Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A mosque of one's own

Amidst the controversy and debate surrounding Asra Nomani leading prayers in New York, some women in Tamil Nadu have been pressing forward with their own goal: a mosque by, for, and of women. With due apologies to Woolf, the logic is simple:

A Muslim woman has no space, she's confined to the kitchen, the bedroom and the delivery room. And if a woman petitions the jamat, she's not allowed to appear before it. [According to Daud Sharifa, the head of Steps, a women's development organisation]: "The jamat calls her husband to put across his point of view, but a woman has to be represented by her father and her brother. The jamat announces its decision without even hearing her. That is not justice."

Indeed. On the other side, we have the view that "[i]t's wrong to think that the members of the jamat are all male chauvinists - these men also have daughters, nieces and granddaughters who may also be facing these problems."

Then again, they may not. Or better yet, perhaps that is precisely the reason they ought not be trusted with these decisions. If the opposition generated by the attempt to build an all-women's mosque is any indication, the Pudukottai initiative is worth supporting. For far too long the self-appointed guardians of Muslim women (and Muslim values, which, by an act of hymeneal transubstantiation, apparently amount to the same thing) have held forth on the rights guaranteed to women under Islam (while assiduously opposing any move to reinterpret those rights, or to gain even more rights). If Pudukottai is any indication, the patience of at least some women is running out.

The above, of course, is a perfectly natural segue into a piece entitled Merchant Houses as Spectacles of Modernity (what? hey, at least Pudukottai is mentioned!). Or you can check out one of my very favorite historians, Nicholas Dirks, using Pudukottai as Exhibit A for his thesis, in The Hollow Crown.


Anonymous said...

Injustice towards women needs to be deplored but I don't think having a separate Masjid for them solves anything .It creates more Fitnah and is a break from mainstream authentic Islamic tradition .
One big hole in the "progressives" thinking is that they look at everything from a sceptical viewpoint . They do not understand and feel about developement of "Taqwa" Their is no scheme for ajkhirah and Allah.Everything is manmade ,ulema act only to maintain thier hold on power ,they are blind etc..

Satyam said...

But as long as you are 'enchained' in the kind of language and opinion that your second para suggests I don't see how the "injustice towards women" will magically disappear. In the Leopard there is a nice moment where one of the characters says that "for everything to remain the same everything must change." I would twist this a bit and say that since 'change' is desired here to begin with at the very least 'everything' must change! I must add though in a not unrelated way that the initial quote here when applied to present day geo-politics in its Islamist manifestations has a rather eerie ring to it! Lampedusa was prescient but what a world to span between the Risorgimento and the (also)virtual warriors of Allah!

Anonymous said...

Injustice will decrease only if people have more Taqwa Fear of God

I fail to see why a separate masjid is needed for this ?
If they want to meet ,then they can meet in someones' house or any other place.Are they really so much interested in praying in a Masjid ? How many of them regularly pray at home even ?
As per Hadith women should not disallowed from praying in Masjids although the home is better for them.
The question is why should we change on the progressives' terms and hence damage our prospects on the Day of Judgement ? We will do what the Prophet (SAW) and the salaf do to safeguard ourselves from Hellfire.

gosht-khor said...

This issue is precisely the sort that adds more to the apathy and fatigue of the "moderate" Muslim. As the anonymous repondent has pointed out, there is something to be said for Taqwa, and the interpretation of Islamic law. As he/she rightly points out, there is nothing in Islamic law that forbids women from coming to a masjid, nor should there be. In the case of Ms. Nomani, and others like her (Irshad Manji perhaps), what I seem to detect is less of a concern for Islamic law, and more of a desire to introduce an element of Western-style activism into the religious debate. Hence, if women could burn their bra's in the 60's & 70's, then why not do something quite as provocative today at a time when the concept of Islam is under scrutiny and upheaval?

Now, it is certainly clear that a great deal of the trouble Islam finds itself in today stems directly from an absence of pluralism, discourse, debate and dissent. However, I believe the course being purused by "progressive" elements is to essentially throw out the baby with the bath water. Hence, Rushdie calls for an Islamic reformation, Nomani wants a woman to lead a jamaat, etc. Lost in the gap between such headline makers, and their extremist counterparts, are the comfortable "moderates" who are quite content to practice religion as they see fit without any botheration to others.

Under the present circumstances, however, it occurs to me that the moderate American Muslim is on the right track. Its in American Islamic circles that religious research is most tolerated. There seems to be appreciation, rather than resentment of the fact that the leading scholars of Islam have names like Esposito, Crone, Armstrong, etc. And hence, it is here that I see the "reformation" that not only is demanded by the progressives, but one that also suits a moderate like myself. The trajectory that these events are taking seem to clearly suggest that ultimately there will be Western Muslims and Eastern Mulims. The former, if they continue to puruse the concept of debate, dissent and research within Islam, will ultimately fall out of favor with the latter who would continue to remain in some sort of Saudi/Irani, set of strictures.
Where this concept seems to irritate everyone is not in regards to it being a fait accompli, rather it offends and upends the 1400 year old fantasy of a united Islamic nation.
Coming back to the original point, however, what becomes tiresome is the desperation and naivete that we see on display by people who are essentially looking to force change in Islam when in reality they only need to look back to early Islamic history and the basic tenets of the faith to realize that female oppression, etc. are foreign concepts to this religion, and that in fact female empowerment does not disagree with Islamic philosophy or law.