Wednesday 19 May 2010

Young Muslim women fume at Deoband diktat

Many young Muslim women have reacted sharply to the Deoband seminary's fiat on women and men working together in offices, saying it's high time clerics started looking at real issues plaguing the community such as economic backwardness.

"I don't understand what makes them think it is possible to stop women from working," Farzana Tasneem, a 20-year-old jeans-clad girl who works at a call centre, said.

"I have a request for them. Have they ever considered and done anything for the socio-economic condition of Indian Muslims? If not, they should," Tasneem said.

The April 4 decree by clerics of Darul Uloom, Deoband - located in the western Uttar Pradesh district of Saharanpur - was in response to an online query. But it has invited criticism from many quarters, including Muslim scholars, for what many see as the seminary's "needless" interference.

An anonymous query on the page of 'darul ifta', or the decree section, of the Darul Uloom website, had asked: "Can Muslim women in India do govt or pvt jobs (sic)? Shall their salary be halal or haram or prohibited?"

The reply was: "It is unlawful for Muslim women to do jobs in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without veil. (But) Allah knows best."

Though clerics from the seminary said the fatwa didn't prohibit women from working together if they were properly dressed, many Muslim women have reacted vociferously.

Even if the edict is about the dress code, "I am not bound to follow it", fumed Tasneem. "They are preachers and not judges. Their job is to preach and I will decide what to follow and what not."

Fakhra Siddiqui, a social activist in Delhi, agreed. "They should understand what is the ground reality. Is it possible that you stop hundreds and thousands of women in India from going to offices? What is the point of airing such controversial opinions all of a sudden?"

"At a time when Indian Muslims are battling the odds of poverty, illiteracy and backwardness, such fatwas reverse any progress that we may have made," Siddiqui said.

"Wearing or not wearing a veil is superficial. It all depends on your intentions and I can quote a Hadith for that: 'Innamal aamalu biniyaat (Of course, all your actions depend on your intentions)'," said Siddiqui, quoting the Prophet.

"If you wear a burqa and do all that is unIslamic you cannot be a pious Muslim, can you?"

Tuba, a Jamia Millia University student who didn't give her second name, said, "The first thing that should strike the clerics is the real issue of economic backwardness and see that it is related to the social backwardness they force upon us.

"It is the duty of the state and religion to protect all its members. And our rights include non-interference in matters of what we think is good for us."

Established in 1867 as a Muslim college, the Deoband seminary follows and preaches the Hanafi school of thought, the dominant of the four Sunni Islamic thoughts named after the four greatest Muslim scholars -- Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Al Shaafi, Imam Ahmed Ibne Hanbal and Imam Malik.

The founders of the seminary played a crucial role in India's freedom struggle. But the main aim of the school has remained to make Muslims strictly follow the Sharia - the body of Islamic laws.

The aim of the seminary was to create clerics who would preach conservative Islam based on their own interpretation of the sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammed and Shariah.

Deoband has always invited criticism for the failure to reconcile Islam with modern values, attempts for which are being made especially by Muslim scholars who don't owe allegiance to any clerical order.


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