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Muslim women in hijab on the road to progress
hijab, the Islamic dress code a hindrance in woman’s progress? To find
an answer to this frequently asked question come to Kerala where the
number of Muslim women, who work in different capacities with hijab, is
increasing with each passing day. These women have shown their true mettle
in each and every field they are involved
Take for instance, Malappuram district where there is a heavy
concentration of Muslim population. On average there are three Muslim
woman members in hijab in each of the panchayats and over 300 across the
district. The women in Islamic dress code who once were cited as a symbol
of backwardness, are no longer considered so. Rather these women have
proved that the Islamic dress code is in no way a hindrance to progress or
attaining high offices. From doctors to auto drivers they work similarly
as their non-Muslim counter parts do. Ms.Qamarunnisa Anwar (social
worker), Ms. KP Mariyumma (law practitioner), Dr. Jameela Mansoor (medical
college professor), Ms. Kunhi Beevi (municipal chair-person), Ms. Mubeena
Ashraf (computer engineer) are a few to name in this regard.
All this happened in a short span of time thanks to the presence of Muslim
reformist movements like Nadwatul Mujahideen and Jama’at-e-Islami which
floated their own women’s organizations that unleashed a new awareness
and awakening among Muslim women. Muslim League also followed suit, the
party also launched its women’s wing under the leadership of
Ms.Qamarunnisa Anwar, who shot into prominence when she appeared in public
domain in early seventies dressed in hijab, holding her head high.
This helped Muslim women become bold and competent part of the society.
“Earlier, women who dressed in hijab were being treated with contempt.
Today the same dress is recognized as a common, decent and modest
dress”, feels Qamarunnisa, president of the Muslim Women’s League and
former chairperson of the State Social Welfare Board. Qamarunnisa shares
her experience way back to 1972, when she had an encounter with the then
District Medical Officer, who happened to be a Christian. The lady DMO
asked her, why she was dressed in an uncivilized manner despite being
herself educated and hailing from an educated family? Instead of giving a
direct answer to this, Qamarunnisa asked her, what was wrong with the
dressing of Mother Teresa who covered her whole body except the face and
hands, the same way she (Qamarunnisa) was dressed? The DMO became
“This was the common attitude towards Islamic way of dressing 30 years
ago. It was believed that the Islamic dress code prevented women from
attaining progress. People, in and outside the community stuck in this
mindset. But today there has been a sea change in their attitude, and
hijab is not considered as a symbol of slavery but a dress that protects
her dignity” she pointed out.
Ms.KP Mariyumma, a law practitioner and the former president of Malappuram
District Panchayat, said that the spread of education is the real reason
behind this new-found purdah culture. “In the past, educated women
turned away from hijab, only a few observed the dress code. Because only a
small number of Muslim women who constitute a meagre 5 per cent of the
total population had the privilages of being educated. They considered
themselves creamy layer of the society, and they were not bothered about
what was happening to the rest 95 per cent of their community. Now
education is in everybody’s reach and educated ones are no longer
treated as a rare species,” she said.
Another factor that played a vital role in creation of the new awareness,
according to her are the Qur’an learning centres launched by various
Muslim organizations as well as individuals. The large turn out of Muslim
women in these centres where Qur’an is being taught under a systamatic
syllabus, cleared way to learn more about Islam and what it stands for.
The Qur’an translations in Malayalam, which found its place in every
household, also was a fillip to this trend, feels Qamarunnisa.
Ms. Khadija Nargis a head mistress herself and the State President of
Muslim Women’s and Girls’ Movement, opined that Muslim Women realized
that the hijab is not a symbol of slavery, rather it provides protection
to them. Women who clothed fully and properly are less harassed in public
places. Hijab is more than just a clothing; its purpose is to protect
women from amorous advances of the opposite sex. Women who boast they
belong to progressive societies are actually driven to wear what men want
to see, she added.
“Why this hue and cry when Muslim women dress in hijab while Catholic
nuns still wear dresses in modest fashion?” she wondered.“Women during
the Victorian age were more respected than women today”.
Ms. T. Kunhi Beevi, who retired as deputy collector of Malappuram and
currently the chairperson of Tirur Municipality, related her experience
when she went to her office at the beginning of her career, people stared
at her as if they were looking to a strange creature. “Now nobody will
stare at you in that way” she said.
One-fourth of 100 village panchayats and two of the five municipalities in
Malappuram district are headed by Muslim women with their head covered.
Even Qamarunnisa anwar contested 1996 Assembly election from Calicut-II
constituency where she lost by a slender margin.
“These women have proved that Islamic dress code is not a hurdle or
reactionary” says K.Fatima, Principal, SSA College Areekod. “Had there
been no efforts by the reformists movements among the Muslim community of
Kerala nothing of these could have been happened
Referring to the statements made by Ajita, a feminist leader, that a sense
of insecurity among Muslims triggered by Babri Masjid demolition was the
main reason behind the fast spreading purdah-culture, which takes Muslim
women centuries back, Ms.Qamarunnisa said, “This is the problem with the
leftist intellectuals. They would cite this reason or that for a new
phenomenon of which they are clueless or they wanted to turn Nelson’s
eye to certain phenomena which they do not want to be known to the people.
Awareness among the members of the community plus the gulf connection of
the region worked to a larger extent to turn the tide, she said.
Jifria, who is an auto driver in Calicut city for the last nine years,
firmly believes that Islamic dress is more protective than any other
article of clothing. She related how her dress gave her dignity when she
drove her auto, “Muslim women hesitate to step into the fields of her's
because of the attitude of society. Being a member of a community that
upholds modest dress for women, I am not obsessed with what the people
said about me” she said.
The success of women with headscarf in their respective fields attracted
attention of social scientists. About two decades ago, only a few observed
the dress code whereas today even medical college professors teach their
students in their hijab. Dr. Shareefa Beevi, former principal of Kottayam
Medical College and Dr. Jameela Mansoor a professor at Alappuzha Medical
College are a few instances. “All the Muslim girls in my class at
Calicut Medical College, attended the classes in hijab,” says Dr.Meena,
who embraced Islam recently and just completed her MBBS from CMC. Even as
leftists and so-called progressive groups trained their guns against the
newfound love of Muslim women for Islamic dress code, their number is on
the increase. q