Monday, January 4, 2010

gender discrimination

In his article “France Banning the Burqa to Liberation of Muslim Women”, author M. A. Khan has hailed French government’s initiative of the banning of burqa and expressed his hope that the step may pave the way for the liberation of Muslim women, because Islamic veil, called hijab, niqab or burqa etc., is indeed a sign of religious fundamentalism and a tool of suppression of Muslim women. He also hailed the strong determination of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to carry forward his decision despite strong opposition from the fanatic Muslim clerics all over the world. In this context, it should be mentioned that recent studies have revealed that wearing head to toe Islamic burqa is unhygienic and deprives the Muslim women of some vital vitamins.

Perhaps President Sarkozy will be successful in banning burqa in his country as Muslims constitute only 8% of the French population. But in a Muslim dominated country, or even in a Muslim dominated district, such a step would raise tremendous opposition from Muslims, and even violence by infuriated Muslims. An example may be cited for better understanding of the readers. The incident took place in the Muslim dominated district of Murshidabad in West Bengal, India.

According to a press report appeared in the Kolkata edition of Times of India on 17th September, 2007, an angry mob attacked the science teacher Khoda Nawaz of the Trimohini High Madrasa, in the district of Murshidabad.

Three students, Tarik Aziz Sariful Seikh and Najiruddin Molla, of the madrasa were mercilessly beaten up, as they tried to save their teacher. It is alleged that science teacher Khoda Nawaz has asked his girl students to avoid burqa during the summer. More importantly, he has reported to have advised his students (perhaps both boys and girls) not to observe fasting (roja) during the month of Ramadan as fasting makes one weak and thus hampers one’s studies.

As soon as I read the above news, a story of Panchatantra rushed into my memory. In a rainy day, the monkeys were getting drenched and the birds in their nests atop nearby trees told them, “O monkeys, look, we have built these nests to save us from rain and sun with our beaks. You people, having hands, can easily build such nests. Then why are you drenching in the rain?”

But the monkeys took their advice as ridicule and as soon as the rain stopped, they pulled down all their nests”.

Perhaps, the reader will remember that the story carried a moral: “Upadesha hi murkhanam prakopaya na shantaye”, that is, advice does not help a stupid to calm-down, but on the contrary, to raise his anger.

There is no dispute that, as a community, Muslims everywhere are most backward in every walk of life. In the first week of January last year (i.e. 2006 A.D.), the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) and the Talent Promotion Trust, a Bangalore-based NGO, have jointly held a panel discussion on “Emerging India and Development of Muslims” in Bangalore. Mr. Farooque Shaikh, a renowned Muslim film star, while addressing the gathering of Muslims intellectuals, said, “Muslims need to introspect as to why their situation has hit the present nadir and should give up blaming others for their dismal educational standard”.

While speaking to the same occasion, Mr. Sadaqath Peeran, chairman of the Al-Ameen Education Society, said, “If Muslims had to be equal partners in emerging India, they had to break the shackle of poverty and illiteracy. English should be introduced in all Urdu schools, if we want to be equipped to face the challenges of this competitive world. The Muslim situation is very bleak all over the world. There is no encouragement and incentive for innovation and creativity in the Muslim world.”

Muslims are backward not in India alone, but everywhere in the world. The countries belonging to the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), based on their share of world population, should have 4 million scientists and engineers, but they have only 200,000, merely 5 per cent of the expected figure.

Muslims account for 1.3 billion or nearly 32% of the world population, but scientific research papers they publish is negligible, below one per cent of world’s total. Based on their share of world population, Islamic countries should spend $4.7 million a year for higher education and research, but in reality they spend as low as $ 130,000 a year. And at the same time, they have little contribution in the high-tech areas like computer software and information technology etc.

As mentioned above, Muslims, as a community, are most backward; they top the list in adult illiteracy, infant mortality and poverty in the world. Mr. Hisamul Islam Siddiqi, president of the Delhi-based NGO, Indian Islamic Council, while he was addressing a seminar on ‘Islamic Heritage: Indian Dimension’ in Delhi in February 2000, said: “Nearly 36% of Indian Muslims were urban and almost all of them were slum-dwellers.”

To find plausible answers to these questions, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in 2001, appointed an inquiry committee consisting of Arab intellectuals and scholars. The committee carried out investigations for a year and published a report, called the “Arab Human Development Report 2002”, in the first week of July, 2002. It said: “One thing that every outsider knows about the Arab world is that it does not treat its womenfolk as full citizens and this suppression of women is another vital reason that makes the Arab world backward.”

The report rightly considers it an awful wastage. “How can a community prosper if it stifles half of its production potential,” the report asks. Though the female population has trebled in the past 30 years, more than 50% of Arab women still cannot read and write. “Their participation in social, economic and political fields is negligible in comparison to women of other parts of the world”, laments the report.

In a message to the special edition ‘Naree Sakti’ of the ‘Seva Surabhi 2002’, published from Ranchi, Jharkhand, our former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam wrote: “As we all know, birds have two wings. Unless both the wings grow equally, the bird cannot fly. Similarly, the society has two wings- man and woman. Both have to be developed equally. Then the society will fly”.

It is important to note here that when in mid-2003, a Supreme Court verdict upheld the necessity of enforcing ‘common civil code’, which could liberate Muslim women of this country from shameful gender discrimination like polygamy and oral divorce,
our former President tacitly supported the fanatic mullahs by keeping silence.

Most experts on the Middle East and Arab world are convinced that suppression
of women by pervasive Islamisation severe handicap in the Muslim community’s race for advancement in education and in overall progress.

In this context, one may recall the condition of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. As soon as they came to power, made wearing burqa or veil compulsory for the women, closed all women’s schools and colleges, and banned their going outdoor without a male family member. Many women are murdered in public places for disobeying the above orders in the slightest extent. In some places, former female teachers tried to continue teaching girl-students privately in their homes. But as soon as the fanatic Talibans discovered their illegal activity, they gunned them down in public places from point-blank range.

On 9 December 2006, the Taliban activists shot dead five women members of a family in Ghwando, western Afghanistan, for educating girls secretly at their home. According to report, appeared in the Kolkata edition of The Statesman, more than 20 such women teachers were killed in Afghanistan in 2006. According to another report, appeared in the January 20, 2007 edition of the Ananda Bazar Patrika, a Kolkata-based Bengali daily, Nahida Bibi, a young Pakistani woman, was shot dead by her elder brother Gul Shahjad, a fruit vendor, for the offence of receiving education, obtaining a B.A. degree and working in Islamabad.

In her statement, Nahida’s mother told police that, both Nahida’s father and her brother were against Nahida getting educated and becoming economically self-sufficient. As Islam forbids education to women and working outside their own homes, Nahida’s father inspired Gul Shahjad to kill Nahida. In another incident in June 2005, Kulsuma, a girl student from Kashmir, was blinded by throwing acid by Muslim fanatics for the offence of attending school.

So, it is understandable that the teachaer Sri Khoda Nawaz of the Trimohini High Madrasa certainly offended Allah, firstly, by suggesting his girl-students to avoid burqa and, secondly, by advising his students to flout the rite of Ramadan fasting.

All such events points to one irrevocable truth that, this world may be progress but Islam would not move forward. It must remain stuck to its seventh-century ethos.

The testimony of a girl student has highlighted this point. Sabira Khatun, a student of Khoda Nawaz, said, “When science has progressed so much, why should you wear a burqa during summer? You may wear something more comfortable. Exams are drawing near. If you fast during Ramzan, you will lose energy and may even fall sick.”

The Teacher-in-charge, Rejaul Biswas, said, “We called a meeting following the demands of the guardians. I don’t know how one teacher became anti-Islamic. I was not present when Nawaz said all these things.”

The injured student Sariful alleged, “Some of the people abused us after the meeting, using filthy languages. When they could not vent their anger on our teacher, they attacked us”.

It would be relevant to conclude with the quotation from an eminent scholar of Islam, Sir William Muir. In his celebrated work, The Life of Mahomet, he writes:

“The sword of Mohammad, and the Kor’an, are the most stubborn enemies of Civilization, Liberty and Truth which the world has yet known”.