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Surayya: search for redemption
By A G Khan

Kamala Das’ embracing of Islam has caused consternation to some while the Hindutva brigade is stunned by the reasons she enumerated; the feminists are blowing hot and cold to see the crusader and champion of women’s lib advocating purdah. Her views on purdah are not recent. In an intimate interview with (late) Iqbal Kaur on 18 August 1992 she had advocated burkha as a ‘bullet-proof’ dress: ‘It protects a woman against the piercing eyes of men. You are so safe inside the burkha… I myself have tried it so many times’ (Iqbal Kaur, Perspectives on Kamala Das’s poetry (interview on 18 August 1992) (New Delhi: Intellectual Publishing House, 1995) p.160).

Similarly, the Shoba De kind of feminism was equally condemned by her way bak in 1992: ‘It is not feminism. It is just animal lust’ (ibid., p. 164).

Surayya’s choice of Islam comes as a stunning blow to those who regard Islam too suffocating for women. One is never too old to reform and repent. Surayya’s convictions are strong enough to enable her to brave the onslaught inflicted on her. Since she has been pondering over the pros and cons for 27 years, her decision is neither hasty nor provoked by some recent incident. She is well aware of the implications. Islam means surrender of the self to God’s will, hence she has voluntarily imposed on herself restrictions with regards to conduct. Her conduct might be a lesson for Taslima Nasreen and Rushdie who miss no opportunity to tarnish the Faith.

The debate on conversion shall be renewed with fresh vigour. There can be no accusation of coercion or ‘Arab money’ factor. As a writer, Kamala Das earns substantial royalty from renowned publishers. Nor can the charge of misguiding the ignorant be levelled this time. Her intellectual acumen has been recognised so well that her poems are taught throughout the country and even in foreign universities. We have yet to watch the reactions of the ‘secular’ and ‘pseudo-secular’ academicians, whether or not they permit her some space in the syllabus. The obvious chances are that she will now be discarded from the curricula: not on academic grounds but on emotional and fundamentalistic considerations.

Those who used to shout from the roof-tops about the right to freedom of expression for a writer shall find this incident difficult to swallow. Rushdie and Taslima were hailed because they caused much discomfiture to Muslims. But Deepa Mehta and now Kamala Surayya invite brickbats. So hollow and fragile is our intellectual tolerance.

Religion apart, the feminists must be gnashing their teeth. The sheet anchor of Indian feminism has turned the tables topsy-turvy. Even in the heydays of feminism the widow feels: ‘He was a sunshade, he was my home, now I walk naked as a babe’ (Kamla Das, ‘A Widow’s Lament’ in Kavya Bharati, 7 (American College, Madurai,1995), p. 2).

If she is looking for ‘the solace and protective religion like Islam’ (Kamala Das quoted in India Today, 27 December 1999, p. 65), the message is crystal clear that Islam is not as beastly as has been projected by some quarters so far. The sati revivalists and those who practise female infanticid must ensure that women are given a chance to survive — this is one of the things Islam guarantees.

In fact, as the adage goes, excess of every thing is bad, is proved by this incident. Much have they wafted in the breeze of liberalism. Long have they danced on the waves of emancipation to realize the inadequacies of the revolution that leads women to brothels or to AIDS. Shobha De has learned her lesson. Having brazed a trail of promoting extra marital sex, she all of sudden takes cognizance of her predicament as a mother of six children. Realizing that her advocacy of a permissive society might boomerang on her; she decides to pontificate in Speed post: ‘… abstinence rather than protection.’ She implores her daughters to learn to cook and shop and ‘solemnly entrusts the well-being of the girls in future to her eldest son’ (Brinda Bose, ‘De of the Mother Tongue,’ review of Speed post by Shobha De, India Today, 3 January 2000, p.80). Isn’t it somewhat surprising when Shobha is prescribing male domination!

Much accolade was unnecessarily showered on these nymphs of Eros. Feminism promoted the bliss of the body to such an extent that these nymphs started flouting the sacred and began promoting the profane.

Taslima Nasreen rejects the Qur’anic attestation of Hadrat Ayisha Siddiqa’s purity authentically stated in the Surah Nur. Nasreen’s offence echoes Salman Rushdie’s in The Satanic Verses when he talks of the brothel called ‘the Curtain’ (Michael Thorpe, ‘Kinds of Subjugation,’ review of Taslima Nasreen’s ‘The Game in Reverse’ published in The Toronto Review, Vol.17 No.1, Toronto, Canada. Fall 1999, p.77.).

The striptease entertainment has now recoiled on men. Islam strongly prohibits indecent exposure of any kind. The newly ‘emancipated’ women now seek vengeance. So we have now "hen clubs" where males are paid to strip. Their earnings range from Rs 10,000 per month to 30,000 per month depending on the season (The Sunday Times, Mumbai edition, 19 December 1999). Should this not be an eye opener to us? 

Welcoming a new shining star on the horizon of Islam, we fervently hope that her vow to write poems in praise of Allah would instill some sanity in the poisoned minds of Rushdie, Nasreen and their ilk. This will be her redemption.
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