Begum Roquia: the first Indian woman sci-fi writer

Sultana’s Dream a science-fiction was first published in 1905 making it probably the first Indian sci-fi work. It is a short story written by Roquia Sakhawat Hussain. Begum Roquia was born in 1880 at Rangpur which is now in Bangladesh.

Begum Rokeya
[photo from Wikipedia]

Sultana’s Dream was first published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine. Fortunately, the text of the story has survived. It reads like a feminist vision of the future. But it is not just a feminist vision but also a wonderfully written sci-fi story. It is a vision where women rule the country and men are holed up in “zanana” which is now called “mardana.” Since women are ruling there is peace everywhere and through the use of science all work is done efficiently and smartly.

Some snippets from the story:

Why men should be locked-up:

And you do not think it wise to keep sane people inside an asylum and let loose the insane?’

‘Of course not!’ said I laughing lightly.

‘As a matter of fact, in your country this very thing is done! Men, who do or at least are capable of doing no end of mischief, are let loose and the innocent women, shut up in the zenana! How can you trust those untrained men out of doors?’

‘Since the “Mardana” system has been established, there has been no more crime or sin; therefore we do not require a policeman to find out a culprit, nor do we want a magistrate to try a criminal case.’

Harnessing solar power:

The kitchen was situated in a beautiful vegetable garden. Every creeper, every tomato plant was itself an ornament. I found no smoke, nor any chimney either in the kitchen — it was clean and bright; the windows were decorated with flower gardens. There was no sign of coal or fire.

‘How do you cook?’ I asked.

‘With solar heat,’ she said, at the same time showing me the pipe, through which passed the concentrated sunlight and heat. And she cooked something then and there to show me the process.

Vehicle of the future:

Then she screwed a couple of seats onto a square piece of plank. To this plank she attached two smooth and well-polished balls. When I asked her what the balls were for, she said they were hydrogen balls and they were used to overcome the force of gravity. The balls were of different capacities to be used according to the different weights desired to be overcome. She then fastened to the air-car two wing-like blades, which, she said, were worked by electricity. After we were comfortably seated she touched a knob and the blades began to whirl, moving faster and faster every moment. At first we were raised to the height of about six or seven feet and then off we flew. And before I could realize that we had commenced moving, we reached the garden of the Queen.

My friend lowered the air-car by reversing the action of the machine, and when the car touched the ground the machine was stopped and we got out.

Read the full story story here. I thank Nasiruddin Haider Khan for telling me about Begum Roqiya.

Islam And Muslim Women’s Social Roles

By Maulana Waris Mazhari,

The issue of Muslim women’s freedom is a much-debated subject today. The traditional ulema and the modern educated Muslim intelligentsia appear to be completely at loggerheads on the issue. The former insist that women must be controlled as much as possible in order to protect Muslim society from immorality and sexual licentiousness, and that they must remain confined to their homes. They believe that women must play no social roles outside the domestic sphere whatsoever. If women are permitted to do so, they argue, it would open to floodgates of chaos and lead to a breakdown of society. On the other hand, the modern-educated Muslim intelligentsia is in favour of expanding women’s roles outside the narrow domestic sphere, and many of them go so far as to consider the hijab or modest dress for women as a symbol of oppression.

The female personality, it must be admitted, is extremely sensitive. On women the character of a society depends as much as it does on men. It must also be admitted that the attitude of Muslim religious circles towards women and women’s issues is influenced less by Islam and shariah norms than by other factors, among these being a marked reaction to the perceived widespread immorality in the West as a result of the free intermingling of sexes in Western societies. While in the West women have made important gains in several respects, it cannot be denied that in the name of women’s liberation and freedom they have been turned into sexual beings and commodities. This unfortunate phenomenon has led to a reaction among the ulema, leading them to insist on the control of women and on confining them to the domestic sphere as a defence mechanism for fear of Muslim society also falling prey to the same social ills that today plague the West. This stance may have had some temporary benefits, but it has caused a tragic loss to the Muslim community by denying half its population—Muslim women—the opportunity to develop and put to proper use their talents, skills and capacities.

It is not just the traditional ulema who, because of their excessively defensive and cautious approach to women’s social roles, have caused such damage to Muslim women and to the wider Muslim society. Even the supposedly ‘enlightened’ and more ‘modern’ Islamist scholar, Maulana Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi shared similar views. In fact, in his widely-red book Purdah Maududi comes across as even more stern and extreme in his opposition to women’s freedom than the traditional ulema. For instance, the putative founders of the four major schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence and their followers all allowed for Muslim women to keep their faces unveiled, while Maududi stiffly opposed this, along with several modern ulema, claiming that a woman’s face was the centre of her beauty and, hence, a principal source of fitna or strife. It is striking to note that the classical ulema did not consider this argument as worthy of attention. However, going against their opinion, the influential twentieth century Deobandi scholar Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi even went to the extent of insisting that a woman’s name must never be mentioned in a newspaper. An ideal woman, according to him, is one who hides in her own home and is so unknown outside that her neighbours are not even aware of her existence. He allowed for girls to acquire only basic literacy skills but not to advance beyond that. Thanwi’s contemporary and virulent opponent, Ahmad Raza Khan, the leading figure of the Barelvi sect, was even more dismissive of women, going so far as to demean them. So opposed to women’s rights were some of these ulema of relatively recent times, who are still immensely popular among their followers today, that they upheld and propagated a completely baseless and utterly laughable theory that women’s voices were also to be ‘veiled’. It can be confidently said that their approach towards women and their rights and roles was in marked contrast to that of the early ulema, who were clearly more accommodative and accepting of women and their social roles.

How this strong misogynist streak and extreme defensiveness and sensitivity with regard to women emerge among the ulema is a subject that requires close and detailed historical scrutiny. The origins of this lie far back in history, in the medieval period, when, in the wake of the Tatar invasions and devastation of Muslim lands, chaos reigned supreme. It was perhaps but natural that a marked defensiveness and insularity emerged at this time in order to consolidate Muslim society that had suffered such widespread destruction and bloodshed. This was reflected in increasing restrictions on women, which were absent in the early Islamic period, including at the time of the Prophet. It was at this time that questions such as the permissibility or otherwise of women learning to read were hotly-debated. The renowned medieval Hanafi scholar Mulla Ali Qari went so far as to issue a fatwa declaring it impermissible for women to learn to write, and even wrote an entire book on the subject to justify his point, although there had been notable literate women in the early Islamic period, many of who were, in fact, the teachers of renowned male ulema. For over six hundred years the ulema continued to inconclusively debate whether women were permitted to read and write, and it was only in the late nineteenth century that a fatwa was issued, by the noted Indian scholar Maulana Abdul Haye Firanghi Mahali, abrogating the fatwa of Mulla Ali Qari.

Islam, it must be stressed, does not support the sort of emancipation of women as is current in the West, but nor does it stand for the sort of extreme restrictions on women, tantamount to imprisonment, that many traditionalist Islamic scholars advocate. The Islamic position is somewhat in between these two extremes. It stands for freedom of women at the social level within certain limits and with certain conditions. If the issue is looked at from the perspective of the Quran and the practice of the Prophet and the early Muslims, it would be evident that Islam does not place any restriction on the physical movement of women. It also outlines women’s social roles in considerable detail, roles that early Muslim played, not being bound within the four walls of their homes. A good illustration of this is the appointment of a woman, Shifa Bint Abdullah al-‘Adawiya, by Umar, the second Caliph of the Sunnis, as the superintendent of the market of Medina, the then capital of the Islamic Caliphate. Today’s traditional ulema might regard the marketplace as the most potent site of fitna or chaos, but yet this woman was appointed to oversee Medina’s commercial hub. At the time of the Prophet, women were free to pray in mosques and even offered their services on the battlefield. They would listen to the sermons of the Prophet in the presence of men, without any restriction, and would ask the Prophet questions. Umm-e Haram, a woman companion of the Prophet, requested him to pray for her so that she might be able to participate in jihad in the path of God. During the Caliphate of Uthman, the third Sunni Caliph, she sailed to Cyprus, where she participated in a battle. Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, father-in-law of the Prophet and the first Sunni Caliph, helped her husband Zubayr Bin al-Awa‘am in his work outside their home, and would even massage his horses and travel a long distance to get grains for them to eat, which she would carry on her head. The case of the Caliph Umar being corrected by a woman while delivering a sermon and making him admit his error is well-known.

From these instances, it is clear that in this period of Muslim history women’s minds and voices were not ‘veiled’. Nor was there any discussion of keeping men and women rigidly separate from each other. The books of Hadith are replete with narrations that clearly indicate that at this time men and women saw each other’s faces, spoke to each other, engaged in transactions with each other and assisted each other in different activities. The wives of the Prophet, known as the ‘mothers of the believers’ (ummhat al-mu‘minin), were specially required, as the Quran indicates, to observe purdah, but this did not stop male companions of the Prophet from appearing before them and learning from them. The youngest of the Prophet’s wives, Ayesha, had many male disciples, to whom she related numerous narrations of and about the Prophet.

Besides these examples from early Muslim history, one can cite references in the Quran to prove the point that certain forms of interaction between men and women is indeed permissible in Islam, in contrast to what many traditionalist ulema might argue, Thus, for instance, the Quran talks about the meeting between the prophet Solomon and Bilqis, Queen of Sheba and their conversation; the meeting between Zachariah and Mary, mother of Jesus; and the meeting and discussion between the daughter of Shoeb and Moses and of the former taking the help of the latter to provide water to her animals. Since the Quran exhorts Muslims to emulate the practice of the previous prophets, it is obvious that these forms of interaction between men and women are also permitted to Muslims.

The Quran states: ‘The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil’ (9:71). The Quran considers it the responsibility of both men and women to perform various social roles, the performance of which is not possible without their common participation and mutual assistance. Given this, the extreme hesitation or reluctance of some Islamic scholars to allow Muslim women to play these legitimate roles has, to a large extent, to do with local cultural mores rather than with the teachings of Islam or the practice of the Prophet and the early Muslims.

It is a fact that misogyny has been in existence for centuries, and traces of it remained in societies that later became Muslim even after accepting Islam. At the same time, it is also undeniable that, for the first time, Islam sought to provide women with their legitimate rights, and to provide them an elevated status in society. The Prophet and his companions strove to combat deep-rooted prejudices against women, not just on the ideological plane but also in practical terms. However, after the early Islamic period, when Muslim society entered a phase of decline, women’s status suffered a major set-back. Just as Islamic justice demanded that slavery be abolished but, yet, slavery still remained, so, too, while Islam sought to emancipate women, anti-women prejudice could not be fully rooted out from Muslim society. To buttress this prejudice, many narrations were concocted and were falsely attributed to the Prophet and to his companions that projected women in an extremely derogatory fashion. One such false narration, which, lamentably, is still often quoted in traditionalist ulema circles, exhorts: ‘Take the advice of women but do the precise opposite of what they advise.’ Another such tradition declares: ‘To obey a woman is a matter of shame.’ A third such fabricated narration declares: ‘Men were destroyed when they obeyed women’. Yet another such concocted narration claims: ‘If women did not exist, the right of God to be worshipped would have been performed in a better way.’ Likewise, the following statement was falsely attributed to the Imam Ali: ‘Woman is wholly bad.’

In this light of all this, it is incumbent on Islamic scholars to review their position on and understanding of women and critique and challenge the deep-rooted misogyny that is, unfortunately and wrongly, seen as inseparable from Islam. It is imperative that our traditionalist scholars no longer stand in the way of Muslim women being able to access the rights granted to them by Islam, and which they enjoyed at the time of the Prophet.

(Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Graduates’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.)

Muslim Women Education In Kerala: My Mom And I, Then And Now

By Aaliya Rushdi,

I have often heard my mother saying that at her time, Muslim girls were not allowed to go out of the house when they grew up. They were assigned kitchen and groomed to be a wife and a ‘model woman’ at their in-laws’ house. So, they would not study beyond 5th or 6th class. Girls who learned up to 10th were rare at that time. But then, my grandmother would say that at her time, no girl was sent to school at all. They were given some religious lessons at home and there ended their journey of education. But that was then. Today parents are spending, with pleasure, lots of money on higher education of their daughters.

Sad part of the story is that no girl or woman would ever complain on this. They were happy with the life they lived, because they never knew about the sweetness of education. They kept on believing that the role of the women is only to take care of the family and nothing else. She is not meant to acquire knowledge of the world.

But gradually this thinking began changing. Women got to understand that they should not be deprived of education. They realised that they also have the right to learn and acquire on things as high as sky. So, with this idea they began to move forward in the field of education.

Over 50% of Muslim women in India are illiterate today — literacy being officially defined rather generously to include just about anyone who can read and write a sentence or two. The situation in the northern states, especially in rural areas, is said to be particularly dismal. About 85% of rural north Indian Muslim women are unable to read or write. On the other hand, the situation in the south, especially in urban areas, was found to be considerably better, with 88% urban south Indian women said to be literate.

In Kerala, according to Census 2001, the literacy rate of Muslims was 89.4%, much higher than the national average of 64.8%. The Muslim male literacy rate there is 93.7% while female literacy rate is 85.5%.

The revolution in Kerala did not come in one day. Islamic reformist movements in Kerala, from the late nineteenth century onwards, have played a key role in bridging the sharp dualism between the ulema and the ‘modern’-educated class, in promoting ‘modern’ as well as religious education, including women’s education. They have set up thousands of institutions that cater to the community—not just madrasas and mosques, as in much of north India, but also schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, industrial centres, banks, newspapers and so on. In this way, the ulema in Kerala have played a more socially engaged role than their counterparts in the north as far as community work is concerned, says Yoginder Sikand analyzing difference of development in Kerala and north India.

But the change is also attributed to the change of perception of women about themselves. The girls understood the real value of education. The parents, most of them illiterate, began to think that their daughter should get the advantage they were deprived of. Girls also began to be aware on the importance of education. And this led to the modern situation where girls today fill more than half of the allotted seats in many of the reputed colleges. Like men, women also have an idea about their future life. They also have planned for their life.

“Unlike the earlier ages, now girls take education seriously. They also are in the run to make a well planned and well set life as that of the men folk,” says Wajeeha, a student of BDS at a private college in Malappuram district.

“At our time parents would start searching for a suitable groom for the girl by the time she was 15. But nowadays, girls decide their lives themselves. This freedom will give them the ability to face life boldly,” Jameela, a homemaker, says.

Not only this, the aspiration of educated women folk has also changed as far as career is concerned. Earlier they would think of only teaching job after getting higher education. They would think there was no other job which suits a girl. This sort of thinking has also been kept aside by the modern generation.

“In our college everyone has different aims in life. One wants to become doctor, another a call centre executive, one another a journalist and so on goes the list. I myself aim at being a speech therapist,” Jaleesa, an engineering student, says.

Not only the aim of education, the modern girl has really got a clear cut idea of her life, the way she should live it.


Muslim Women And Change

Mostly people think Muslim women are oppressed and forced to wear veil and confined to the four walls of their houses. This is mainly because we read every day in papers that Taliban force women into veil, burn down girls schools and always portray them wrapped completely in black cloth from head to foot. This image of Muslim women was further reinforced by the burqa controversy which erupted in France.

This image would be justified if all Muslim women followed the strict dress code propounded by Muslim theologians which was evolved in medieval ages and which they keep on justifying even today. But there is big difference in what is theologically projected and ground reality. It may not be wrong, if I venture to say, Muslim women have been defying theological code for more than a century now.

And now a century later, Muslim women have gone even further in their public achievements. It is true even today some Muslim theologians debate whether women are naqisul aql (defective reasoning power) or not but many Muslim women have superseded even Muslim men in several fields. In Saudi Arabia where women are not even permitted to drive cars, a woman became a licensed pilot and has been flying aircrafts.

Now we got news from Malyasia that Farah al-Habshi, an engineer by profession, has been appointed deputy of weapons and electrical officer in spanking new Malaysian warship KD Perak. Today she is donned in white and blue Royal Malaysian Navy uniform. What is interesting is that she also wears hijab to cover her head though not her face. She feels her hijab in no way comes in the way of performing her duties.

Maylaysia is an Islamic country and orthodox ulama exercise great deal of control over people’s lives. Recently even the Government of Malaysia chickened out when Ulama took stand that Christians in Malaysia cannot use the word Allah in their religious literature or in their newspaper. Muslim women face several problems in that country at the hands of conservative ulama in respect of family laws.

It is in the same country that a woman has been appointed naval officer on combat duty. Even in India women have not won the right to be on combat duty in navy or are not permitted to fly fighter planes or serve in combat arms. They are also not allowed seafaring in warships. Ms. Farah al-Habshi, on the other hand, recently participated in Milan naval exercise along with some other women.

Ansari- the first Muslim women astronaut

Ms. Farah is also highly articulate and answered all the questions put to her by the journalists. And it is not only one example out of many. There are several other examples. Many Muslim women have excelled even in theological fields and quite independently of the traditional theologians. They have shown courage to challenge orthodox ulama. Here I can give example of Amina Wudud of USA who teaches Islamic Studies in Washington.

She believed women can lead mixed congregation in prayer and she led around 100 persons, men and women in prayer a few year ago and that too on Friday and delivered Friday khutba (sermon), quite unthinkable in traditional Muslim world. It raised storm of controversy and even Yusuf Qardawi, otherwise a moderate theologian from Qatar, wrote an article, opposing a woman leading nixed congregational prayer.

Some Kuwaiti women, elected to Kuwaiti parliament after great deal of struggle, refused to wear hijab and fought for their right to go to parliament sessions without wearing one and fought their case up to Supreme Court of Kuwait and won. Many more examples can be cited of Muslim women daring authorities for their rights.

But media, which is interested in sensationalizing issues, refuses to highlight Muslim women’s achievements and continues to portray them as submissive to traditional authorities and meekly accepting their situation. This image of Muslim women has to change and reality, which is much more complex, has to be understood.

This is not to deny that in many countries Muslim women are facing difficult problems and their liberation is not a foregone conclusion. However, it is also true that many of them are fighting and refusing to submit meekly. What gives us hope is their continued struggle and defiance of traditional authorities.

It should also be mentioned here that many ‘ualam and jurists also have realized that medieval shari’ah formulations about women cannot be enforced easily any more and some of them like Muhammad Abduh of Egypt, Maulavi Mumtaz Ali Khan of India and Maulana Umar Ahmed Usmani of Pakistan have expressed their serious reservations about traditional theological formulations on women. The determined struggle on the part of Muslim women will force many more theologians to revise their position and take Qur’an, and not medieval theology, more seriously on women issues.

The Mystery Of Missing Muslim Female Rulers

A furor greeted Benazir Bhutto when she became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. Backed by orthodox theologians, her opponents decried the event as un-Islamic and “against nature,” adding that “no woman had ever governed a Muslim state between 622 and 1988.” To verify the accuracy of this statement, Moroccan author and sociologist Fatima Mernissi consulted the works of explorers, scholars and historians ranging from Ibne Batuta (1304-78) and Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) to Stanley Lane-Poole (Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1960) and her findings, published in The Forgotten Queens of Islam, tell us that there were at least seventeen Muslim queens between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries.

Mernissi restricts her list to female rulers who met the Muslim criteria of sovereignty—their names were proclaimed in the Friday khutba from mosques and inscribed on the coins struck in their reigns. Relatively well known are two thirteenth century queens of the Mamluk (Turkish slave) dynasty. One, of course, is Razia Sultana of the Delhi Sultanate, an able administrator whose calibre as compared to her three half-brothers was acknowledged by her father when he named her his successor. The other is the sagacious Sultana Shajaratul- Durr of Egypt, who routed the French army during the Crusades and captured King Louis IX.

Coin bearing Razia Sultan’s name [Wikipedia]

However, few of us have heard of the two eleventh century Arab queens who ruled Yemen jointly with their husbands: Asma bint Shihab al-Sulahiyya (described by her contemporaries as one of the most famous and powerful women of her time) and her daughter-in-law, Arwa, both under the title “Syeda al-Hurra”. Nor has muchbeen written about the queens of the Mongol dynasty, which treated its women with a respect that amazed Ibne Batuta. It had no fewer than six queens (1256-1340) reigning over various principalities in present day Iran and Iraq. These were: Kutlugh (also known as Turkan) Khatun—whose reign lasted for twenty-six years—and Padishah Khatun in Kirman; Absh Khatun, whose capital was Shiraz; Dawlat Khatun of Luristan (in Persia); and Sati Bek and Malika Tindu of Iraq.

Subsequently in the Maldives, three Muslim queens succeeded each other during a forty year period (1347-1388). Sultana Khadija’s thirty-three year reign was succeeded by that of Sultana Myriam followed by Sultana Fatima. In the seventeenth century (1641-1699), Atjeh—the fi rst region of Indonesia to have a Muslim kingdom—had four successive queens (Sultanas Tajul Islam, Nurul Alam, Inayat Shah and Kamalat Shah) despite their opponents obtaining a fatwa against them.

Sources other than Mernissi cite a seventh Mongol queen, Sultana Fatima Begum, known to the Russians as Sultana Sayyidovna, of Qasim in Central Asia (1679-1681) and two Muslim queens in sub-Saharan Africa: Qasa, the head wife of Mansa Suleiman of Mali (“his partner in the kingship, after the custom of the blacks. Hername is mentioned with his fromthe pulpit”) and a famous conqueror and warrior-queen, Amina of Zauzau, West Africa.

The total count of female Muslim rulers thus adds up to twenty. So why are most of them missing from our history books, their very existence denied? Diehard orthodoxy opposed many of them in their lifetimes but did this opposition pursue them after their deaths to expunge them from memory?

The opposition to women holding public offi ce ostensibly stems from a single hadith. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “A nation which places its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper.” Theologians differ in their interpretations of this hadith. Some prohibit women from all public duties; some allow them to hold public offi ce, including that of a judge; and a few even acknowledge their right to be heads of state. Others point out that the Prophet (pbuh) made this remark after hearing that the Persians had appointed Chosroe’s daughter as their ruler. (The Prophet (pbuh) had earlier foretold the end of Chosroe’s dynasty after the latter had torn up the letter inviting him to Islam). He was therefore referring specifically to one particular woman, not women in general. In The Veil and the Male Elite, Mernissi questions the reliability of the hadith on the grounds that the narrator, Abu Bakrah, an ex-slave perhaps fearful of jeopardising the freedom and prosperity he enjoyed after converting to Islam, had been anxious to win Ali’s favour after the latter defeated Ayesha at the Battle of the Camel and conveniently remembered the supposed remark twenty-fi ve years after the Prophet’s death. What is more, he had once been fl ogged in Omar’s reign for bearing false testimony.

The Prophet (pbuh) told his followers to reject any saying attributed to him which violated the message of the Quran and this hadith seems to run contrary to the Quranic account of the Queen of Sheba (Surah 27), which nowhere implies that she was forbidden to rule. Moreover, history itself disproves the implications of the hadith. Nations have prospered under certain women rulers—England under Elizabeth I and Victoria; Israel under Golda Meir; India under Indira Gandhi, Russia under Catherine the Great; Spain under Isabella. How can the Prophet (pbuh) have been thought to make a statement that time would refute? Of course there were some awful women rulers, including Muslim queens who were either poor administrators, bad Muslims, or both; but this is just as true of their male counterparts.

And yet the most restrictive interpretation of the hadith is cited by those who subscribe to the view that women should be neither seen nor heard, much less hold public offi ce. During Ziaul Haq’s benighted tenure, a well-known alim even declared that women should avoid answering the telephone because this would violate their purdah. Such people are trapped in attitudes ingrained by centuries of a culturally inculcated misogyny which has transformed the Quranic injunctions regarding respect for and protection of women into a kind of imprisonment and a licence to rule their minds as well as their lives.

Until a few years ago, there was a tradition among some Muslim families to present new brides with a copy of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s Bahishti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments), a book about Islamic beliefs and rituals which counsels women, among other things, never to step out of their husband’s home even to visit their parents, except to attend their funerals. However, the book does encourage women to be literate. Earlier, only a privileged few had been permitted to learn to read but never to write, just in case—horror of horrors!—they used the skill to write love letters.

Perhaps this is the mindset responsible for making Muslim queens vanish from our history. Mernissi urges women to read and reconstruct their own history in self-defence. “Since our ignorance of the past is being used against us, we must act. Read the past!” The quest—to add “her”-story to “his”-story—further underlines the need for the education of women. Only thus can they “read their past,” learn to believe in themselves, develop their talents and fulfill their God given potential—be it in the home, in the workplace or in public office. The choice should be theirs and theirs alone.

[This article is written by By Raihanaa Hasan and was first published in the magazine Nation And The World September 1, 2009 issue]

Muslim Women: The Dangerous Triangle

Over four years ago, I was invited to an inter-faith dialogue programme in Bangalore organised by a Christian human rights group. Speakers from different religious communities were on the panel and they were to talk about the concept of social justice in their own religious traditions. 

After my brief talk on the notion of justice in Islam, I was handed a long list of questions, some of which, predictably, read like this: Continue reading Muslim Women: The Dangerous Triangle

SEWA – The Abodana for Muslim Women

Mandali member block printingWithin the pols of Ahmedabad’s old city area (pols are enclosed residential localities with a maze of winding streets), everything appears to be normal – the narrow lanes with stray cows lingering at corners, hawkers vying for space with the traffic along claustrophobic by lanes, clothes hung to dry out on ramshackle balconies with potted plants in old, rusted tin cans, women busy with house hold work. Continue reading SEWA – The Abodana for Muslim Women

Quran, Hadith And Women

Muslim Woman MosqueWhat is position of women in Qur’an and hadith? It is very interesting to compare what is stated in qur’an about women and what do we find on women in hadith literature? And here I am not referring to ahadith from an other source but from what is known as Sihah Sitta (.e. six most authentic sources of hadith). I wish our Ulama reflect on the contrast between how Qur’an treats women and how ahadith treat them. Much of woes of Muslim women will be over if we follow Qur’an rather than these ahadith. Continue reading Quran, Hadith And Women

Standing Alone In Mecca – Review By Sadia Dehlvi

Sadia Dehlvi recently reviewed the captioned book for the weekly Outlook. The author of this book is Asra Nomani whose life story is quite fascinating.

In a charming personal narrative, Nomani navigates through a crisis of faith brought upon by the murder of close friend Daniel pearl by Islamic militants and an affair with a Pakistani man in Karachi that leads to a child out of wedlock. Wrecked with guilt and seeking to hold her son without shame, the young Indian born American Muslim back straps the infant and along with supportive parents embarks on a pilgrimage toMecca wrestling with contradictions of feminism and Islam.

The adventures of this tremendous unification in faith could interest non Muslim readers as the roads to
Mecca and Madina clearly read “Muslims only” but the detailing of the motions of ablutions, prayer and the pilgrimage can be skipped by those who have been there and done that.

The geographical journey to the holy cities provides glimpses of the repression and countless hypocrisies that describe Saudia Arabia ‘s social and political life but what is engaging is Nomanis spiritual search through Islamic history that questions and instructs about the rights of women in Islam. Nomani exposes the roots of the purantical Wahabbi Islam funded by the Saudis through their outreach programs which emerged to curb Sufism and pushed women to the second rank.

In the deserts of Mecca, Nomani finds strength in the forgotten legacy of women in Islam including the prophets mother, wife and daughters. What is particularly endearing is Nomani’s tale of soul bonding with Hagar, Prophet Abrahams second wife whom he married to have a child since Sarah was infertile.(In the old testament Hagar is an Egyptian slave hired as a surrogate mother) Prophet Ishmael was born of this union and in a test of faith, Abraham went off with a jealous Sarah leaving Hagar alone near the Kaaba in the custody of God. Four thousand years ago, Hagar stood alone in

Mecca and in a desperate search for water to quench the crying baby’s thirst , ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah appealing to God for mercy. Hagar passed the trial of isolation and water sprang from where the baby kicked. The ritual of running between the hills in the tradition of Hagar is an important ritual in the pilgrimage and the water that sprang from the ground is the holy water of “zam zam” carried back home by pilgrims.

Nomani is surprised to find liberation in Islam and discovers prophet Mohammad as a social reformer who built a community on ideals of justice, equity and tolerance that honoured women. The inspired pilgrim comes home to challenge the norms of local mosques in America urging them to allow women to pray alongside men as they did in early Islam and continue to do so at the Kaaba and the mosques at Madina. The writer makes a strong plea for “ijtehad” or judicial scholarly reasoning used to mediate question of Islamic law to resolve issues of the modern world.

The book affectively argues that Muslim societies that punish women for alleged crimes of the body contradict the fundamental principles of forgiveness, privacy and motherhood in Islam. Without being insulting, Nomani confronts her faith over sex, sin and female sexuality emerging as powerful leading voice for change, plurality of expression and egalitarianism in the Muslim world..

Standing Alone in Mecca
A Pilgrimage into the heart of Islam
Author Asra Q Nomani
Pages 413
Published by Harper Collins
Price: Rs.395