their families.
Consider the case of Afiqah (name changed on request). She was married at the tender age of just 17 years, without even having completed her PUC. Life was good, until she lost her husband a few years later, left with two daughters and pregnant with a third. At 25, when most girls think of starting a new life, hers had already taken a full circle. It was the end of the world for her, with not enough education, no job and young daughters to look after. Even her in-laws did not let her in peace – various litigations on her late husband’s property rights followed which crushed her all the more. Things looked bleak but she was fortunate to have the support of her parents.
It takes immense courage to take the twists and turns of life head-on and deal with its million ironies. After her third daughter was born, Afiqah decided to take stock of her life and determined to continue her studies. The principal of the college where she applied discouraged her blatantly saying it was not possible to take up science after having lost touch with studies for almost 10 years. Finally, after much relentless persuasion, Afiqah took her seat in a class filled with teenagers.
At the beginning she herself was filled with anxiety and doubts of her being able to cope with the stress of managing studies and looking after her little kids. Yet she moved on determinedly, bagging a seat in a medical college and going on to have a flourishing practice of her own. She even had her house built all on her own.
She was married for a second time, but again she was unlucky – the man turned out to be everything a wife wouldn’t wish for. She was forced to give up her practice and was even separated from her kids. For one who had battled for five years to get education and provide for her children, it was nothing short of a prison. Once again it was her will power that helped choose her life over societal norms. Without a thought to what society would say, she returned to her kids and even resumed her practice.
Afiqah’s story of courage is not just an inspiration, but also a reflection of today’s Muslim woman who lives her life according to her own dictates. It is not easy for a young widow with three daughters to make a new beginning from scratch. Yet, today she has proved everyone, including herself, wrong. She is financially independent, able to fulfil her children’s wants and needs. Looking back at her life, she says with pride, ‘Education is the only treasure no one can ever snatch from you. I want my daughters to be highly educated too so that they do not have to depend on anyone else.”
Daijiworld readers are already familiar with some of the prominent names among Muslim women who have made it big in various fields. Shahnaz M, editor of Kannada monthly magazine, Sara Aboobakker, a noted writer are two women who are at the forefront of women's liberation movement at the regional level.
However, despite making strides, majority of the Muslim community still lives in the grip of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. Though it is a widely-acknowledged fact that only education can improve the condition of Muslim women, the same has to be first achieved in the case of Muslim males too. Many a time, it is the father or brother of the woman who stops her from procuring good education or taking up a job.
A Muslim a girl who is denied education is voiceless basically for three reasons - either she has been made to accept that she doesn’t need education; or she doesn’t have the courage to speak up; or it has been drilled in to her that education is the exclusive right of only males. Also, a drastic change in the mindset is also essential - hesitation by parents to enrol their daughter in co-education system and early marriages are also contributing factors. Broad-mindedness and foresight are the need of the hour, if Muslim women have to take their rightful places in the society.
‘Educating Muslim Girls: A Comparison of Five Cities’ a book by By Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon published in 2005 states that Muslim girls are the least educated section of the Indian society, with over 75 per cent girls being illiterate.
Aren't these statistics enough to tell the story of the Muslim woman?
Anisa Fathima - from 'Exclusive Archives'