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Eat, pray, ban? Indian women fight for fair worship rights

Female Muslims petition to pray in mosques but clerics claim it's just a ruse to deflect attention from 'triple talaq' ban.

 
Srinagar: 

After the recent controversy over women being barred from entering a Hindu temple in southern India, India is now debating whether Muslim women be allowed to pray inside a mosque.

For rights activists, this marks the next chapter in the fight for equal rights, in a country where women are forced to play second fiddle and not granted the same opportunities as men, both in the religious and secular spheres.

The Supreme Court on April 18 agreed to hear a petition from a Muslim couple seeking to allow women into mosques.

The petitioners argued that during the time of Muhammad (BC 570-632), hailed as the founder of Islam, women were granted this right.

As such, the centuries-old practice of barring them from places of worship must be overturned, they said.

The petition came after the top court ruled on Sept. 28, 2018, that women of all ages were within their rights to enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala, which has traditionally banned those between the (menstrual) age of 10 and 50, as they were considered "unclean."

The ruling sparked an immediate backlash in this southern state, and indeed across the country, as Hindu groups moved to oppose it.

But it also spurred debate on the equality of women in places of worship, even inspiring some Muslim women to approach the court about their rights.

The court on April 19 issued notices to the federal government, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, and the National Commission for Women asking why women should not be allowed to pray inside mosques.

The petitioners claim that both the Quran and India's constitution guarantee them this right, with the latter stating that all citizens should be treated equally and without discrimination.

Muslim organizations responded by denouncing the petition as a deliberate attempt to falsely project Islam as a patriarchal and male-centric religion.

Moulana Javaid Ahmad Al Madani, a cleric in Jammu and Kashmir — the only Muslim-majority state in India — said it had tried to twist the fact to promote "misconceptions" about Islam.

He said major mosques in the country, including New Delhi's famous Jamia Masjid, permit women to pray inside its premises and even have separate spaces allocated for them.

"From where do they derive this idea that women can't enter mosques and pray? Mosques grant entry to people of all religions. The petitioners just want to show that Islam suppresses women," he told ucanews.com.

Professor Abid Ahmad, an Islamic historian, said their religion only forbids women from visiting graveyards, not mosques.

"We can take the examples of Mecca and Madina (in Saudi Arabia) — the two sacred cities in Islam where women have been praying since the establishment of the Islamic state," Abid said.

He said the only rule is that men and women must pray separately.

As such, Indian mosques that turn away the fairer sex don't do this out of discrimination, but because they lack the facilities to dedicate spaces for them to wash and pray, he claimed.

Arfa Khanum Sherwani, a journalist, noted that women in small towns and cities traditionally do not attend regular prayers at mosques, but are not technically barred from entering.

She said she has been to mosques in most of the country's major cities and seen women praying.

"There's no reason why a mosque should ban women," Khanum said.

Inam-ul-Haq, a New Delhi-based social activist, said the government was keen to focus people's minds on this issue to deflect attention from another controversial ruling against traditional Islamic law.

India promulgated an ordinance in January 2019 outlawing the practice of "triple talaq," according to which a Muslim man can legally separate from his wife simply by saying the word "talaq" (divorce) three times.

"If it wasn't trying to draw attention away from that, why would a non-issue like this (women in mosques) suddenly be brought to center-stage?" he asked.

He agreed that in some remote parts of the country it is considered "unusual" for women to leave their homes.

"But that is a cultural thing," he said. "Islam has nothing to do with it."

Hindus are by far the dominant force among India's 1.3-billion population, accounting for almost 80 percent of it. Muslims make up 14 percent and Christians just 2.3 percent.

Source: UCAN

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