The co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan that strives for Muslim women’s citizenship rights as well as for gender justice in Islam, Zakia Soman was in Goa for Difficult Dialogues 2018. She spoke her mind about ‘Gender Inequalities and Potential Reformation in Indian Muslims’. In a chat with NT BUZZ she spoke to us about the movement, patriarchy and injustice that is rife in the name of religion
Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
Muslim women in India aren’t backward anymore; they aren’t willing to be treated like they used to be in the earlier eras either. This fact was validated when a large group of Muslim women participated in the country-wide signature campaign initiated by BMMA to gather support against the archaic triple talaq.
Always arguing that the fundamental values of the Quran are justice, kindness, compassion, and wisdom, Zakia Soman has been fighting consistently for the rights of Muslim women in India.
Excerpts from an interview
- What led you to form the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan?
Some of us came together in the aftermath of 9/11 terror strikes and the Gujarat riots of 2002 as women to help ourselves in the face of an identity crisis; being singled out as Muslims and violation of equal rights as women. We felt that we needed to create our own voice to demand for justice as citizens and as Muslim women. It was the need to create women leadership in the community to fight the patriarchal dominance and against poverty, backwardness that I decided to go ahead and form the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
- You seem be unpopular for fighting a bitter battle against the Muslim clergy. Comment.
We have challenged well-entrenched patriarchal forces. We have challenged male authority in religion and of course, this will not be received well by the dominant patriarchal forces who have claimed to speak on behalf of the whole community. We get labelled with different names when we demand gender justice in Islam.
- Everyone talks about India being quite progressive, with supposedly many forward thinking and open minded male leaders ruling the country at various levels. Do you believe that this leadership is indeed progressive and open to women empowerment?
We remain a patriarchal society despite constitutional guarantees and progressive laws. The mindsets of those in politics are rather not conducive for women’s equality as they all hold male-centric worldviews. We have a long way to go in the direction of women’s equality and Indian women today are demanding this.
- Injustice against women is often linked to religion and traditions. Comment.
Patriarchy masquerades as religion and the male clergy keeps drawing sustenance from it. They misinterpret religious texts to continue their dominance. Triple Talaq happens in our country despite there being no sanction for it in the Quran. But the male clergy is fighting to preserve this anti-women and unjust practice.
- After banning of the Triple Talaq in India, how secure do the ordinary Muslim women feel?
The Supreme Court outlawed triple talaq but it has not laid down any procedure for divorce. As a result it still happens. We need a law against triple talaq where the procedure for divorce is clearly defined; where the wife is empowered to approach the police if she doesn’t get justice. This law should guide the steps of women.
- Being educated is the only way to being empowered, and in Islam, when women aren’t allowed to read, understand or interpret the Quran, how will they be able to speak up or fight against injustice meted out to them? Have you been doing anything in this regard?
We are attempting to break this barrier by training women qazis and by encouraging women to read the text for themselves. Allah has not discriminated between women and men. There are many verses in the Quran to support this. Women can read for themselves, they can read translations, commentaries by progressive scholars and feminist scholars. At the same time it is important to encourage girls to get educated, economically empowered and become socially aware.
- What are the other fights that Muslim women have to take up?
We have to fight for gender justice, for socio-economic empowerment, peaceful co-existence with different communities, for a better society and a better country.
- Do you believe India is truly secular? How do politicians use religion to divide its people? What’s the way forward according to you?
People of India are religious and secular, both at once. Everyone follows their own religion and at the same time respects other people’s right to their own faith. Our constitution allows for secularism where all religions are equal and no citizens can be discriminated on account of religion. The state is supposed to be equidistant from all religions and neutral at the same time. But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in reality. Our politics is driven by caste and religious considerations. There is an attempt to divide people rather than uniting them. The diversity of our society is protected by the constitution but politicians always try to take advantage by whipping up religious emotions. But the beauty is that average Indians are secular, respect each other, believe in peaceful and harmonious society. This is the essence of a multi-cultural, multi-faith society; we must all co-exist with mutual respect and peace.