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: Why cannot a Muslim have four husbands? Why aren’t Muslim men required to wear veils? Doesn’t a Muslim woman feel suppressed in a burkha? How can a man declare triple talaq in one sitting? And, curiously enough, why did Jemima Khan marry Imran Khan?
Think of a Muslim woman and the things that immediately flash across in the minds of many Muslims and non-Muslims alike are triple talaq, polygamy and the veil. Is that all a Muslim woman is known for? Does not a Muslim woman have her own identity, her own individuality? Why cannot society look upon a Muslim woman as just another human being, like everybody else, and not a marked out, exoticised or specially branded creature?
In the Indian context, when one talks of the status of Muslim women, the focus invariably falls on triple talaq in one sitting, polygamy and hijab. I choose to call this the “dangerous triangle” …
… Sitting in that office, listening to the maulanas and sharing with them my own views, I realized the need for conscious efforts to be made to bridge the gap between the ulema and Muslim women. There is a desperate need for forums whereby Muslim women and the ulema can interact, exchange views and learn from each other’s experiences in a spirit of genuine sharing. From that dialogue, who knows, might emerge possibilities of helping bring Muslim women out of that ‘dangerous triangle’ that invisiblised and silenced all their issues and concerns by framing discourse about them simply in terms of arbitrary divorce, polygamy and the veil. Sadly, the need for that dialogue is too easily brushed aside by many of those involved in debates about Muslim women who refuse to listen to other points of view—and these include many women’s activists and traditional ulema alike. (full text).
(Nigar Ataulla is the Associate Editor of the Bangalore-based magazine ‘Islamic Voice’. She can be contacted by mail).