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Indian liberals want to support everything Muslim, but that’s not the way to equal rights

Equal rights for Muslim or Hindu women cannot be earned from within the ambit of religion, it requires one to move out of the structure of organised religion.

A gathering of Muslim women offering prayers
A gathering of Muslim women offering prayers (Representational Image) | Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Indians Left and liberal intellectuals usually support everything to do with Muslim minorities – their religion, customs, madrassas, mosques, Eid, Muharram, hijab, burqa and sometimes even their right to follow Sharia laws. And in doing so, they commit serious human rights violations – while claiming that they are defenders of the minorities.

Whether it is Muslims expressing a desire for more mosques, or if they insist on blocking thoroughfares for their Friday prayers – the Left and liberals back them up always. Obviously, here Muslim means just Muslim men. These men want to establish laws based on religion and it is believed that they should be allowed to do so. Muslim men do not wish to give any independence to Muslim women, so it is assumed that is how it is in Islam.

The practice of triple talaq being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court has elated the Right-wing fundamentalists, while it has made the liberal class unhappy. While Hindutva supporters clamour for a Uniform Civil Code, liberals are not heard making similar demands. However, the liberals should have been at the forefront of this fight for equal rights.

Also read: SC admits plea to lift ‘ban’ on Muslim women in mosques. But Islam doesn’t bar them at all

Muslim women in India, whose rights and independence have thus far always been denied, have suddenly woken up to the din of equal rights. Recently, a Muslim couple filed a plea seeking entry of women into mosques.

Just like how the Supreme Court struck down the discriminatory rules that barred menstruating women from entering the Sabarimala temple, there ought to be a similar law for Muslim places of worship as well.

Muslim women have not achieved anything remotely close to equal rights yet. I feel compelled to ask, what good will it do if women earn the right to enter mosques and offer their prayers? They will be able to offer their prayers in mosques– things they had not been allowed to do previously. Not that they will be allowed to pray along with the rest of the men – instead they will be made to stand behind a wall or a curtain, in a small back room or the veranda perhaps. That is not equal rights. The same prayers they used to offer at home they will now be able to offer in the mosque if they wish to. The Prophet had said that it was best if women prayed at home . I fail to comprehend how devout women are expected to flout the Prophet’s wish in order to be able to enter a mosque and pray.

Women becoming imams, offering prayers kneeling beside men or in front of them, such things are considered haram in Islam. Equal rights cannot be earned from within the ambit of religion, it requires one to move out of the structure of organised religion. Will devout women be able to fight for equal rights in marriage, divorce or inheritance? If one believes in Islam, one has to also condone the structural discrimination between the sexes that is there in Islamic law.

How many Muslim women manage to finish schools or attend universities? How many Muslim women join jobs or start businesses? How many are allowed to take their own life decisions? How many Muslim women have a choice not wear burqas or hijabs? The numbers must be very low. When this number increases only then can one say that Muslim women are on their way to achieving equal rights.

Also read: Hijab not simply about religion, Muslim women wear it for several reasons

Most women tend to spend more time in religious activities and rituals than men, so it is causing women no great harm if they cannot go to the mosque. What is definitely causing them harm is the lack of education, absence of proper healthcare and lack of independence. What is causing Muslim women true harm is the erasure of all their rights under religious laws, child marriage, being forced to marry one’s rapist and a host of associated misogynous fatwas or religious decrees including being prohibited from using a mobile phone.

Among the Bohra Muslims of India, female genital mutilation is still prevalent, to ensure that women find no pleasure in sexual intercourse. They firmly believe sexual pleasure is solely for men. But the Indian liberals conveniently keep forgetting about female genital mutilation. Those who truly want the betterment of the minorities must surely wish for the latter to receive proper education and become self-reliant, that they turn towards a scientific outlook and extricate themselves from the mires of superstitions and religious fundamentalism.

I did not write in favour of revoking the ban on women entering the Sabarimala. What business do women have going to places where it is customary to consider them impure? Is it not time yet for women to start maintaining a safe distance from God? No person of sound conscience should bow down before a misogynist power, especially women.

There are very few who are truly progressive in this subcontinent. The ones who are Islamophobic, those who believe that all Muslims should be driven out of the country, are one sort of reactionary. While the ones who believe Muslims should remain immersed in their religion if they want to, adhere to Sharia law if they so desire, be allowed to mutilate the genitals of young girls and call it culture – such people are another kind of reactionary. A truly progressive person can only be someone who wishes to combat all kinds of religious extremism – be it Muslim or Hindu.

Half the world’s problems can perhaps be solved only if we stopped tolerating brutality irrespective of religion, gender, race and ethnic or linguistic communities.

The problem with those who believe in free thought in India is that although they never fail to express their pride in vanguards like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Vidyasagar who took the first steps to counter Hindu fundamentalism, they simultaneously never wish for such forerunners to be found among the Muslims of India. Unless Muslims can be trained to inculcate truly secular values, free thought and a modern, progressive and scientific outlook they will continue to wallow in the depths.

Also read: Triple talaq non-issue, empower us through education: Muslim women in Rajasthan

More than being allowed into mosques, it is essential for Muslim women to be allowed to attend schools, colleges and universities, to become financially independent, to learn to hold their head high, become their own persons and declare a war against patriarchy and the clout of the mullahs.

When I speak in favour of the independence and rights of Muslim women, when I call for Muslim men to become more progressive and rise above fundamentalist dogma, the so-called liberal intellectuals who consider themselves well-wishers of Indian Muslims abuse me and label me ‘anti-Muslim’. Does that not make it clear what they want? They want for Muslims to remain consigned in the darkness.

Such people keep trying to stop me from showing Muslims the way towards the light; they want Hindus to find this illumination, but when it comes to the Muslims, they say it is not time yet.

We must remember that the right time never comes on its own, it has to be ushered in.

The author is a celebrated writer and commentator. Views are personal.