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Islam and Women: Issues through Indian Muslim Scholarship-I

‘Islam and Women’ is one of the most fiercely debated and discussed topics
12:00 AM Mar 21, 2024 IST | Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray
islam and women  issues through indian muslim scholarship i

“It can be hardly disputed that woman’s status and rights in one of the most controversial topics in Islam” (Zeenath Kausar, in Journal of International Women’s Studies, 2014: 165); “it is difficult to find a subject that has generated more controversy in the modern Western media and public discourse than the status of women in Islamic societies” (Alexander Knysh, Islam in Historical Perspective, 2017: 323); and “Islam and Women is a very broad topic and as complex as the lives of women that it encompasses in a broad swath of the world” (Asma Afsaruddin, Oxford Handbook of Islam and Women, 2023: 1).


These statements from the works published in last decade not only depict the scenario vis-à-vis the issues surrounding the issue of ‘Islam and women’ but also reveal clearly that ‘women in Islam’ is one of the most fiercely debated and discussed issues/ topics in the current academic discourses on Islam, and there are numerous ‘misconceptions’ and ‘misinterpretations’ related to their status or place, role, and contribution.


Numerous works, written from different perspectives, deliberate on this topic, and thus it appears as a ‘never-ending’ debate. Like other scholars across the globe, Muslim scholars of India too have contributed, and are contributing, to this discourse.

Among this (plethora of literature), below is presented an assessment and appraisal of some selected recent English works authored by Indian Muslim scholars/ writers bringing out a clear picture of the rights, status, contribution, role, and problems (social, educational, political, etc.) faced by Muslim women.


The first work reviewed here is Muslim Woman—What Everyone Needs to Know (hereinafter Muslim Woman), an edited volume by Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai and Dr Juhi Gupta (both from Aligarh Muslim University) published by Viva Books, New Delhi, in 2019.


Issues and Challenges faced by Muslim Women in Theory and Practice: Muslim Woman examines ‘various aspects of the lives of Muslim women particularly in education, career, personal law, economy, social relations, etc.’ With contributors from young and senior writers from different universities across India, belonging to ‘diverse disciplines’, Muslim Woman analyses “various issues concerning Muslim women, while taking into account the Quranic perspective” and seeks “to answer questions which are rooted in widespread misperceptions about Muslim women”. Interdisciplinary in nature, Muslim Woman provides a “holistic picture of contemporary issues and challenges that Muslim women face today” in ‘patriarchal’ societies, while not overlooking their rights and position as envisaged in the original Islamic teachings (p. xxiii).


The book is preceded by ‘Foreword’ by Professor Akhtarul Wasey (an eminent scholar of Islamic Studies who has served, among others, as Professor in the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi and President, Maulana Azad University Jodhpur), ‘Preface’ by the editors and a ‘Prolegomenon’ by Claire Chambers, an expert in South Asian literature and Professor of Global Literature at the University of York, England.


In his ‘Foreword’, Professor Wasey very eloquently points out the “growing transformation in the Muslim mindset about gender parity”, though today “the world is abuzz today with the slogans of women empowerment” (p. xi). He argues that “Islam treats men and women alike, as is evident from their attributes discussed in the Quran”, but contrary to the “egalitarian Islamic laws, women do not get their due in Muslim society” today; they are “denied what Allah and His Messenger granted them”; “Islam had bestowed upon women the very same rights and privileges, which are being demanded now” by them through protests, through NGOs, and through the discourse of ‘Islamic feminism’, etc. (p. xi).

The issues highlighted, and major arguments put forth in the respective chapters are broadly divided into six (6) major ‘Sections’: Section-1 (chapters 1 and 2) discusses ‘Muslim Women in the Primary Islamic Sources’ asserting that “the Quran is remarkably free of any misogyny” because the “Quranic stance on woman, supplemented and complemented by Hadith, stands out for gender parity, justice and fairness, which are essential for a happy, mutually rewarding social fabric” (p. 28). With reference to the status, rights, role and freedoms enjoined by Islam to women it argues that “some Muslims misquote the Quranic verses, ignore the clear and authentic directives of the Prophet’s reports and deduce improper meanings” (p. 32).

Section-2 of this volume discusses the topics and issues related to ‘Muslim Women’s Rights and Laws’ and covers five chapters (chapters 3-8) on polygamy, divorce laws, triple talaq, contemporary women scholars and their contribution, and the question of ‘the freedom to choose a career’ by Muslim women. Some main arguments puts forth are: (i) Islam “merely permitted the practice [of polygamy] under very specific conditions” with the aim of providing “protection and dignity to the widows, and the orphans”, and as “a practical strategy [designed] to solve a particular social problem” (p. 46); (ii)

Though divorce is permissible in certain circumstances but is considered a “necessary evil” and it can “prove divine” rather than “draconian”, “if the procedure for divorce is followed in accordance with the teachings of Islam” (p. 58); (iii) the issue of “forbidding women from frequenting mosques” is not only a “discrimination against” them but a practice “against the very teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah” (pp. 79, 85); and (iv) “Islam has freed women from ages of oppression rather than keeping them in the shackles of bondage” and thus today “they need to introspect” in the light of Islamic sources why their condition has “take downhill path” (pp. 87, 94).

Section-3, consisting of three chapters (9-11), covers the theme ‘Muslim Women and Education’;

Section-4 highlights ‘Socio-Economic Status of Muslim Women’ (and consists of chapters 12-15);

Section-5 (chapters 16-17) is devoted to the discussions and discourses on ‘Muslim Women vis-à-vis Feminism’ and addresses and explores the questions and issues related to Islamic and western feminism, respectively; and in its final section it includes ‘Interviews of Contemporary Women Studies Scholars and Creative Writers’ on diverse aspects of ‘feminist/ gender/cultural studies’.

Thus, this Volume brings together interdisciplinary perspectives not only to highlight, and explore, diverse issues faced by Muslim women currently, but also clarifies various stereotypes, misconceptions, and misperceptions associated with the rights, role, contribution and responsibilities of Muslim women. In sum, Muslim Woman presents a holistic picture of contemporary issues and challenges faced by Muslim women in 21st century ‘patriarchal societies’ vis-à-vis the role and position of women in the light of original Islamic teachings.

The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, GDC Ganderbal (J&K).