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Published in the 1-15 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT
Women barred from Friday prayers at college mosque
By K Hamza

Calicut: Sunni Muslim factions and progressive Muslim organizations in Malappuram district of Kerala have crossed swords over holding of Friday prayers by women at a masjid located in the campus of Unity Women’s College in Manjeri town. The row over this issue has emerged when the college opened in June after the summer vacations. The college is for women only and most of the students are Muslims.

The college management committee, which mainly comprises of members from the Indian Union Muslim League, has succumbed to the pressures of orthodox Sunni A.P. and E.K. factions, and has taken a decision to suspend the Friday prayers by women in its mid-June meeting. The two Sunni factions were adamant in their stand to stop women’s Friday prayers at the campus masjid and they launched a campaign declaring it "un-Islamic". In their perception, women’s holding Friday prayers is against Shari'ah.

Meanwhile, Muslim Vanitha Prathikarana Vedi, a women’s reformist organization, led a protest march in the streets of Manjeri where the college is situated, and held a meeting in protest against the college management’s decision. 

Khadeeja Nargis, state general secretary of Mujahid Girls and Women’s Movement (MGM) said that it was a shame that women had to fight for their legitimate right for worship even in the 21st century. She narrated some instances of orthodox attitude to Muslim women of early 1930s in Malabar region where obscurantist mullas had issued fatwas against women’s education and learning of English language or even approaching male doctors for treatment. She further alleged that the same type of ulama issues fatwas curbing the freedom of worship in mosques granted to women by Islam. Other women participants in the meeting expressed serious concern on the issue and exposed the vested interests of the college authorities behind the move to curb the freedom of worship. Another vibrant activist of MGM, Bushra Najathia, alleged the orthodox Sunni factions’ opposition to women’s prayers in mosque stems from the fear and frustration about the gaining momentum of women’s emancipation all over the country.

Women students have been offering Friday prayers at the campus masjid for quite a long time. On June 18, scores of women from the college and neighbourhood offered Friday prayer in defiance of the management’s decision. As the front door of the mosque had been locked earlier, they entered the mosque through the back door. Educated Muslim women are playing a marked role in various public and private firms in Kerala. They have decided to take a legal recourse, if this issue is not adequately solved in their favour.
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