The stories of courageous Muslim women, recounted so well in the Guardian article “Beyond the stereotype” (April 30), are an excellent source of inspiration for their counterparts in India to come out and fight extremism in their societies.

One of the women, Sara Khan, who is quoted in the article, is absolutely right in voicing the need for “the discourse of women” to bring about a “whole new dimension” to scriptural interpretations. Today, most Islamic theology is based on traditional tafsirs (commentaries) written by patriarchal males representing only the experiences of men with either the total exclusion of the experiences of women, or their interpretation through the coloured vision of men. This has resulted in women being brought under the control of men to be exploited at will.

But this was not the case in early Islam. According to Mohammed Akram Nadwi, an Islamic scholar at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS), the tradition of female Muslim scholarship dates back to the 7th century. His research (to his own astonishment) has revealed 8,000 Muslim women scholars in Islamic history who now form part of his soon-to-be-published 40-volume biographical dictionary of Muslim women scholars. One of the women discovered by Nadwi, Fatimayah al-Bataihiyyah, taught Hadith in the Prophet's mosque in Medina in the 15th century and the chief male scholars of the day were her students. Yet, Muslim women today are denied these rights by their narrow-minded clergy. This must change.

A. Faizur Rahman,

Chennai

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