Culture Reviews

‘Women in Masjid: A Quest for Justice’ review: Injustice in the name of faith

A clarion call to Muslim women to seize control of their religion and belief systems

In the first winter rains, shortly after my father’s death, I felt a desperate need to visit his grave. To see if the grave was intact, that the earth hadn’t sunk in the kuchha grave. In a sad, inexplicable sort of way, also to assuage my guilt for being alive, warm and dry while he slept the eternal sleep under mounds of wet, cold earth. As I entered the graveyard, head covered, I was accosted by a bearded man who berated me for entering the graveyard knowing ‘full well’ that women ought not to. Locked up as I was in my own private misery, head down and tears streaming down my face, this reprimand from a rude stranger summed up everything I dislike most about misconceived religiosity and the uncouth patriarchs who practise it. Something snapped inside me as I told him that, before he dies, he must instruct his wife and daughter to not visit his grave, and that he should leave me alone to do as I deem fit.

Unpleasant run-ins

I was reminded of this and several other equally unpleasant run-ins with self-proclaimed upholders of faith as I read Zia Us Salam’s excellent book Women in Masjid: A Quest for Justice. Timely and important, it is a clarion call for Muslims to seize control of their religion and belief systems, to wrench it away from jaahil (ignorant) maulanas and to weed out all accretions, no matter how seemingly benign. More than ever before, the Muslim ummah must negotiate the choppy waters of tradition and modernity while steering a clear path towards a better understanding of their religious practices.

Drawing upon close readings of the Koran and Hadith, Salam makes a compelling argument: both men and women are enjoined to ‘establish’ prayer and the rewards, be they for prayer, fasting or charity, are the same for both. Spiritual aspects aside, the evident benefits of prayer, namely inculcating a sense of discipline, hygiene and piety, not to mention nimbleness of body, are the same regardless of gender.

After all, men and women from the world over pray at the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and the Masjid-al Nabawi in Madina during Haj and Umrah. Why, then, do women stay away from mosques and funeral prayers in the Indian subcontinent? Why, then, are they severely castigated from going to graveyards and Sufi dargahs in our part of the world? After all, a religion that gave women the right to seek education, the right over their own earning, to pay zakaat (poor due), to give or withhold consent for marriage, has also given them the right to pray in mosques.

As Salam, a prolific author, social commentator and journalist, notes: “Women in Masjid is a small attempt at righting a historical wrong... an attempt has been made to project the reality of women’s rights and responsibilities in Islam, drawing from the reservoir of history and religion.”

Urging women to “reclaim the space they have surrendered,” the book is an eloquent plea for men to “stand up against this injustice perpetuated in the name of faith.”

Women in Masjid: A Quest for Justice; Ziya Us Salam, Bloomsbury, ₹499.

The writer is a translator and literary historian.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 2:28:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/women-in-masjid-a-quest-for-justice-review-injustice-in-the-name-of-faith/article30593365.ece

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