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Status of Muslim women under

a) pristine Islam

b) Umayyad period immediately following the Prophet and the first four caliphs

c) Abbasid period following the Umayyad

d) Turkish period

e) Muslim rule in India f) Colonial rule g)

f) Colonial rule g)

g) the current crop of Wahabi regimes (the creed is discussed below) h) secular regimes like Turkey, Algeria, and a few others h) religiously anomalous regimes like Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria.i) Western Governments in Europe and North America is based on such criteria as education, exposure to other cultures, social and economic development and financial status. 

h) religiously anomalous regimes like Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria.i) Western Governments in Europe and North America is based on such criteria as education, exposure to other cultures, social and economic development and financial status. 

i) Western Governments in Europe and North America is based on such criteria as education, exposure to other cultures, social and economic development and financial status. 

h) religiously anomalous regimes like Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria.

i) Western Governments in Europe and North America is based on such criteria as education, exposure to other cultures, social and economic development and financial status. 

    The subject with its manifold aspects is not amenable to instant or easy definition or analysis as Muslims do not constitute a homogeneous society, and Islam, as Edward Said very aptly puts it in his book “Covering Islam”, in popular Western perception seems to mean one simple thing, but in fact, is part fiction, part ideological label, part minimal designation of a religion. 

    Followers of Islam are broadly divided into a) Sunnis (overwhelming adherents of the teachings of Imam Abu Hanifa, called Hanafi ) b) Shias ( predominantly mainline Twelve Imamites ), are roughly 4:1 in proportion.
    Hanafis, could for convenience be labeled moderates, venerate the period of the first four Caliphs as pious, vilify the Umayyad as usurpers, have chauvinistic respect for Abbasids, Turkish caliphs, and other Muslim rulers. put saints ( through whose teachings and example Islam spread in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, though Muslim conquests and overlordship played a substantial role) and holy men on pedestals of different heights, and subscribe to Sufi thought.
    Shias, on the other hand, believe that Imam Ali was the designated successor of the Prophet, and caliphate should have passed to the progeny of Imam Ali and Bibi Fatima, the Prophets favorite daughter. Since the disappearance of the last Imam (he was a child at the time, had hidden in a cave to escape persecution and has not been seen since but will return as a redeemer) a legitimate Muslim ruler can only act as deputy to the Imam as Ayatollah Khomeini did.
    Sunnis and Shias, though accord the same status to their women folk.
    Let us look at the immediate pre-Islam Meccan society. It was tribal but had an active mercantile class. Mecca was at the crossroads of caravan routes and Meccans were exposed to diverse cultures. It was, of course, male dominated, but there were note- worthy women too. The prophet’s first wife was a businesswoman; the prophet had actually been her employee. The first Umayyad ruler’s (Muaviya) mother Hinda actually controlled her clan and incited them to fight against Muslims. Women used to openly propose to men. In fact, when the prophet accompanied by his uncle, was going to visit his future wife Bibi Khatija to propose to her, a woman stopped him on the way and offered him a hundred camels if he would marry her. He is believed to have told her that if Khatija rejected him, he would return to her.
    A male issue, especially the first one, was preferred to a female one (as is the case even now among the majority of world’s population) and occasionally a father on the lunatic fringe would bury a female new first born alive. Women did not have well-defined property rights, were given away to cement tribal deals or friendship between families or to compensate for damage done by one family to another etc. (This is still done in Pakistan, though it is a norm only in the tribal/feudal section of the population.) They were regarded as property. Education rare in any event and was not deemed very useful. (The prophet had no formal education) so it is not surprising that girls would not get it. Remarriages and divorces were, however, not stigmatized. (Widow marriage and remarriage after divorce were not permitted in India. Hindus who converted to Islam retained most of their customs. Muslims who immigrated adopted a lot of customs prevalent in the country).
    So it is not entirely true that women were totally downtrodden in pre-Islam Arab society. They, in fact, enjoyed a better position than their contemporaries did in Europe.
    The prophet wrought great changes in the status of women, though they were never quite given parity with men. Newborn female murders were prohibited, women were given inheritance rights, girls getting half of what boys would get if there was no male issue, the boys share would go to a paternal cousin etc.

     The given wisdom was that girls would be the beneficiaries of what their husband would inherit from their families. In actual fact, the system kept the larger part of the property in the family. If a girl was given an equal share, she would take a greater part to her husband’s house. Giving two-third share of the property to a paternal cousin makes a  lot of feudal sense.
    Women continued to be regarded as property, they continued to be given away to influential/wealthy families regardless of the disparity in the age between bride and groom. Female consent was made a requirement but was usually taken for granted. They continued to be regarded as emotionally unstable and rather feeble minded and unclean during the menstrual period. They were not entitled to head an organization or the state, had only half a vote in evidence and were not allowed to enter a mosque during their monthly periods.
    The question of a female not being eligible to hold office as head of the state is not that cut and dried. When Miss Jinnah contested the election for the office of President of Pakistan, no less a scholar than Maulana Maududi declared that in an emergency a woman could become head of the state. He regarded usurpation of power by Ayub Khan as an emergency. 

    Considering that Western Style democracy in not compatible with Islam, in the sense that in democracy as known and defined in the west, the state may not give any religion precedence over all the others, Maulana Sahib was presenting a rather uncertain argument.
    In our corner of woods, the twin tiers area of upstate New York, the Islamic center has broken tradition and elected a woman President and vice-President too. At one time the office of treasurer was also held by a lady as well. Instead of subverting Islamic traditions this female regime is, if anything, more conforming. 
    Over and above the legalistic changes, women did acquire higher social status. Prophets last wife Ayesha (RA) led an army against Ali(RA) and his Grand daughter (Imam Husain’s sister) held soirees at her home.
    Women continued to hold their own during the rule of the first four caliphs and the following Umayyad period (about a hundred and fifty years) but lost ground (as did liberal, rational, analytical, progressive thought) during the Abbasid period. Abbasids had over thrown the Umayyads in the name of the prophet’s progeny, paid public homage to them, and were, therefore, beholden to the latter for their legitimacy.
    To consolidate their rule, they physically obliterated the leading Umayyads. They dare not treat the prophet’s family the same way, so wrested spiritual leadership from them by getting a congregation of Islamic Scholars to ban for ever all “Ijtihad” (analytic, rational, innovation, interpretation).
    Once firmly in control, they suppressed prophet’s family too.
    What right did the rulers, or for that matter scholars, had to prohibit rational application of scholarship when the prophet had not done it, has never been satisfactorily explained, except the patently lame and self serving explanation that what needed to be done had been done already, and further analytical thought would only lead to dissension. 
    Only the hitherto collected work of eminent scholars (Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafai, Imam Malik and Imam Hambal) could be relied on for Law/Jurisprudence/interpretation of Quran, the word of God, and Hadith, the prophet’s traditions, which is a collection of his sayings and narratives of his acts of life.  (The prophet himself gave explicit instructions that his sayings not be recorded, lest people take them at par with the Quran). The Abbasid are known to have coerced scholars to introduce several self serving “Hadiths” into collections of The Prophet’s sayings.) 

    Only the adherents of the prophet’s family, the Shias (Shia literally means adherent, Imam Ali’s (The Prophet’s son in law, and the fourth caliph) supporters were called Shian Ali) continued to (and still do) accept “Ijtihad”
    Because of the obvious lack of authenticity of all the Hadiths, learned scholars had to sift the “Sahih” ones from the doubtful ones. We have such work as Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Tirmizi etc. Women, as a result, had many rights including the right to consent to marriage compromised. A Wali ((father/guardian) could do it on her behalf.
    Society had undergone a sea change too. Abbasids saw the advent of feudal society with a caliph at the head of the hierarchy. Turkish caliphate was also based on feudal system
    Historically women have had a lesser status in feudal societies than they did in tribal ones. Their status did not change through the whole period of Turkish rule.
    Muslim period in India saw the intermingling of Arab/Muslim and Hindu/Indian cultures. Sanctity of motherhood was common to both. Successful invaders invariably impose their mores and norms. But they cannot escape the influence of the subject people. Muslims adopted the mores of sequestration of women, the stigma of divorce and loss of property rights, and female consent to marriage came to be taken even more for granted. 

    “Honor” killing, a euphemistic term for murder, a marriage of women to Qur’an, so property will not leave the family became prevalent (and persist to this day in Pakistan the leader of Peoples Party in Pakistan, a leading feudal of Sindh has married two of his sisters to the holy book)). Motherhood, however, acquired a higher status.
    Things went along much the same way during one thousand years of Muslim rule. In India. Except for building roads and palaces, the rulers didn’t do much, there was no emphasis on education, research, science or industry. Indians lagged behind, women even more so and were easily overwhelmed by Europeans who were hungry for resources and accidental beneficiaries of Industrial revolution British, French, Dutch, Italian, German, Northern Europeans and even lowly Portuguese acquired colonies.
    Turks had also run out of steam. Though their Empire lasted till the aftermath of W.W.1, they had already been dubbed sick man of Europe in the nineteenth century. In the later period of Turkish rule, Arabs tribal chiefs started resenting foreign overlordship. They initially undermined Turkish rule covertly. Eventually, they rebelled and conspired with The British and French colonial agents and became the beneficiaries of the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire. Turkish rule was no longer dynamic; cracks appeared in “ Fortress Islam” 
    Arab society had been decaying for centuries. A form of non-divine worship had crept in the belief system. People would go to shrines and tombs not just to ask the saints ( long since dead ) to intercede with God but actually to grant their wishes.
    Abd-al-Wahab a minor cleric, not by any measure a towering intellect, launched a campaign to rid the society of “heathen” practices. But in addition he forsook the basic tenets of the religion’s –respect and tolerance for different views, non-compulsion in adoption of a faith, sanctity of the brotherhood among the faithful, protection of minorities and substituted it with a culture of hate, intolerance, bigotry, harsh restrictions on women and general violation of human rights
    He did not make much headway till he made a compact with tribal chieftains who were conspiring with the British/French. Together they used the movement as a weapon against the Turks. They not only sold their souls to the British/ and French but undermined even early Islamic “Ijtihad” leaving the faith with pretty much sterile- pray, eat and procreate- claiming that the Quranic and Hadith injunction on acquiring knowledge meant learning only Quran and Hadith etc
    They introduced the concept of separation of religion in Saudi Arabia. The ruling clan is legitimized by the clerics who turn a blind eye to the doings of the princes. The king Fahad, when he was the crown prince, lost six million dollars in a casino in one night. On his return home, his elder brother King Faisal “grounded’ him to his country. Rulers in their turn support the mullahs. 
    There is a strong element of hypocrisy in their behavior. A large number of Wahabis live in the west inevitably getting involved in interest-based financial system, being exposed to females in skimpy dresses etc     They could easily live in their countries if they were prepared to give up the affluent lifestyle they enjoy here.
    Wahabi influence remained confined to Saudi Arabia for a long time. They did not amount to much till oil money started flowing into the country and the rulers, in order to keep fanatics at bay, and to divert their attention from the lavish and ostentatiously un-Islamic lifestyle of princes, persuaded the clerics to export their creed to poor Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan and several other such countries.

(This story has not been edited by BDC staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed from IANS.)



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