Teri maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin,
Tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achha thaa...
(The veil on your forehead is very good but,
if you had made a flag of this veil, it would have been great)
Thus wrote the progressive Urdu poet, Majaz, in the mid-1940s. He was exhorting women to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy and imposed religiosity that kept them veiled and invisible during the freedom movement. Majaz was calling to Muslim women to come out and join the movement for the freedom of the country and themselves.
Well, now the women have turned their veil into a parcham (banner) of revolt. They are pushing back against patriarchy like never before. "Enough" is their war cry.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has announced the formation of Darul Uloom Niswaan, a centre for Islamic learning and theology which is training women qazis or a judge of Islamic jurisprudence.
The initiative began in Jaipur with a group of 30 Muslim women, a statement from the women's group said.
The year-long course will include learning on theology, history of Islam, the Indian constitution, as well as the principles and values of Islam. Also to be covered are important topics like gender equality in Islam, and family laws in other countries.
"This initiative is part of the larger feminist movement in the Islamic world initiated by women activists and scholars who have taken upon themselves the task of presenting to the world a humane, just and peaceful facet of Islam which today has been usurped by the conservative and dogmatic religious bodies who do not believe in gender equality and human rights," the statement said.
Gender inequality is a reality in Muslim societies. The clergy, which is all male, has long denied women their human rights by presenting twisted and self-serving interpretations of Islam and Islamic practices.
And it needs to be said that the qazis, guided by their vested interests and perverted interpretations of Islamic texts, are majorly responsible for the plight of women in the Muslim societies. It is these qazis who put men on a higher pedestal, right after Allah, and decree women as subservient to the wishes and orders of the men in their lives.
It's only natural that women are now out to rewrite the rules of the game and reclaim their religion, their space.
Women qazis is a great idea. It will bring in a much-needed balance in gender discourse in Muslim families and a fresh, much-needed feminist perspective to a wider societal discourse around marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Obviously, the agents of patriarchy are not going to cede that space without resistance. They are already crying hoarse in Rajasthan, where two women have declared themselves qazis after initial training in Mumbai. They are still doing their extensive course. The chief qazi of the state, Khalid Usmani, is quoted by news reports as saying that "As per Quran, a woman can never be man's hakim (ruler/judge). Hence, a woman can never be a qazi".
The likes of Mr Usmani need to be confronted. In the 21st century, no gender can be the hakim of the other. The battle is of equality, which the clergy abhors. Mr Usmani and his ilk need to be asked whose bidding they have been doing by giving religious sanctions to inhumane medieval and tribal practices such as polygamy, triple talaq, halala (meaning that a divorced couple cannot remarry unless the female marries another man, and then her second husband dies or divorces her) among other things? Are these practices that belong to the 21st century? The clergy's interest lies in the literalist interpretation of "Islamic" practices from the 7th century.
The clergy and conservative religious scholars need to realise that times have changed. Their interpretations of what is religious and what's not are fast losing currency. Equality, freedom, justice are the words that should define religious conduct today.
Women are also now demanding their right to pray in mosques, which, by the way, is perfectly fine according to Islamic principles and practices. Many Muslim countries have open and equal access for women in mosques. It is a problem of the mindset in the Indian subcontinent that restricts women from entering mosques and dargahs (shrines). This old edifice, based on segregation and discrimination, is starting to crumble.
Women have fought for long on these serious issues. Now, they have decided to take it upon themselves to set the things in order. Liberal Muslims, government, political parties must strengthen the hands of these few brave women who are challenging the religious power structures head-on.
(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.