Anger, Despair over the Burqa call in India

Anger, Despair over the Burqa call in India August 19, 2005

Times of India

The Darul Uloom Deoband’s fatwa which calls for making purdah mandatory for women contesting elections, has come in for sharp criticism, especially from women politicians. Scores of Muslim women corporators, social activists and educationists are shocked at the Islamic seminary’s anti-women, patriarchal and biased opinion which may hamper Muslim women’s participation in politics.

Darul Uloom, in its latest fatwa on Wednesday, said that Muslim women shouldn’t contest elections, and if they do so, they should observe purdah (completely covered from head to toe). The verdict, scholars feel, has no Koranic sanction as, apart from vague references, nowhere does the Koran mention a specific dress code.

In her starched white sari and blouse, Tahira Tamboli, an NCP corporator from Nehru Nagar in Kurla, looks the very antithesis of what Darul Uloom’s fatwa brigade would like a Muslim woman to be. "Islam or shariah never came in my way of opting for a career in politics. How could I have worked for my constituency had I not stepped out of my house?"said Tamboli who recently performed ‘umra’ (mini haj) in Mecca.

Women are aghast at the almost dictatorial attitude of Darul Uloom, especially when it comes to issuing fatwas. "Do they know the terrible conditions which Muslim women live in? The maulvis should have first consulted the women before banning them from contesting elections,"protested Waqarunnisan Ansari, a corporator from Umarkhadi in Dongri since 1997. Though she wears a burqa ever since she performed Haj earlier this year, she is against covering the face: "Aurat ki haya uski aankhon mein hai (A woman’s decency lies in her eyes).""We need to encourage Muslim women to join politics, not put them behind purdah,"adds Ansari, who was roughed up by fellow Shiv Sena corporators over singing of "Vande Matram"in a BMC school in 1999.

If the fatwa-obsessed fanatics had their way, many feel, Muslim women would be left rotting at the mercy of men. Rehana Undre, who unsuccessfully contested assembly elections on a People Workers’ Party ticket from Raigarh in 1995, is dismayed at the ulema’s blinkered views: "Why don’t they look at how women in Iran have progressed? They have excelled in different professions. You want to educate the girl child, and yet keep her under the veil."

In fact, scholars also feel that it’s time the veil over the hypocrisy of clerics is lifted. "It will seclude and segregate women and hamper their progress. There is no clear Koranic injuctions about how a Muslim woman should be dressed,"explained Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali who has researched the hijab issue extensively.

Coming as it does on the heels of the fatwa on Imrana (she was separated from her husband as she was allegedly raped by her father-inlaw), the latest fatwa may be exploited by vested interests to tarnish Muslims. "It will only reinforce the anti-Muslim propaganda,"asserted Feroze Mithiborewalla of Muslim Intellectual Forum.

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