Outside View: Wail not for the veil, but education
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed Nov 12, 2006, 4:46 GMT
Although there's a lot of wailing about the veiling of Muslim women, no one is bothered about their pathetic literacy levels despite the fact that Prophet Mohammed stated: 'Talabul ilmi farizatun ala kulli muslimin wa muslima' (It is compulsory for both men and women to be educated).
A hue and cry is raised over issues like talaq (divorce), model nikahnama (marriage document), polygamy, family planning and the purdah (veil) - all issues that have been tirelessly talked over for decades without any consensus. But clerics, scholars or politicians rarely bother to promote education of Muslim girls.
The illiteracy figures among Muslim women are as high as 90 percent. The all-India literacy figure stands at 65 percent, according to a survey among 80,000 Muslim females by the Friends for Education group. The sample survey consisted of Muslim females of all ages from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Punjab and Haryana.
Figures of admission to various institutions reveal that Muslim women, along with neo-Buddhists, are at the tail end. The reasons for the dropout of the Muslim girl are varied, ranging from financial constraints, lack of interest in studies, repeated failure, mental/physical disabilities, poor teaching, shunting between different places and, of course, the failure of the much hyped National Literacy Mission and Education for All.
Abject illiteracy among Muslim women still lies at the root of the endemic backwardness of the community. More than veils, it is education that will make the Muslim women safer. A veil is a handicap to them in that they get identified as women belonging to a faith.
The hardliners maintain that veiling protects women from lecherous eyes. But if a woman is pious and faithful, she will never be affected by anything -- whether or not she puts on a hijab (burqa). At the same time, if a woman is of low morals, she will be so no matter how many burqas she wears.
If we study the condition of women during the time of Prophet Mohammed, it would be clear that they were not as suppressed as they are today. Women used to participate in wars along with men, nursing them and taking care of them on the battlefield.
Burqa, so strictly followed in many families, is in fact not an Islamic tenet. It was essentially a non-Arab practice that percolated through the Byzantine, Roman and Persian societies. Veiling was a pre-Islamic tradition that existed in Jewish and Greek families as well.
To say that Muslim women have no rights would be a misnomer as Islam has given sufficient rights to them during the days of the religion's advent. The problem is that most clerics have misinterpreted Quranic teachings with an anti-women tilt.
To the Prophet, divorce was unacceptable. He made it clear that Islam does not regard it desirable. A hadith (tenet) of the Prophet states: 'The most repugnant of things made lawful in the sight of god is divorce.'
However, Islam does recognise the necessity for divorce in cases where marital relations have been so poisoned that peaceful domestic life is impossible. At the same time, Islam doesn't believe in unlimited opportunities for divorce on frivolous grounds because this would destroy the peaceful fabric of family life.
Arabs were the most barbaric of tribes just before the appearance of Prophet Mohammed. They subjected women to the most heinous of atrocities. It was the Prophet who released them from all sorts of bondage. Sadly, his followers today are not emulating his example.
Eminent Pakistani poetess Fehmida Riyaz, in her book 'Chadar aur Chahardiwari' (Bedsheet and the Four Walls), compared the lot of Muslim women to that of a prisoner without parole. The controversial book led to Fehmida being exiled by then president Zia ul-Haq and she lived in India from 1981 to 1988.
The Taliban regime made Afghanistan the largest prison for women. The Afghan Women's Network wrote: 'We ask all the readers to tell (Pakistani) government, the UN and the international human rights organisations that Afghan women and girls must be able to leave their homes without being harassed and beaten.'
The truth is that Afghanistan of late has become the new rape capital of Asia where umpteen women are raped each day despite assertions that the Taliban are the most concerned for women's safety. Let's hope that women in our community get their due.
(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on social, religious and political issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
© 2006 Indo-Asian News Service