'Muslim women need more schools, not burqa'

Muslim women need more schools

 No one is bothered about their pathetic literacy levels despite the fact that Prophet Mohammed stated: “Talabul ilmi farizatun ala kulli muslimin wa muslima” (It is compulsory for both men and women to be educated).

President Sarkozy can imply that a burqa is not in line with modern civilisation. But, if he had any real concern for the sorry plight of Muslim women, he should have asked to build better schools for them. A hue and cry is raised over issues like talaq (divorce), model nikahnama (marriage document), polygamy, family planning and the purdah or burqa (veil) — all issues that have been tirelessly talked over for decades without any consensus. But the clerics, scholars or politicians rarely bother to promote the education of Muslim girls.

Nowhere in the holy Quran, it has been mentioned that women should wear a burqa except the words jilbaab (a piece of cloth covering the outer body) and khimaar (covering of the head). Moreover, purdah doesn’t mean a closet from head to toe with just two holes for eyes! Nevertheless, care has to be taken that the hair (most beautiful part of a woman’s charm) and contours of her body are not exposed to the people.

Before the advent of Islam in the Arab, Persian and Turkish societies, veiling and seclusion appear to have existed in Hellinitic-Byzantine, Jewish, Greek and Mesopotamian dynasties. In Persia, even today in some families, hijab (covering by a piece of cloth) is taken to be a status symbol.

Frankly speaking, when this author contacted some girls and even elderly women, they were not wearing burqa at home. Some of them wore it while till the boundaries of their locality, then packed in a bag as it was considered an impediment in many ways. Similarly, in Vedic families, Sati, Ghunghat, etc, have been more a mark of patriarchal values that the women blindly followed.

According to a study by Syeda Hamid, a Planning Commission member, owing to domestic violence, and a situation where women are divorced if there is extra salt in the dish or they don’t wear the clothes of their husband’s choice, women are forced to wear burqas. Defiance would mean bashing or talaq. For many Muslim women, wife-bashing is a normal act, unfortunately. India should become a society where women refuse to be mere symbols of helplessness.

Rebellion
In a case like this when Rubina’s parents asked her to wear burqa while attending classes at the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, Rubina refused to comply with the demand of her father. The result was that she was barred from going to the university and the girl sat at home washing dishes. Similarly, Fauzia, a graduate from Delhi University’s upmarket Lady Shri Ram College, joined a computer programming course. Her parents asked her to marry the boy of their choice, she committed suicide as she liked someone else.

Figures of admission to various institutions reveal that Muslim women, along with neo-Buddhists, are at the tail end. The reasons for the dropout of the Muslim girl are varied, ranging from financial constraints, lack of interest in studies, repeated failure, mental/physical disabilities, poor teaching, shunting between different places and, of course, the failure of the much hyped National Literacy Mission and Education for All.
Abject illiteracy among Muslim women still lies at the root of the endemic backwardness of the community. More than veils, it is education that will make the Muslim women safer. A veil is a handicap to them in that they get identified as women belonging to a faith.
The hardliners maintain that veiling protects women from lecherous eyes. But if a woman is pious and faithful, she will never be affected by anything whether or not she puts on a hijab. At the same time, if a woman is of low morals, she will be so no matter how many burqas she wears.

If we study the condition of women during the time of Prophet Mohammed, it would be clear that they were not as suppressed as they are today. Women used to participate in wars along with men, nursing them and taking care of them on the battlefield.
The Taliban regime made Afghanistan the largest prison for women. The Afghan Women’s Network wrote: “We ask all the readers to tell (Pakistani) government, the UN and the international human rights organisations that Afghan women and girls must be able to leave their homes without being harassed and beaten.”

The truth is that where umpteen women are raped everyday despite assertions that the Taliban are the most concerned for women’s safety. Let’s hope that women in our community get their due.
(This writer is a commentator on social, religious and political issues)

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