In prayer, Islam does not discriminate

In prayer, Islam does not discriminate

Representative image.

Recently, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) rather condescendingly told the Supreme Court that Muslim women were permitted to enter mosques to offer namaaz. The AIMPLB reply was filed in response to a PIL by Yasmeen Zuber Ahmad Peerzade who sought judicial intervention to ensure entry of Muslim women into mosques. It will now be considered by a nine-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.

The very concept of prohibiting women from offering namaaz at the mosque is un-Islamic. Islam's much-maligned patriarchal image, projected and promoted by the Islamophobic West, is responsible for the perpetuation of this myth that women are not supposed to enter mosques to pray. Islam's perceived misogyny is a humongous myth that needs to be detonated.

Shaqiq al-Balkhi wrote in Adab-al-Ibadat that Muhammad never discriminated between men and women and allowed women to offer namaaz during his lifetime. Neither does one come across a single aayat (Arabic for a verse, especially, a Quranic verse) stating women's entry into mosques to be sacrilegious or blasphemous.

This writer spent a considerable period in Iran and saw women pray in the mosques. In fact, Shia Islam never cast aspersions on women offering namaaz at mosques.

Before squabbling over these gender-related theological issues in Islam, it's imperative to understand the Sunni interpretation of Islamic theology. The great blind Egyptian scholar of Islam, Dr Taha Hussain, who taught at Al-Azhar — the seat of Sunni Islam— was of the view that the growing Wahabism and Salafist movement spawned munafiq ( interpolations and misgivings) and distorted the pristine face of Islam.

Till the 12th century, Muslim women entered the mosques and even offered namaaz alongside men. It's all the more significant when you pit it against the other two Semitic faiths, Judaism and Christianity, which didn't allow women to enter synagogues and churches for many centuries. The Greek Orthodox Church allowed women's entry relatively late in the second half of the 17th century, though it had earlier allowed women till the eighth century. That was never made out to be a gender-specific issue in the context of Semitic Theological Studies, but Islam's perceived prohibition of women’s entry into mosques has always been amplified with a view to vilifying the religion.

The great female mystic in the spiritual history of Islam, Rabia Basri (713-801 AD) wrote in Arabic: Daa'n qaz mee na phil mizdam na tawafat Al-mardam na zan izqadaiz un-masjidaan (When it comes to ibadat – worship -- in a mosque, Allah doesn't discriminate between man and woman). In fact, she herself offered namaaz in a mosque in Basra and her male followers and the Imam (who conducts prayers in a mosque) never stopped her. Imam Huza át Qirram even offered her imamat (imam-hood) to lead the prayers.

Imam Ghazali (1058-1111 AD), considered to be the greatest exegete on Qura'an and Islamic philosophy, conducted Islamic prayers with men and women standing in the same saf  (Arabic for the queue). 

The latter-day Sunni Islam, post-1830, to be precise, interpreted Islam in its own way and hardened it. The ossification that you see in modern Islam is due to a warped interpretation of Quranic verses and Hadis (Muhammad's teachings). These are all literal interpretations and not metaphorical or contextually specified.

At the same time, it must be noted that Islam doesn’t approve of theo-religious governing bodies dictating terms to female, or male, worshippers. The reason is, Islam ostensibly finds no dichotomy in men, women offering any eucharistic offering/s anywhere or at any place. In the light of this categorical insistence on religious freedom practised by Muslim men and women, the role of AIMPLB should be questioned.  

The AIMPLB often interferes with the personal freedoms of Muslims. A few years ago, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's grandson Firoz Ahmad Bakht also criticised AIMPLB as meddlesome and too officious a medley of self-proclaimed guardians of Islam. Remember, Islam doesn't believe in the intermediary agent/s between Allah and Banda (Almighty and his followers). All such 'sprouts and spawns' (to quote Salman Rushdie) have hijacked the personal and religious freedoms of Muslims. They've to abide by what AIMPLB dictates. The members of AIMPLB view themselves as the regulators of followers' lives (Mir-e-kaarvaan-e-Momin). Whether it's the issue of triple talaaq or the hijab, AIMPLB has always poked its nose into every affair and issue that Muslim society faces. In short, AIMPLB acts as a draconian taskmaster for the majority of Muslims in this country. The whole set-up consists of theological martinets who draw a kick out of regressive edicts and decrees.

Today, when we're questioning women's entry into shrines like Sabarimala temple and mosques, it'll be in the fitness of things to remember that the pristine Islam didn't even disallow menstruating women from offering prayers at mosques. So, have the followers of all faiths evolved or regressed?

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