The biggest group of imams in the country,the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind,is taking the first tentative steps towards addressing issues faced by Muslim women.
At its two-day conference beginning here tomorrow,one of the resolutions before the thousands of imam delegates who are expected to participate is introspection on how the community treats its women folk and on giving women their due.
While proud of its nationalist roots and proximity to Mahatma Gandhi,the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which runs the maximum number of madrasas in the country is very conservative in its approach towards women and has received considerable flak over this. Its conferences are held once in three years.
Women in Islam are recognised as more than equal,but we need to introspect, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind leader and former MP Mahmood Madani told The Indian Express. We are conscious that we have not allowed our womenfolk to get their due,as mandated by Islam in India,allowing a lot of backward traditions to corrupt what is rightly the due of our sisters,daughters,mothers and wives. How will our community progress if they dont? We are conscious of it and addressing it and want to do so visibly now.
While hesitant to reveal details,particularly as the resolution is yet to be passed,Madani added: This is the beginning and a move to recommit ourselves to the cause. In due course,many things will be rolled out. We felt it was our duty as Muslims to emphasise the special and equal place that Muslim women have been given by our faith,and to restore their dignity where it is not there.
Asked whether the Jamiat could face opposition from certain quarters,such as those who put pressure on the Rajiv Gandhi government to overturn a Supreme Court ruling in the Shah Bano case,Madani said that was different as it was external,coercive and wrong. This is an internal move to build more awareness on womens rights,as per the finest Islamic practices.
The All India Muslim Womens Personal Law Board and scholars like Asghar Ali Engineer have been at the forefront of a campaign to ensure better rights for women and an improved nikah-naama (marriage certificate/contract) that gives women more rights.
However,mainstream Muslim clerical opinion has not been very sympathetic. Asked about the Jamiat conference,Lucknow-based Shaista Amber,the president of the All India Muslim Womens Personal Law Board,said: I am very realistic and dont nurse airy dreams about these maulanas… I have watched these male imams for years. But now,if they are actually doing anything positive,many millions of women whose lives are hell because of the Islamic spirit being violated,because of what they say is interference,they will give them many duas.
The last such conference of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind was held in Deoband in 2009 and was attended by Home Minister P Chidambaram among other leaders across the political spectrum. This year,the public rally of imams to cap the meeting will be held at the Ram Lila ground in Delhi on May 19.