Archive for October, 1996

While Islam as a religion empowers women: Zeenat Shaukat Ali

October 3, 1996

3   October   1996


The Editor

The Times of India                                                             



TOI deserves kudos for publishing Ms. Zeenat Shaukat Ali’s article: While Islam as a religion empowers women….’ (3/10) which judiciously avoided the jarring language used by left -liberal scholars, whose demands for reforms in Islam, coming as it if from a group that is avowedly against religion, is always suspect.

While changes in socio-religious precepts in a plural society compel all communities to bring their codes of behavior in line with the justified heightened awareness of rights of exploited sections of society which includes women, all such efforts to reforms are resisted because of flawed approaches of so-called reformers with their suspect agendas and vested interests.

Need for reforms in Indian Muslim community is privately acknowledged by practically all sections of scholars and activists.

However, the moment pseudo-reformists appear on the scene, the defensive psyche of a beleaguered community feels threatened  and squanders all its energies on minding the barricades.

Ms. Zeenat Shaukat Ali’s intervention, therefore, is welcome, as long as she acknowledges and adheres to the protocols of dialogues within the community elders and strives for their trust and understanding. 

Besides, success in reforms has direct correalation to the success in political and economic struggles of the community.

There is, therefore, some justification for the prioritisation of economic and political agenda over internal reforms. (In economic terminology, it is often referred to as trickle down reforms)







6 October 1996


The Editor, The Times of India                                                          Mumbai                                                                                 

Ms.  Zeenat Shaukat Ali, in her article: ‘ While Islam as a religion empowers the women…”( TOI, 3/10 ) has correctly distinguished between what religion preaches and what the some Muslim societies practice.

It is for the social reformers and activists to mobilise grass-root support to bring  the social practices in line with the religious precepts.

It is only when uninformed left-liberals confuse the practice with the precepts that they are confronted with hostile reaction from Muslim Ulemas. 

Ms. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, too, has in the later part of her article, digressed from the reforms in the society to venture into the delicate field of reinterpretation of the religious texts.

Attempts at  subjective interpretation are not something new. All through Islamic history friends and foes have had field day in trying to test their intellect by coming out with their own versions.

It is a tribute to the Umma that only the consensus of the Ulema has been accepted and adhered to.

Some offshoots of Islam, like Bah’ai and Ahmediya schools can be cited as an examples of such exercises, which took them beyond the pale of Islam.

The latest feminist fade is nothing but an intellectual pastime that is bound to fail as their protagonists have very patchy and unorganised thinking and their motivations are suspect . 




Title: While Islam as a religion empowers women,
Muslim societies still permit inequality
Author : Zeenat Shaukat Ali
Publication : The Times of
Date :
October 3, 1996

The vital factor in the debate over the empowerment of Muslim women is whether or not contemporary Islam can be visualised as an “emancipatory force.” As the world of Islam is not monolithic, Muslims differ in their reflections on this issue. It is generally held that though autonomy is available to women, it is contained and demarcated, and therefore the
space for women to negotiate, even partially, stems from prevailing restrictions. 

Most works on the position of women in Islamic societies; either generally uphold sceptical occidential accounts of women as being mercilessly repressed by their fundamentalist male counterparts or the equally objectionable reverse trend – an apologia in defence of their rights which, however, are rarely honoured in the Muslim world. To understand how these categories culminated and developed, it is useful to distinguish pre-Islamic systems from Islamic values. 

The Koran, which is the primary source of Islam, unfolds the vision of Divine Attributes as one of Rubiyat or providence, Rahmat or mercy and Adalat or justice. 

It further emphasises that the mutaqueen or those who abstain from impurities, the saleheen or those who put things right, the musleheen or those who reform and improve the conditions of society, and the mufleheen or those who practise equity and admit of the rights of others, are on the right path. These have a direct bearing on the concept of social justice and there is no special reference to either gender in the given contexts. 

In its ideology, the Koran instills a spirit of humanism, directly linking iman or faith to amal or action. This is summed up in the directive “Believe and act righteously.” 

In the same vein, the Koran elaborates the idea that the creation of humankind is “in the best of moulds.” The composite connection of being conscious of God and conscientiousness towards God’s creation are seen in Haqq Allah (obligation to God) and Haqq on Nas (obligation to society).

in the realm of obligation to society, no taqlif (duty) is ever imposed without a corresponding right. Thus the Koran says: “Women shall have rights similar to those against them” (H.Q. 2:228). Central to the issue of family law is Haqq al Nasl or respect for family and community. It is therefore a peculiar paradox that despite the Koran’s basis of adl or justice and avowal of human equality, Muslim societies have permitted
various forms of inequality in relation to gender. 

Besides, the Koran, as the embodiment of responsible freedom, considers it to be one of its major concerns to liberate humankind from the dangers of autocracy, ethnicity, racism, chauvinism or anything that subjugates the human spirit. Several modern scholars such as Muhammad Abduh and Raahid Rida have recognised the Koranic text as providing the key to opposition against serfdom and slavery. To do away with customary traditions that had resurfaced, an insistence on ijtehad or the exercise of reason, both at the individual and collective level, was advocated as a means to liberating Muslim thought from such outmoded tribal shackles. 

However, for this purpose, it is necessary to carefully study the pure text of the Koran, to perceive the distinction between the Koran itself and its exegesis, interpretations and annotations and later jurisprudential superstructure. 

Such a necessity arises since the historical and cultural accretions of scholars are sometimes confused, by the majority of Muslims, as part of the Koranic message. 

Also, in the early part of Islamic history, there was an output of productive literature based on attempts by scholars to communicate their understanding of the text. In the modern era there is still a struggle to relate the universal message explicitly to the present-day conditions. Further, it cannot be denied, that during centuries of sociopolitical hostilities between the Western and Muslim worlds, in their desire to discredit Islam, the accident has deliberately given expression to disruptive literature, where methods of investigation have not corresponded to the idea of historical fairness, otherwise so strictly insisted upon, resulting in both parochial literature and Muslim xenophobia. 

With regard to the role of women, major traditional literature spells out opinions in which women have sometimes been under-represented. Due to the re-enforcement of the tribal patriarchal system after early Islam, the overall status of women most Muslim countries was often and is still relegated to the background. Today, Islamic resurgent movements are filled with qualified Muslim women who sincerely seek a precise link directly to the primary sources in an effort to emerge from their long felt segregation.  

Feminist critiques have argued that since the rights of women were not directly curtailed by the Koran and authentic tradition, it was necessary to crystallise and determine the Koranic intent regarding the role of women. 

Inspired by the basic concept of social justice stressed in Islam, there were protests against the generally accepted opinions of those scholars who presented women in a restrictive light, under the guise of what they defined as “Islamic.” Women scholars pointed out that equating and confusing Koranic understanding with exegetical works was a methodological shortcoming, giving a peculiar and restrictive definition to the word “Islamic.” They insisted that the word “Islamic” must have an unequivocal and unambiguous connection with the Koran, claiming that reflection of the word would otherwise, at some stage, be equated with the reflections of scholars and blur the broader vision of Koranic perception. Such dialectical disqualifications, feminist scholars felt, must be weeded out to restore a fresh and original approach to the Koran. 

They further tried to discern the problems in Koranic interpretation relating to equal rights for women. The- argument they presented was that the Qur’an was revealed in stages. Thus, according to the correct process of Koranic interpretation, the final commands of God must be taken as normative and final. For example, while earlier revelations discourage intoxicants and gambling (2:219, 4:43), later revelations clearly condemn and prohibit them (5:93-94). Thus, if someone claims that on the basis of 2 : 219 the Koran permits the consumption of alcohol, one would have to quote the final verse, 5:93- 94, to show that Islam prohibits such acts. 

Thus we see that the universal truth, wisdom and justice of the Koran continue to shed a guiding light even on the problems that have resulted from misunderstanding its noble message. The solution to the troubled relations between men and women lies in being guided by the spirit of the book, which exhorts men and women. to develop “love and mercy” (30:21) towards each other.