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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Feminism – US double standards
By K Hamza

Calicut: In Kerala, especially in the Muslim dominated Malabar region, there are a number of leading Muslim women with multitudinous achievements to their credit being personification of the triumph of idealism over cynicism of hard work and devotion to academic field, and determination to overcome odds and reactionary forces that have been suppressing them. The number of lady doctors, nurses, engineers and technicians is steadily increasing. This development is a matter of pride for the Muslim community. Even in the sports field, their performance is remarkable.

Today Muslim women display enough grit to stand on their own feet due to professional qualifications that they gained through modern education. They are more liberal now while strictly observing Islamic tenets. Only a section of ultra orthodox theologians would occasionally raise their eyebrows and put restrictions on them. Women venture out, of course in hijhab, for shopping or other requirements. Even orthodox mullas are seen riding motor bikes with their wives or daughters. Such sights were unimaginable a few years ago. Their resistance to such practice is slowly receding, and a grudging approval is taking place. 

Muslim women find comfort in wearing hijab which protects them from unwanted gazes and hassles in public places. In almost all mosques in urban localities of Malabar, women enter mosques for congregational prayers regularly, despite fundamentalist objection. The recent workshop on "Islam and Feminism" organised by the US consulate in Chennai was oblivious of these facts on the ground. The venue of the workshop was initially proposed to be Farook College, but in the wake of strong protests from Muslim student bodies, it was located to a hotel in the heart of Calicut. The auditorium was filled by some specially selected and invited ladies from the elitist inner circle of urban Muslim community.

The US double standards were exposed at the workshop when Prof Margot Badran in her speech, lamented the backwardness and pathetic conditions prevailing in the Muslim community, being an oppressed folk reeling under gender bias due to misinterpretation of Quran by Islamic theologians. As most among the audience were educated and represented various Islamic bodies, they could grasp the lies that Prof Margot purveyed throughout her speech. She could not grasp the obvious fact that feminism is a phenomenon of the west where liberal feminist movement has grown to an extent that nudity, rubbing shoulders with men, hugging and kissing in public and uninhibited sexual activities are common. Western print media, TV channels and movies are testimony to the type of equality which will come to us under the guise of feminism, which is unacceptable to the Islamic culture. 

Prof Margot seemed to ignore this ground reality that exists in the US and western countries. In the context of her speech on "Islam and multiple discourses of gender”, she cited instances that in countries like Egypt, feminism emanated as a resistance against foreign occupation. She regretted that Muslim women were not enjoying justice and opportunities. She emphasized on the inevitable role the Muslim women will have to play in restoring their equal rights which are granted to them in Islam. "What I see in Quran is fundamental equality. But as a historian I deal with real world and I know there is a wide gap between the text and the practices", she said.

When she heard the roof-breaking slogans shouted by some Muslim bodies with placards near the venue of the seminar, in protest against her speech and the workshop, she slowly changed her tone and tenor in an obvious bid to pacify the ruffled feathers of the agitators.

In the immediate aftermath of the seminar, several meetings and debates have been held by various Muslim organizations in the region, clarifying Islamic perception of women’s status and their fundamental rights. "There is no such term called "Islamic Feminism" said a resolution adopted by the Islamic Students Movement (ISM) at a debate held at Calicut on December 26. The resolution observed that while giving due respect to women, Islam maintained a healthy relationship between the two genders. The resolution declared, "We need no US support to learn about women and Islam". Director of Nitche of Truth , MM Akbar, said that Islam and (western) feminism do not go hand in hand. A P Abubacker Musliyar, general secretary of All India Jamyyathul Ulama, said that the workshop on Muslim feminism disclosed the double standard of US imperialism.

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