Moin Shakir and ‘Women in Muslim Society’

Moin Shakir’s ‘Women in Muslim Society’ as it appears in ‘Status of Women in Islam’ edited by Asghar Ali Engineer, demonstrates that very few Islamic countries have in fact progressed at the desired pace. Much of what Shakir writes in ‘Women in Muslim Society’ can still be applied today.

Published in 1987, twenty years ago, the question of the position of women in Islam remains pertinent.

Shakir comments that ‘the practice of seclusion or veil existed in the pre-Islamic times. In the same way a number of customs which are now treated as Islamic have nothing to do with Islam. These customs and practices have been the features f the social and cultural life of the people who did not abandon them after embracing Islam. The example of the Indian Muslim social structure may be instanced here. This may be described the folk aspect of religion which may go or may not go against the letter and spirit of normative aspect of religion. In other words religion, normative or popular, is not and should not be viewed as an autonomous and independent phenomenon.’

Status of Women in Islam, edited by Asghar Ali Engineer was first published in 1987 by Ajanta Publications.

 

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Romila Thapar – A History of India and the Absence of Satan

Romila Thapar’s ‘A history of India 1’ is worth every re-visit. I had the good fortune of coming across is some years ago, prior to that, I had very little knowledge of the historical make of the modern India, although her work stops at the arrival’s of the Europeans in the sixteenth century.

Published by Pelican, the book ‘traces the evolution of India before contact with modern Europe as established in the sixteenth century. Professor Thapar’s account of the development of India’s social and economic structure is arranged within a framework of the principal political and dynastic events. Her narrative covers some 2,500 years of India’s history, from the establishment of Aryan culture in about 1000 B.C. to the coming of the Mughuls in A.D. 1520 and the first appearance of European trading companies. In particular she deal’s interestingly with the many manifestation of Indian culture, as seen in religion, art, and literature, in ideas and institutions.

Thapar states that ‘the history of India in the first volume begins with the culture of the Indo-Aryans and not with the prehistoric cultures of India.’ She further says that ‘1526 marks the arrivals of the Mughuls in northern India and they were (amongst other things) actively involved in the future of Europe in India.’

In her chapter ‘The Antecedents’, Thapar says ‘wealth in India, as in every other ancient culture, was limited to the few. Mystical activities were also the preoccupation of but a handful of people. It is true, however, that acceptance of such activities was characteristic of the majority… whereas in some other cultures the rope-trick would have been ascribed to the promptings of the devil and reference to it suppressed, in India it was regarded with amused benevolence. The fundamental sanity of Indian civilization has been due to an absence of Satan.’

 

Islam, Wife Beating and the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks on the inclusion of Sharia law into British secular law was unnecessary and untimely. Perhaps the Archbishop should read the Quran and assess for himself the extent of the problems and restrictions that Sharia law Arriving at the correct interpretations of the Quran has been a matter of great debate.

With no provisions for dealing with problems that women face, in particular domestic violence, the Islamic organisations in Britain are impotent when dealing effectively and in the interest of women. The Archbishop’s archaic views can only reinforce multicultural attitudes of ‘let them sort it out in their own communities’ approach. His remarks also throws light on the escalation of funding cuts in the voluntary sector by local authorities throughout Britain which has meant that women’s organisations such as Southall Black Sisters are facing an uncertain future. Southall Black Sisters has been at the forefront of rights for minority women but are now facing a core funding cut by Ealing Council depriving Britain of an organisation that is ‘iconic, vital and essential (Keith Vaz). Both the Governments and local authorities mantra these days is that ‘we are not living in Alabama are we?’ meaning there is no need for special provisions for minority groups anymore. According to them, the war on racism and inequality for women has been won.

 The erosion of provisions in law and civil life for minority women of all religions has ensured an increase in violence, destitution and abandonment. In many cases there are high risks to their lives where women are killed (Banaz, Surjit Atwal) or commit suicide (Navjeet Sidhu). The Archbishop’s careless remarks can prove to be very costly indeed.

Which religious interpretation does the Archbishop suggest we follow? Saudi Arabia, Iran, India? Religious laws have no place in democracy as in essence, it operates outside of these realms. It is not just the matter of divorce in Sharia law. There are other implications for women too, for example the rule for husbands on ‘wife beating’. 

According to six eminent scholars, this is their reading on the law governing wife beating:

Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God has gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them. Virtuous women are obedient, careful, during the husband’s absence, because God has of them been careful. But chide those for whose refractoriness you have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them: but if they are obedient to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily, God is High, Great! Rodwell

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme. Dawood

Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great. Pickthall

Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for God’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; God is All high, All great. Arberry

Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in their sleeping places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great. Shakir

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whom part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance) for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all). Ali

Kenya – a tragedy in the 21st century

The events unfolding during and after the elections of Kenya, have left many around the world full of remorse and shock whilst looking on helplessly as the tribal and political killings escalated.

Perhaps the current problems in Kenya can partially be placed at the feet of the fundamentalist Islamic movement on the coastline and the Northeast.   There is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism has been creeping in at a steady pace through the eastern territories over the two decades. 

The international online defence magazine reports that “Kenya’s sudden spiral into chaos after years being regarded as a regional stability in the turbulent Black African continent, will no doubt strike a heavy blow on the economies of a wide swathe of neighbouring nations. But while the present scale of internecine violence came as quite a surprise, it was not the first time that this African nation became engulfed in chaos.

From October 1952 to December 1957 Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the so-called “Mau Mau” rebellion against British colonial rule, over the deprivation of the Kikuyu majority. The official number of Kenyans killed was estimated at 11,503. Much fighting among the various tribes followed, until independence from Great Britain in December 1963, when Jomo Kenyatta, also a Kikuyu became first prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government. Over the last decade or so, Kenya was regarded an African success story. Beginning to enjoy the fruits of its stability and openness, its economy has grown by more than 6 per cent annually in recent years. But now, in just a few bloody days, since a disputed election on December 27, Kenya has quickly slipped from democratic hopeful, escalating into uncontrollable chaos and brutal murder. From years of prosperity, it threatened to become the scene of just another regional, highly dangerous trouble spot, torn by ethnic bloodletting and prone to outside terrorist intervention”.  To read the full article, click here. 

Gulgee is no more – a tribute

The great painter, Gulgee was murdered in his home in Karachi along with his wife and the maid servant. A bizarre killing by any means, the only items that are missing is the family car. The police are currently looking for a servant and a driver.

Karachi has the highest crime figures in Pakistan and is a dangerous and ruthless place for the non-elite and elite alike.

Gulgee was a self-taught painter and rose to prominence by doing portraits of important leaders such as King Faisal  and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. 

His work changed dramatically and went into religious and spiritual realms, providing the Islamic world of some of the most mesmerising calligraphy. Vasl, an international artist’s collective based in Pakistan, considers Gulgee as one of the Master painters of Pakistan. The collective hold an impressive collection of images by Gulgee which you can see by clicking here. 

Gulgee’s art will be greatly missed.

Female Sufi’s in Iran

When I used to visit a Sufi gathering in the 80’s with my mother, it was perhaps one of the most mesmerising experiences that I had with her, which I miss desperately since she passed away. Of course then, and as now Islam has not been kind to music or heightened self expression.

My mother and I would sit at the back and listen as the chanting turned into a beautiful rendition of desire and love for the supreme creator. Small children, girls and boys aged 6 and over would go into a trance like state and rock from side to side and I feared that they would bang their heads into one another, causing a bloody explosion.

So when I came across and extract of ‘Mystic Iran’ a documentary by from filmmaker Aryana Farshad’s film exploring sacred locations in Iran, I was struck by the women and their defiance of orthodox Islam that is so prevalent in Iran and that has gripped so many other parts of the world.

The documentary was shot in 2002 and is 52 minutes in length. Aryana Farshad’s ‘Mystic Iran’ is a testament to those who defy conservative and right wing elements in Islam and who continually reach out for a self defined expression of worship.

Chechen Sufi Chants

“A wolf asks a dog “why are you chained up”, the dog replies: “That’s how it is”. “I prefer to be free”, says the wolf and walks away. That’s how it is for us. If only for a day, or a year…”

An old man sits in his house, as if from a forgotten age and shares his wisdom. In this clip of the Chechen Sufi Chants if perhaps the most mesmerising footage I have seen of Sufi’s in worship.

It is emotional, frightening, captivating and uncomfortable. In the far distance you can see a large mosque on the hill that dominates the village and to its right are the gallows.

The combination of spiritualism and a firm belief that the Chechen Islamic way is the only way forward is contrary to the beliefs of Sufi’s, confirming that religion is a matter of interpretation and not fact.