Friday, January 29, 2010

Which Then, Of The Favors Of Your Lord Wills O Jinn And Men You Twain Will Deny?

Starting from the creation of mankind to the judgment day everything is the creation of God. Allah is the lord of all the worlds, the heavens and the earth. Not even a bird can fly if God did not give him power to fly. Nor the boats float if there is no up thrust or buoyancy of water on the boat. Nor a creature can walk on earth if there is no gravity by God? Nothing can be stable if God takes the friction away.

We can never be able to count the blessings of God. Thus when awe can’t even count them how can we ever think of paying him back? That is impossible even this body and soul is a blessing of Allah. Starting from cradle to grave everything from the side of God is a blessing. Leadership is one of the blessings of God it has nothing to do with selection or election of people. When we read and learn Quran we find out what their real meaning of leadership and political power is in Islam. As it is said in Quran that:

“Allah has promised those of you who believe and do good works to make them masters in the land” (24:55).

This leadership is deserved by those who have completely surrendered themselves to the will of Allah. In Quran one example of this granting of leadership is Abraham. In Quran it is aid that Allah tested him in different ways and then gave him the gift of immamat. Allah tests the mankind all their lives and they are either granted with gifts, blessings or punished depending upon the result of their test. As it is said in Quran that:

God has made an example of the city which was once safe and peaceful. Its provisions used to come in abundance from every quarter: but its people denied the favors of Allah. Therefore, He afflicted them with famine and fear as a punishment for what they did. (16:112)

After the granting of what a man has deserved either he becomes proud of what he has or gets dismayed for what has been taken away from him. Man is so ungrateful and ignorant the powers of Allah.

The students of Islamic schools are able to put their lives in the best way Allah wants the muslims to be like, i.e. peaceful grateful and completely surrendered to Allah. This is done by teaching students Quran.

Online Quran is also spreading literacy is Quran in all the parts of the world.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Allah Knows by Zain Bhikha

The kids are learning the words - this is their new favorite!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Math Blackline Masters

These are for grades P through 9.


This week and last week have been tough, SubhanALLAH. My kids are sick (again), which means that I am sick and this time it is just dragging on and on.

I didn't get sick until last Thursday and it was just a minor cold at the time. It really kicked in on Friday night and the baby got sick too. The problem with being ill was the timing. My husband signed me up for Al Kauthar Institute's LORD OF THE WORLDS (Unity of ALLAH's Worship) course and the lectures are 8 hours, Saturday and Sunday. My husband really wanted me to attend - last year I took the Al Maghrib course online but he's persistent and wanted me to physically attend, so he watched the baby in the lobby until I could tend to her during the breaks. It was easy for him because she slept the whole time but it was hard for me because with each passing hour, I got a lot worse. I couldn't attend the second day, I was in pretty bad shape until today, AlhamduLILLAH, so my husband attended the second half.

Anyway, AlhamduLILLAH for the time that I was able to attend, Sheikh Chowdhury spoke about creation vs evolution theories and how to respond to atheists, among other things. The issues were addressed in an organized and proficient manner and it was relevant to this month's TMH topics.

Sheikh Chowdhury recommended reading Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael J. Behe. Behe writes that the theory of evolution is false based upon its inability to explain complex bio-molecular systems such as the human immune system, blood clotting and the building blocks of DNA. Read More...

Toronto Muslim Homeschoolers

This post is long overdue - I don't know why I put it off for so long!

January 2, I attended the Toronto Muslim Homeschoolers (TMH) group meeting for the first time, AlhamduLILLAH and had such a great experience. The sisters were warm and welcoming and I was downright giddy when I left there.

This month's main topic was science. It was beneficial to me to hear other sisters' ideas and learn of new resources and ways of teaching.

I learned that the group hosted a very successful science fair last year and in March, InshaALLAH, they will be hosting their second.

The group meets the first Saturday of each month at 9 A.M., alternately in the east and west ends (West End sisters are hosting in Feb. InshaALLAH). The membership is $25 for the whole year - I think it is well worth it, as there are organized playgroups, workshops, field trips, an annual picnic, and So Much More!

By the way, the sisters hosting the group provided some yummy food- I never had haleem before, but it was so good!

If you cannot attend, at least get permission from the moderators to sign up for the yahoo group, InshaALLAH. Read More...

How to Teach Science

Teresa Bondora walks you through various topics (you can sign up for the newsletter) and you can grab the free download at the bottom of the page to give you ideas for science. Read More...

She's Up to Twenty

When we started our school year, August 3, I scheduled time for my daughter to read each day. Then, I noticed that she was spending all of her off time reading and moving ahead in her reading program and pretty soon, we were catching her in the middle of the night, reading when she was supposed to be sleeping, reading next to the nightlight, (Oh the horror! Her poor little eyes).

Then, I started having flashbacks to the the Book It! Program from Pizza Hut, (do you remember it?)

In case you're wondering:

I am a home educator. Am I eligible to participate in BOOK IT!?
Yes, if you are a home educator and your K-6 child does not attend another educational facility, you are eligible to participate. All materials for the 2009-10 program have been allocated.

Since we missed it for this year, we will continue on our own and I will give her a small prize when she reaches 25 chapter books read (she's read 20 books - 19 chapter books) and a grand prize at 50 chapter books, InshaALLAH. She has to reach the goal by August 3, but I think she might do it by the end of spring.

Canada and Puerto Rico go here for your Book It! infomation. Read More...

Add These to Your Math Binder

Free Printable Sudoku Puzzles. I cut them out and glued them to a few pages. I might add some other math brainteasers and crossword puzzles. These can be used as a quick daily drill for my daughter, along with some mazes, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Muffled Voices: Socio-Cultural Impediments to Indian Muslim Women’s Struggles for Gender Justice

Muffled Voices: Socio-Cultural Impediments to Indian Muslim Women’s Struggles for Gender Justice

The numerous struggles of Indian women for gender justice have been well-documented by academics and scholar-activists. Several Indian women can be counted among key present-day feminist theoreticians, whose works are widely known and acknowledged internationally. Yet, broadly speaking, the women’s movement in India, as in several other ‘developing’; countries, remains, to a large extent, elitist. Almost all of its articulate spokeswomen are highly-educated ‘high’ caste Hindus, who form only a relatively small proportion of the Indian population.

This relatively elitist nature of India’s women’s movement explains, to a great extent, why women from the country’s most deprived and marginalized communities, particularly the Dalits or so-called ‘Untouchables’, the Adivasis or Tribal, indigenous people, and Muslims, have been largely left out of its purview, and are hardly to be found in its leadership positions. On the whole, and barring a few exceptions, ‘high’ caste Hindu women’s activists have evinced little or no interest in the particular concerns of women from these communities. There is no doubt that deeply-ingrained, and often unacknowledged, prejudice against these communities is a major reason for this. With regard to Muslim women, widespread anti-Muslim prejudice prevalent in the wider Indian society must be counted as one of the major factors for the perceived general lack of interest on the part of ‘secular’ women’s groups in Muslim women’s issues and problems. To add to this is the fear that taking up Muslim women’s concerns might invite the opposition of conservative ulema or Muslim clerics and stoke inter-communal controversy. This sidelining by ‘secular’ women’s groups of Muslim women’s concerns has been compounded by the tendency, boosted by the state, conservative Muslim leaders and the Hindu Right, to perceive Muslims solely in religious terms. Because of this, often ‘secular’ women’s groups interventions with regard to Muslim women focus simply on issues related to their religious identity (especially, certain aspects of Muslim Personal Law that are seen to militate against women), rather than on their manifold social, economic, and educational problems and concerns. On the other hand, it is also a fact that certain forms of feminism that are seen to demand complete equality (as opposed to gender justice) for women and men, and that are seen as anti-religion, have, understandably, not attracted many self-identified Muslim women (as opposed to a few highly-educated women of Muslim background whose ‘Muslim-ness’ is simply cultural or incidental and of no particular consequence or importance).

India’s Muslims, officially estimated at almost 200 million, make up the world’s largest population after Indonesia. Although numerous in absolute terms, they form only around 13 per cent of the total Indian population. Many Muslims, however, contest these figures, and claim that the census authorities have deliberately under-reported their population. Relatively little has been written about India’s Muslim women and their struggles for gender justice. While considerable literature exists about the myriad economic and social, educational problems of Indian Muslim women, as also about the particular problems that they face arising out of Muslim Personal Law, little has been written about how the social and cultural context of the Indian Muslim community as a whole acts as a major constraint in efforts to mobilize them for their rights and for gender justice.

This paper seeks, in a modest way, to address this lacuna in our understanding of Indian Muslim women’s efforts for gender justice. The paper uses the term ‘gender justice’ as distinct from ‘gender equality’, in that the latter implies sameness in status and roles between the genders, something that many Muslim (and other) women might not actually desire or see as religiously appropriate. The term ‘justice’ is more fluid, and can be construed in different ways to indicate different, often contrasting, notions of gender relations, status and roles, and need not necessarily imply sameness between the genders.

Indian Muslim women are routinely portrayed in the media as helpless creatures, as completely lacking agency, and as cruelly oppressed by their men and ‘obscurantist’, sternly ‘patriarchal’ male ulema. Ultimately, the source of their oppression is sought to be located in Islam itself, which is projected as an allegedly patriarchal religion, supposedly hostile to women’s rights and gender-justice. In this reading, the socio-cultural context within which Muslim women live and operate, which heavily influences their ability to articulate their demands for justice, is totally ignored. The central argument of this paper is that, contrary to media claims, it is not Islam per se that is the cause for Indian Muslim women’s overall marginalization and the visible lack of efforts to mobilize them for their rights. Rather, it argues, the cause must be located in the over-all socio-cultural context of the community (which also includes the presence and enormous influence of particular patriarchal interpretations of Islam). The paper also argues that gender-related oppression and marginalization of Indian Muslim women cannot be seen in isolation from the overall economic, political, and educational marginalistion of the Indian Muslim community, or large sections thereof. It cannot be seen as stemming simply from patriarchal interpretations of Islam or only due to patriarchal customs, practices and laws specific to the Indian Muslim community. In other words, the paper suggests, the struggle for gender justice for Indian Muslim women must necessarily be part of a wider struggle against the overall marginalization of the Indian Muslims as a whole.

The paper begins with a general over-view of the social conditions of the Muslims of India. It then goes on to examine how these conditions shape or produce particular impediments facing Muslim women that severely constrain efforts to mobilize for gender justice.

The Socio-Cultural Context of the Indian Muslim Community

Sectarian Affiliation and Differences

Despite being often projected as a monolith, India’s Muslims are extremely heterogenous. Some 85% of them are Sunnis, the rest being Shias. In turn, the Sunnis are divided on the basis of allegiance to different schools of jurisprudence or fiqh, most being Hanafis, with a small minority of Shafis and Ahl-e Hadith, who do not abide by ‘imitation’ or taqlid of any fiqh school. India’s Hanafi Sunnis are also divided on the basis of school of thought or sect (maslak). Probably a slim majority follows traditions associated with various Sufi silsilahs or orders and saints and the cults centred on their shrines. These cults are often heavily influenced by local, or, for want of a better term, ‘Hindu’, beliefs and practices. Another large section among the Indian Sunni Hanafis are associated with the more scripturalist Deobandi tradition and the now global revivalist Tablighi Jama‘at that is linked to the Deobandi tradition. The Deobandis do not oppose Sufism per se but only practices that are seen as ‘un-Islamic’ which are often associated with local Sufi cults. The Islamist Jama‘at-e Islami, founded in 1941 by the well-known scholar- activist Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi, also has a considerable following among some sections of the Indian Sunni community.

India’s Shias are divided into three major groups. By far the most numerous of these are the Ithna Ashari or Imami Shias, followers of a chain of twelve Imams. The other two major Shia groups in India are both Ismailis, followers of a chain of seven Imams—the Bohras, or the Mustalian Ismailis, and the Khojahs, or the Nizari Ismailis. The Bohras, in turn, are divided into five different sects, each of which follows its own spiritual leader or dai-e mutlaq.

Each of these various Indian Muslim groups operates as an independent community. They are, generally, endogamous, and have their own separate community organizations, including mosques and madrasas. Each of these groups claims to represent the sole ‘authentic’ understanding of Islam. Sectarian divisions continue to run very deep among the Indian Muslim community, and there has been no serious effort to seek to bring the different sects together on a common platform to address issues of common concern. This factor of the overall Indian Muslim community being so heavily fractured on the basis of fiqh and maslak acts a major hurdle not just for Muslim unity, but also for efforts to mobilize Indian Muslim women for gender equality transcending sectarian lines. Often the salience of sectarian divisions and differences causes gender issues to be silenced from public discourse.

Caste and Class Divisions

Although Islam does not countenance caste and caste-based divisions and discrimination, like all other communities in India the Indian Muslims are divided on the basis of caste. There are literally hundreds of Muslim castes (biraderi or zat) across India, each of which operates as an endogamous group. The vast majority of these castes are descendants of converts from ‘low’ caste Hindu groups. Despite their conversion to Islam, in some cases many centuries ago, their overall social and economic conditions have remained pathetic. Many of these caste-groups are extremely poor, having little or no land of their own. Their levels of literacy are among the lowest in the country as a whole.

On the other hand are some caste-like groups that claim foreign (Arab, Iranian and Central Asian) descent, such as the Syeds, Shaikhs, Pathans and Mughals. They form only a relatively small minority among the Indian Muslims. Generally, they see themselves as ‘superior’, based on their claims of being descendants of India’s former Muslim rulers and feudal elites, and hence their title of Ashraf or ‘noble (or, in Arabic, shurafa). They are heavily over-represented among the Muslim elites, far beyond what their numbers warrant. Most Muslim political and religious leaders are drawn from these castes. Typically, they are seen as taking little or no interest at all in the manifold problems of their ‘low’ caste co-religionists or in articulating their concerns. It is thus hardly surprising that the particular social, economic and educational problems of ‘low’ caste Muslim women (who form the vast majority of Indian Muslim women) are given little or no attention by the largely ashraf Muslim community leadership.

Caste and class continue to overlap in India even today. The vast majority of India’s Muslims, being descendants of ‘low’ caste converts, continue to be characterized by extremely low-levels of literacy, endemic poverty, high rates of unemployment and poor living conditions. Their overall status is said to be even worse than that of the ‘Hindu’ ‘low’ castes. In addition to the general indifference and apathy of ‘high’ caste Muslims, they also face various forms of discrimination from the wider Hindu society and from agencies of the state. Typically, the localities where they live are starved of any form of state-funded facilities. Their womenfolk are characterized by abysmal levels of literacy. In some of these communities, the female literacy rate is less than even 5 per cent, with young girls (and boys) being compelled to work outside the home in order to help their families make their ends meet and barely survive. Understandably, therefore, for most of them, it is daily bread-and-butter issues of simple survival that are of primary concern, not gender justice within their own families.

In most struggles to mobilise women for gender justice across India (and elsewhere, too) middle-class, modern-educated women have taken a leading role. They have set up organizations and publications for this purpose, and have also provided these struggles with direction and theoretical focus. In this regard, the relative absence of major or noteworthy Indian Muslim women’s struggles for gender justice can be related to the very small Muslim middle-class and intelligentsia in India as a whole, some regional variations notwithstanding.

A massive section of the Muslim middle-class, as well as feudal elites, especially in north India, where the bulk of the Indian Muslims are concentrated, migrated (either on their own volition or out of compulsion) to Pakistan when British India was divided into the new states of Pakistan and India in 1947. Several women among this middle-class had played a key role in Muslim women’s struggles for education and economic uplift in the period leading to India’s Partition. The loss of the bulk of the liberal middle-class in 1947 left the Indian Muslims, particularly in the north which was most affected by the Partition, leaderless. The majority of the north Indian Muslims who remained behind in India was from the ‘low’ castes. The place of the middle-class and feudal elites who had claimed to represent them prior to the Partition was now assumed largely by the religiously-conservative ulema, whose views on women and women’s issues were hardly conducive to Muslim women’s mobilization for their rights and for gender justice. The Indian state, too, saw it expedient to accept these ulema as the ‘representatives’ and spokesmen of the Muslim community as they made minimal demands on the state in terms of resource allocation to Muslims for their social and economic development—their major demands being symbolic or related to religious matters, such as patronizing the Urdu language (spoken by a large section of Indian Muslims), protecting Muslim Personal Law and providing facilities for Hajis.

In the years after 1947, a small modern-educated middle-class has emerged among Muslims in some parts of the country. Typically, however, they do not take any active interest in the problems of the poor Muslims, including their womenfolk. The quest for upward social mobility and material acquisition appear to be their primary concern. In these times of mounting Islamophobia, their neglect of the rest of the community, of largely poor, ‘low’ caste Muslims who live in slum ghettos in urban areas and in villages, and their reluctance to vocally champion Muslim interests or denounce anti-Muslim discrimination has also to do with the fear of being branded as ‘communal’ and ‘fundamentalist’ by the largely Hindu middle-classes whom they seek to bond, professionally and socially, with—efforts to articulate even legitimate Muslim demands and concerns being often dismissed as akin to supporting ‘fundamentalism’ by many non-Muslims in India today.

Priorities of Indian Muslim Community Organisations

It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of funds mobilized from within the Muslim community in the form of zakat and sadqah go to fund madrasas and mosques, which number in the tens of thousands across India. Partly because of the low levels of literacy in the Muslim community as a whole and the relatively small size of the liberal Muslim middle class, the number of Muslim community organizations engaged forms of community service (including those that focus on women’s issues) other than strictly religious is relatively negligible. That the overwhelming majority of Muslim NGOs in India concern themselves almost wholly only with provision of religious education owes, among other factors, to the social influence of the ulema, the perceived lack of religious awareness among the Muslim masses and, as many Muslims see it, the perceived threats to Muslim faith and identity in India today. Admittedly, a few Muslim organizations are indeed engaged in providing education and vocational skills to Muslim women, but hardly any of these have taken up issues related to patriarchy within the Muslim community as a major focus. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of the few Muslim women’s organizations whose particular focus is on interrogating patriarchal prejudices and practices have to rely almost entirely on funds from outside the community-such as from Indian and international NGOs. This inevitably opens them to the charge of being ‘agents’ of ‘anti-Islamic’ forces.

Issues related to Muslim women’s economic and educational problems, rights and advancement do not form a priority at all in the agenda of almost all Muslim organizations that claim to speak for the Muslims of India, and whose claims are often accepted as such by the state and the media. The leadership of all these organizations is entirely male. Some of them, such as the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, do have a token women’s membership, but, inevitably, these handpicked women remain silent and have no influence at all.

The silence of such Muslim organizations on issues of Muslim women owes not simply to deeply-rooted patriarchal biases—although this is a central reason. Equally important is the factor of mounting Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination, violence directed against Muslims by Hindu chauvinist groups, often abetted by agencies of the state, and perceived threats to Muslim faith and identity. These are seen as such overwhelming problems and of such immediate priority that they have tended to overshadow other issues afflicting the community (and not just Muslim women’s issues) as reflected in the discourse and demands of these Muslim organizations. The unenviable predicament of being a beleaguered minority that sees itself as a victim and as heavily discriminated against has, understandably, caused issues related to mere survival as well as those related to communal identity to take centre-stage in the Muslim community’s discourses and demands. At the same time, some critics argue that these Muslim organizations and their leaders seem to have a vested interest in keeping Muslim discourses and demands made on the wider society and the state restricted to issues related to Muslim communal identity or those that involve conflict with the dominant Hindus for, mobilizing the community on these issues, they are able to maintain their position as leaders. It is argued that were these leaders and the organiations they are associated with to take up the myriad social and economic problems and concerns of the Muslim masses (including Muslim women) in place of ‘communal’, ‘symbolic’ or ‘religious’ issues, their own vested interests would be harmed. In other words, so the oft-heard allegation goes, these leaders have a vested interest in maintaining Muslim poverty, illiteracy and ‘backwardness’ (including that of Muslim women), for in their absence they would be unable to play on their religious sentiments and take advantage of their ‘ignorance’ in order to garner support for themselves in their role as putative leaders of the community. In addition, with a few very rare exceptions, elected Muslim politicians are seen as unable, indeed unwilling, to take up many Muslim concerns (including that of Muslim women) and to take an independent stand in this regard as they are generally members of Hindu-dominated political parties. They find themselves as more answerable to their political parties than to their Muslim voters. They also probably realize that being too vocal about the problems that Muslim women face from their own menfolk would cost them the loss of many Muslim votes as well as considerable opposition, which they do not wish to court.

The overwhelming concern of Muslim organizations in large parts of India with religious and identity-related issues (to the relative neglect of other issues, such as the problems of Muslim women) has much to do with widespread and mounting anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiments fanned, among others, by viscerally anti-Muslim Hindu chauvinists and large sections of the Indian media. These forces are seen as having an interest in constantly provoking Muslims by seeking to embroil them in controversies over perceived threats to their identity or that involve conflicts with Hindus, for this inevitably diverts the Muslims’ attention from issues of community reform and development or from making substantive demands on the state, thus reinforcing Muslim marginalisation and subjugation. At the same time, constantly raking up controversies that inevitably involve conflict between Hindus and Muslims serves as the principal means for the Hindu Right to garner Hindu support.

In other words, therefore, both the anti-Muslim Hindu Right as well as sections of the Muslim leadership are seen as being jointly complicit in forcing issues related to the economic, political, social and educational marginalization of Muslims (including Muslim women) to be overshadowed by religious and identity-related issues and controversies that involve Hindu-Muslim conflict. This has created a climate which has made it even more difficult for Muslim women to stress their concerns and problems and to struggle for equality and justice.

State Policies vis-à-vis Muslims

As even numerous official reports, commissioned by the state, the Indian Muslims continue to suffer considerable deprivation, indeed discrimination, at the hands of agencies of the state. This is reflected, for instance, in the very low levels of state-funded provision in Muslim-dominated localities and regions. The benefits of most of the very few programmes that the state has instituted for Muslims have been cornered by a small class of elites, and has not benefited the masses. The state has instituted no specific provision for Muslim-women. The attitude of the state must be seen as a major factor in shaping the context which Indian Muslim women face that limits their educational and employment prospects and that severely constrains their ability to have their voices and concerns heard.

Patriarchy and the Ulema

Patriarchy and patriarchal prejudices, needless to stress, are a phenomenon common to all the communities of India, and not specific to the Indian Muslims alone. Among numerous Muslim groups across India, certain anti-women practices are a result of the influence of the overwhelming Hindu presence and of Hindu practices and beliefs that continue to remain deeply-rooted despite their conversion to Islam. These include prohibition of widow remarriage, denial of women’s right to inheritance (despite this being provided for in Muslim Personal Law as it exists in India today), harassment of brides for dowries and even, in some cases, dowry-related murders.

Muslim-specific expressions of patriarchy are reflected in the existing, officially-recognised Muslim Personal Law statutes and in the discourse of the conservative (male) ulema. According to the Muslim Personal Law, as implemented by the Indian courts, Muslim males have the right to marry up to four women at a time without needing to seek the permission of their existing spouses. Sunni (though not Shia) husbands can also divorce their wives at will—simply by uttering the word talaq in one sitting, without needing any witnesses or having to go through any sort of process of arbitration. A few vocal Muslim women’s groups have critiqued these laws, but this has inevitably caused them to be accused by the conservative ulema and many Muslim organisations of being allegedly in league with the ‘enemies of Islam’, of being ‘irreligious’, ‘Westernised’ and ‘anti-Islamic’ and ‘anti-shariah’, of seeking to do away with Muslim Personal Law altogether and of plotting to ‘divide Muslims’.

At a time when many Muslims feel themselves under siege from various quarters, such allegations receive wide support and currency and have certainly dampened efforts by a few Muslim women’s groups to demand for a change in these laws. In part because of these fears, many Indian Muslim and secular women’s groups today are demanding not an abolition of Muslim Personal Law or the introduction of a Common Civil Code applicable to all Indian citizens, but, rather, a reformed Muslim Personal Law that is in line with their vision or version of the shariah that reflects a more gender-friendly understanding of Islam. Some such groups have come out with draft proposals for a gender-egalitarian Muslim Personal Law to replace the existing code and with a model nikah namah or marriage contract agreement that does away with what are seen as anti-women provisions of the existing Muslim Personal Law. Influenced, in part, by feminist or women-friendly interpretations of Islam produced by Muslim women’s activists in other countries, they are seeking to promote legal reforms by operating within an Islamic framework and using Islamic arguments.

These efforts to reform Muslim Personal Law from within by these women’s groups have met with no practical success. With the exception of some, most ulema probably believe that these women (who are mostly educated in secular institutions and lack classical Islamic training) do not have the capacity or the right to interpret Islam on their own. They are also seen as seeking to challenge the authority of the ulema. Most traditional ulema are wedded to the doctrine of taqlid or strict adherence to the opinions of the classical fuqaha or jurists. Muslim women’s efforts to engage in their own ijtihad to provide more women-friendly understanding of fiqh and to challenge certain patriarchal practices (such as arbitrary divorce or denial of access to worship space in mosques) that are legitimized by the dominant Hanafi school of jurisprudence are seen as a deviation from, and a challenge to, the position of the classical jurists and are thus decried as unacceptable. Because of the powerful influence that the conservative ulema exercise and their political clout, the state has consistently refused to consider any changes in the existing Muslim Personal Law as suggested by these women’s groups, which would inevitably be branded by sections of the ulema as ‘interference in the shariah’.

The growing influence of numerous Islamic movements in different parts of India today is a major force shaping prospects for Muslim women’s mobilization for their rights. Some of these are actively involved in promoting girls’ education (seeing this as Islamically-mandated) and in social reforms, critiquing certain anti-women practices that they regard as un-Islamic. At the same time, however, several other such groups uphold an extremely conservative interpretation of Islam, insisting that Muslim women veil themselves completely, remain bound in their homes, be subservient to their husbands, restrict themselves only to religious education, and so on. Needless to say, this ongoing internal contestation over normative Islam and Islamic teachings about women will prove to be a determining factor in shaping the possibilities and spaces open to Indian Muslim women to mobilize for gender justice.


This paper has sought to provide a general overview of the overall socio-cultural context of the Indian Muslim community, focusing, in particular, on how this context shapes and limits the possibilities for Indian Muslim women’s struggles for gender justice. It argues that, contrary to widely-held assumptions, it is not Islam per se but, rather this particular context (which includes the wide prevalence of certain patriarchal interpretations of Islam) that serves as the major hurdle to such struggles. In doing so, it suggests that the movement for Muslim women’s equality cannot be reduced, as some have sought to, simply to articulating alternative or gender-friendly interpretations of Islam. Although this, too, is vital, it alone cannot suffice. Without addressing the particularly dismal social, economic and educational conditions of the Indian Muslim community as a whole, and the undeniable discrimination that many Indian Muslims suffer from agencies of the state and from the wider society, efforts for meaningful transformation in the lives of Muslim women will necessarily remain limited. Without equality and justice for the Indian Muslim community as a whole, equality and justice for Indian Muslim women will continue to remain elusive. Read More...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interview: Nasr Abu Zaid on Reforming Islamic Thought

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd is a well-known Egyptian Islamic scholar. In 1982, he joined the faculty of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at Cairo University. In 1995, he was promoted to the rank of full professor, but controversies about his academic work led to a court decision of apostasy and the denial of the appointment. A hisbah trial started against him by Islamist groups and he was declared a heretic (Murtadd) by an Egyptian court. Consequently, he was declared to be divorced from his wife, Cairo University French Literature professor Dr. Ibthal Younis. This decision, in effect, forced him out of his homeland and seek refuge in the Netherlands, where he now works. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he speaks about his work and reflects on his efforts to promote a humanistic reading of the Islamic tradition.

Sikand: You have been writing on the question of human rights in Islam for a long time now. What are you presently working on?
Nasr Abu Zaid: I am presently working on a project that explores and develops the notion of the rights of women and children in Islam. The aim of the project is to promote knowledge of the traditional sources of Islam, such as the Qur'an, the Sunnah or practice of the Prophet and fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, within Muslim communities so as to help promote general awareness of these rights. Alongside this, the project also seeks to critically look at aspects of tradition that might appear to militate against these rights.

In the course of your work how do you relate to those aspects of the historical Islamic tradition which you think might be opposed to the notion of women's and children's rights?

Every tradition has both negative as well as positive aspects. The positive aspects are to be further developed, while the negative aspects need to be discussed closely, to see if they are indeed essential elements of the faith or are actually simply human creations.

How does this work relate to what you have been previously engaged in?

I see it as part of my long interest in Islamic hermeneutics, the methodology of understanding the Qur'an, the Sunnah and other components of the Islamic tradition. Of particular concern for me are certain assumptions in popular Islamic discourse that have not been fully examined, and have generally been ignored or avoided. Thus, for instance, Muslim scholars have not seriously reflected on the question of what is actually meant when we say that the Qur'an is the revealed 'Word of God'. What exactly does the term 'Word of God' mean? What does revelation mean? We have the definitions of the Word and revelation given by the traditional 'ulama, but other definitions are also possible. When we speak of the 'Word of God' are we speaking of a divine or a human code of communication? Is language a neutral channel of communication? Was the responsibility of the Prophet simply that of delivering the message, or did he have a role to play in the forming of that message? What relation does the Qur'an have with the particular social context in which it was revealed? We need to ask what it means for the faith Muslims have in the Qur'an if one brings in the issue of the human dimension involved in revelation.

Are you suggesting that the Qu'ran cannot be understood without taking into account the particular social context of seventh century Arabia? In other words, are there aspects of the Qur'an that were limited in their relevance and application only to the Prophet's time, and are no longer applicable or relevant today?

What I am suggesting is that in our reading of the Qur'an we cannot undermine the role of the Prophet and the historical and cultural premises of the times and the context of the Qur'anic revelation. When we say that through the Qur'an God spoke in history we cannot neglect the historical dimension, the historical context of seventh century Arabia. Otherwise you cannot answer the question of why God first 'spoke' Hebrew through his revelations to the prophets of Israel, then Aramaic, through Jesus, and then Arabic, in the form of the Qur'an.

In a historical understanding of the Qur'an one would also have to look at the verses in the text that refer specifically to the Prophet and the society in which he lived. Some people might feel that looking at the Qur'an in this way is a crime against Islam, but I feel that this sort of reaction is a sign of a weak and vulnerable faith. And this is why a number of writers who have departed from tradition and have pressed for a way of relating to the Qur'an that takes the historical context of the revelation seriously have been persecuted in many countries. I think there is a pressing need to bring the historical dimension of the revelation into discussion, for this is indispensable for countering authoritarianism, both religious and political, and for promoting human rights.

Could you give an example of how a historically grounded reading of the Qur'an could help promote human rights?

Take, for instance, the question of chopping off the hands of thieves, which traditionalists would insist be imposed as an 'Islamic' punishment today. A historically nuanced understanding of the Islamic tradition would see this form of punishment as a borrowing from pre-Islamic Arabian society, and as rooted in a particular social and historical context. Hence, doing away with this form of punishment today would not, one could argue, be tantamount to doing away with Islam itself. By thus contextualising the Qur'an, one could arrive at its essential core, which could be seen as being normative for all times, shifting it from what could be regarded as having been relevant to a historical period and context that no longer exists.

If one were to take history seriously, how would a contextual, historically grounded understanding of the Qur'an reflect on Islamic theology as it has come to be developed?

As I see it, Sunni Muslim theology has remained largely frozen in its ninth century mould, as developed by the conservative 'Asharites. We need to revisit fundamental theological concepts today, which the Sunni 'ulama, by and large, have ignored, for there can be no reform possible in Muslim societies without reform in theology. Till now, however, most reform movements in the Sunni world have operated from within the broad framework of traditional theology, which is why they have not been able to go very far.

How would this new understanding of theology that you propose reflect on the issue of inter-faith relations?

When I suggest that we need to reconsider what exactly is meant by saying that the Qur'an is the 'Word of God', I mean Muslims must also remember that the Qur'an itself insists that the 'Word of God' cannot be limited to the Qur'an alone. A verse in the Qur'an says that if all the trees in the world were pens and all the water in the seas were ink, still they could not, put together, adequately exhausted the Word of God. The Qur'an, therefore, represents only one manifestation of the absolute Word of God. Other Scriptures represent other manifestations as well. Then again, many Sufis saw the whole universe as a manifestation of the 'Word of God'. But, today, few Muslim scholars are taking the need for inter-faith dialogue with the seriousness that it deserves. Most Muslim writers are yet to free themselves from a rigid, imprisoning chauvinism.

How does this way of reading the Qur'an deal with the multiple ways in which the text can be understood and interpreted?

The Qur'an, like any other text, can be read in different ways, and there has always been a plurality of interpretations. The text does not stand alone. Rather, it has to be interpreted, in order to arrive at its meaning, and interpretation is a human exercise and no interpreter is infallible. As Imam 'Ali says, the Qur'an does not speak by itself, but, rather, through human beings. True, Muslims from all over the world, do share certain rituals and beliefs in common, but their understanding of what Islam and the Qur'an are all about differ considerably. It is for us to help develop new ways of understanding Islam that can promote human rights, while at the same time being firmly rooted in the faith tradition. Read More...

Comparative religion analysis

God created Adam taught him that God id his lord and gave him knowledge. Then HE gave him a free will so that he can distinguish between good and evil. Then in every time he sent is guidance so that the human races don’t say that they were not guided in the right direction. Islamic schools are one form of preaching Islam.

Then he sent his books torah, Psalms and Gospels to guide people. And finally he sent the Quran. Which is the final scripture sent by God. Therefore we see Quran and Sunnah guiding us to learn Quran.

And [O Prophet!] We have revealed to you the Book with the truth in confirmation of the shari’ah before it, and standing as a guardian over it. Therefore give judgment among these [People of the Book] according to the guidance revealed by God and do not yield to their whims by swerving from the truth revealed to you. For each of you, we have ordained a shari’ah and assigned a path, and had God pleased, He could have made of you one community: but it is His wish to try you by that which He has bestowed upon you. So, compete with each other in good deeds. To God shall you all return. Then He shall disclose upon you all your differences. (5:48)

Quran is an instinctive Guidance, the Sunah of Abraham, and the Scriptures of the Prophets. Quran tells us the concept of good and bad and preaching:

And true believers, both men and women, are friends to one another. They urge one another to what is good and forbid what is evil; (9:71)

Then in Quran HE asks us to follow the religion of Abraham:

Then We revealed to you to follow the ways of Abraham, who was true in faith and was not among the polytheists. (16:123)

Then he sent his books torah, Psalms and Gospels to guide people. History tells us that that Christians and Jews have made modifications in there scriptures.

[O Prophet!], He has revealed to you the Book with the truth, in confirmation of the scriptures which preceded it; and before this He has already revealed the Torah and the Gospel for the guidance of mankind, and [after them] revealed this Furqan. Indeed, those that deny God’s revelations shall be sternly punished; God is mighty and capable of retribution. (3:3-4)

It is mentioned in Quran that these were also books of GOD:

O Prophet (sws)! We have sent revelations to you as We sent revelations to Noah and to the prophets who came after him, and as We sent revelations to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his progeny and to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, Solomon, and We gave the Psalms to David. (4:163)

We have online Quran to have an analysis of comparative religion.


Educational Revolution in Mewat

Yoginder Sikand

Lying to the immediate south of Delhi, straddling the rocky outcrops of the Aravalli range, is the region known as Mewat, named after the Meo Muslims, the principal community living in the area. Mewat covers large parts of the Gurgaon and Faridabad districts in Haryana and Alwar and Bharatpur in Rajasthan. Recently, a separate district was carved out of the Meo-dominated parts of Haryana and also given the name of ‘Mewat’.

Two decades ago I used to regularly visit Mewat—for my Ph.D dissertation, which was about the history of the global Islamic revivalist Tablighi Jamaat, now the world’s largest such movement, which had its roots in the humble hamlets of Mewat in the 1920s. It was the Tablighi Jamaat that put Mewat on the map of the world. Some months ago, I returned to Mewat, after a gap of fifteen years, curious to learn how much, if at all, the region had changed in this period.

Despite its proximity to Delhi, Gurgaon and Jaipur, Mewat is one of the most impoverished regions in northern India. When I did fieldwork in the region in the 1990s, the literacy rate among the Meos, more than a million-strong community, was estimated at less than 10 per cent, and that of Meo females at lower than 5 per cent. This was attributed to extreme poverty (most Meos being small peasants) as well as the influence of the ultra-conservative Tablighi Jamaat, which was seen as being opposed to education imparted in regular schools, particularly for girls, believing that this would lead the Meos astray from Islam.

Two decades later, the Mewat is still characterized by endemic poverty. The villages and towns I visited this time seem to have hardly changed in terms of looks since I saw them last. But for a couple of recently-constructed large, brightly-painted mansions and a few new shops (only a few of which were Meo-owned), Nuh and Ferozepur-Jhirka, the two largest towns in Mewat, seemed to be no different from what I remembered of them from my earlier visits. In fact, they only seemed to have become even more filthy and chaotic. The villages I travelled to seemed to have remained frozen in time—the same squalid mud huts, the same visible signs of neglect by the state, the same scene of Meo women labouring in the fields while their menfolk squatted on cots sunning themselves or sucking away at their hukkahs at roadside eateries. But one change struck me forcefully throughout my trip: a distinct thirst on the part of many younger Meos for ‘modern’ education—nothing short of a revolution in terms of demands, hopes, and expectations.

This was quite in contrast to what I had witnessed on my first visit to Mewat, in the late 1980s, when there was not a single Meo-run school, when there were hardly a dozen or so Meo girls in government-run schools throughout the region, and when many local ulema or Muslim clerics, mostly affiliated to the Tablighi Jamaat, openly condemned ‘modern’ schools as dens of irreligiousness and licentiousness, insisting that the Meos should send their children only to madrasas instead. Today, however, literally dozens of ‘modern’ schools run by Meos have mushroomed all over Mewat; girls are enrolling in these and in government-run schools in rapidly increasing numbers; many ulema are in the forefront of promoting ‘modern’, in addition to religious, education among the Meos; and scores of madrasas have begun teaching English and Hindi, with some of them having actually transformed themselves into regular schools.


Located on the outskirts of Ferozepur Jhirka town is the sprawling 15-acre campus of the recently-established English-medium Aravalli Public School, the largest Meo-run school in Mewat. Founded by a retired Meo engineer, Muhammad Israil, this residential school has some 600 students on its rolls, 60% of whom are Meos, and roughly 10% Muslims from other parts of India, the rest being from other religious communities. 60 of the school’s 70 girl students are Meos. The costs of studying here are exorbitant by average Meo standards, but tuition fees are waved for girls in order to encourage more Meo girls, whose overall literacy rate is less than 15%, to enroll. The schools’ principal is a Hindu. Most teachers are non-Meos, including Muslims from other parts of India as well as non-Muslims from Mewat.

The school’s well-maintained campus is lined with fine buildings built around a vast playing field. The swank technical training institute was built with aid from the Japanese Embassy, so I am informed by a student who takes me around, and the girls’ hostel building that is still under construction is being financed by the Islamic Development Bank.

It is late in the afternoon, and the students pour out of their hostels and onto the playing field, forming teams to play football and cricket. They are dressed in jeans or shorts, and brightly-coloured T-shirts or jackets and sneakers. None of them sports the almost mandatory Tablighi-style beard that almost every Meo male in their fathers’ generation does. These students are nearly all Meos—I can hardly believe that at first, for hardly any Meo boys dressed like this when I last visited the area. A dozen girls, Meos all, take a sprint around the playing field, brandishing their badminton rackets. Needless to say, that would have been considered sheer anathema two decades ago.

I stare, dumbstruck, at the students, stunned at what I see before me. When I first visited Mewat, the parents of most of these students would almost all have been un-educated peasants—their fathers dressed in long kurtas, tahmats and ponderous turbans, their mothers, wholly illiterate, kept carefully cloistered in their homes when they were not compelled to work in the fields.

That a major section of Meo youths are today defying deep-rooted traditions by clamoring for ‘modern’ education is undeniable, and signs of this are today visible all over. I am not sure if this is an entirely positive development, though. Need ‘modernisation’ necessarily be equated with ‘Westernisation’? Does it have to also necessarily imply ‘secularisation’, in the sense of focusing wholly on worldly knowledge and ‘success’, consequently trivializing religion and moral values? These crucial questions are being raised by many Meos themselves, who fear that the irrepressible desire on the part of Meo youths for ‘modern’ education might seriously erode traditional, religious values and promote crass consumerism. This is summed up in a complaint of a maulvi attached to a Deobandi madrasa located adjacent to the Aravalli Public School—‘The school has no facility for teaching Islamic Studies. All that they are taught is about this world (duniya)—how to gather more information and degrees so that they can get highly-paid jobs and lead a life of ease and comfort.’


Devising an educational system that balances the needs of the duniya and the deen or religion has been a longstanding concern for Muslim educationists. When I first visited Mewat, I came across almost ulema who were supportive of, leave alone actively engaged in, promoting ‘modern’ or ‘secular’, in addition to religious, education. In contrast, on this trip, I met with numerous maulvis, all graduates of what are commonly considered to be ‘orthodox’ madrasas, who have set up their own schools that impart a healthy mix of both sorts of learning.

One of these ulema is an old friend of mine, 33 year-old Qari Sirajuddin of Bhadas village near the town of Nuh. The last time I met him was when he was 18 years old. He had just completed his religious education at the Jamia Sanabil, an Ahl-e Hadith madrasa in Delhi, and had returned to his village, where he had started a small maktab in a two-room tenement to provide basic Islamic education to girls. Today, what started off as the Madrasat ul-Banat Ayesha Siddiqa is now the Al-Falah Model Senior Secondary School. Affiliated to the Haryana Educational Board, it provides education till the twelfth standard. It has almost 700 students on its rolls, of whom almost a hundred are non-Muslims. Girl students number some 125, of whom 25 are Hindus, and the rest Meo Muslims. The school supplements the government-approved syllabus for modern subjects with compulsory Islamic Studies, Urdu and Arabic for Muslim students and Sanskrit, for Hindu students.

What, I ask Qari Sirajuddin, made him transform what began as a girls’ madrasa into a co-educational secondary school? ‘There are scores of madrasas in Mewat’, he answers, ‘but what we lack are sufficient general schools, for which there is now increasing demand’. Further, he adds, ‘I did not want to keep depending on people for donations (chanda), which I would have had to had I continued to run it as a madrasa. As a school it can generate funds for itself through the fees that it charges’.

Several other small madrasas across Mewat might, too, like to make the shift and become regular schools, albeit with provision for Islamic education for their Muslim students, Qari Sirajuddin tells me. However, a major hurdle in this regard are the government’s stringent norms for providing recognition to private schools that most such madrasas fail to meet. As per the existing rules, to qualify for official recognition an institution must possess a basic minimum plot of land (half acre for primary schools, one and a half acres for middle schools and two acres for high schools)—which effectively rules out most madrasas. Likewise, an institution must possess a certain number of rooms of a particular size, a library with a basic specified number of books and so on, which many smaller madrasas, that run small budgets based on donations, simply cannot afford. Were the government to lower these requirements in the case of madrasas, Qari Sirajuddin suggests, several small madrasas in Mewat might well transform themselves into regular schools. ‘That’, he says, ‘would be a much less expensive and controversy-free way to modernize madrasas.’

Qari Sirajuddin’s own family, whom he introduces me to over a hearty meal at his home, exemplifies the rapid transformation that the Meos are today undergoing in terms of their approach to education. Although himself a madrasa graduate, none of his children is training to become a traditional alim or Islamic scholar. The first two of his six children, including one girl, study in modern, privately-run ‘public’ schools, and the rest in his own school. His brother, also a graduate of a traditional Ahl-e Hadith madrasa (the Madrasa Riyaz ul-Ulum, Delhi) has just finished a degree in Social Work from the Jamia Millia Islamia and hopes to join the civil services.

His support for ‘modern’, in addition to religious, education, Qari Sirajuddin assures me, is something that he shares with increasing numbers of ulema today—not just in Mewat, but across other parts of India, too. ‘Even some very conservative Deobandi Meo ulema, who traditionally frowned on modern schools, have opened such institutions, fearful that otherwise Muslim children would study in non-Muslim schools, because of which they might, as they see it, go astray’, he tells me. Madrasas throughout Mewat, he says, have now introduced basic English, Hindi and Mathematics in their curriculum, mainly because they realize that this is what parents of most Meo children now also want. At the same time, he laments, few of these madrasas take the teaching of these subjects seriously. ‘Some of them claim to be teaching English and other such subjects simply to keep the mouths of their critics shut and to stave off criticism that they are not giving their students a well-rounded education’, he says. ‘The managers of most madrasas do not know English or other modern subjects themselves, and so are not in a position to prescribe a proper syllabus for these subjects and to supervise the teachers they appoint for teaching them.’ Many of them also feel, Qari Sirajuddin goes on, that if they were to deviate from the traditional Deobandi-style curriculum by giving more than just a basic attention to modern subjects they would be criticized by their religious ‘elders’. Typically, he says, the staff they employ for teaching these subjects are simple high school graduates, with no training at all, and with a very poor command of these subjects.

Be that as it may, the very fact that Mewat’s madrasas, once known for their visceral opposition to what they saw as the baneful influence of ‘Western-style’ education imparted in schools, are increasingly willing to incorporate these ‘Western’ subjects into their curriculum is ample proof, Qari Sirajuddin assures me, of the veritable revolution in the demands and expectations of vast numbers of Meo parents as regards the education of their children.


The last time I visited the Madrasa Arabiya Dar ul-Ulum Subhaniya, on the outskirts of Ferozepur Jhirka town—in 1992—it was housed in an ancient, crumbling mausoleum—said to have once hosted the grave of a Shia nobleman who died some 400 years ago. Today, the madrasa has undergone considerable expansion. The sprawling tomb-structure is cemented and neatly whitewashed, a number of low-lying buildings have come up around it, and the madrasa is now surrounded by a well-trimmed lawn with plenty of trees and flowering plants.

The founder of the madrasa, the amiable, 60 year-old Maulana Ilyas Qasmi, a graduate of the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband and currently head of the Haryana wing of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, has aged considerably since I last saw him. Yet, he still recognizes me as I step inside, and rushes up to envelop me in a warm embrace. He seats me down on a mattress on the floor and tells me excitedly about the progress his madrasa has made in the years since I last visited it. It now has some 150 students—almost all Meos. In addition to regular Islamic subjects, it now also teaches English, Hindi and Mathematics, till the fifth grade level. Those who teach these subjects are themselves maulvis, though, the Maulana admits, they are not well-qualified for the task. ‘We wish we could appoint better qualified teachers for these subjects, but such teachers demand high salaries, which we cannot afford’, he says.

Maulana Ilyas is a passionate advocate of ‘modern’ education, as well as education for girls. ‘When Islam has forbidden neither of these’, he says, ‘who are some so-called maulvis to forbid them?’ No reliable maulvi has ever issued a fatwa against modern education, he hastens to tell me. All that they are opposed to is blind Westernisation and loss of religious faith, commitment and identity that often characterizes students who study in regular school. Islam and modern education, he says, must go together. The Meos need both, he insists. That is why, he says, madrasas, too, need to reform. ‘Often, madrasa students cannot read English or Hindi, which not only causes many practical problems for them but also causes them to feel inferior, forcing them to depend on others in situations that require knowledge of such languages’, he rues.

Lamenting what he describes as the rapid ‘Westernisation’ of the Meo youth, particularly, he points out, under the influence of television, the Maulana admits that the process appears unstoppable. ‘When people begin to regard something bad as good, it become very difficult to stop it’, he explains. This is another reason, he says, why madrasas must teach their students—would-be ulema—the basics of ‘modern’ subjects. ‘By familiairising themselves with these subjects, they can understand and speak in the language and idiom of the educated classes and explain Islam to them in an appropriate manner’, he points out.

In order to ‘modernise’ Mewat’s madrasas, the Government has instituted a special scheme, Maulana Ilyas tells me. But, he laments, this have made little progress. He cites reports of endemic corruption as one basic cause for its failure. ‘A number of people set up fake madrasas simply to siphon off funds from the scheme’, he says. And, he adds, government servants administering the scheme were said to demand a hefty ‘cut’ before sanctioning money to madrasas that applied to avail of it. To make matters worse, he says, those administering the scheme were not too serious about them—perhaps they were loathe to see the Meo Muslims progress.

Yet another reason why the government-funded scheme for madrasa ‘modernisation’ found few takers in Mewat was because some larger madrasas, in Mewat and elsewhere, vociferously denounced the scheme as an alleged conspiracy against Islam and the madrasas. Maulana Ilyas dismisses this charge as unfair. ‘Some such larger madrasas simply want to maintain their supposed superior position and keep the smaller madrasas below them. Hence their opposition to the scheme. Some of them even went to the extent of announcing a social boycott of the smaller madrasas that wanted to avail of government funds under the scheme’, he relates.

Like a few other madrasas in Mewat, the Madrasa Arabiya Dar ul-Ulum Subhaniya brushed aside the opposition of some maulvis and decided to avail of the Government’s madrasa ‘modernization’ scheme for a period of two years. Under the scheme, the madrasa received a sum of three thousand rupees per month as salary for one teacher appointed for ‘modern’ subjects for every forty students, plus an annual grant of eight thousand rupees to buy equipment. ‘Contrary to what many maulvis had claimed’, Maulana Ilyas stresses, ‘there was no effort on the part of the Government to interfere in the madrasa’s curriculum and system of functioning through the scheme.’

Maulana Muhammad Husain, Maulana Ilyas’ eldest son who helps him run the madrasa, exemplifies a new sort of ulema that is today fast emerging in Mewat—socially-engaged and supportive of ‘modern’, in addition to religious, education for Meo children, both boys and girls. Two of his four sons study at the English-medium Aravalli Public School near Ferozepur Jhirka, and they also attend religious classes in the madrasa after class hours. ‘They are babus during the day and maulvis at night’, Maulana Husain’s friend Qari Sirajuddin jokes. Maulana Husain has high ambitions for his sons. Strikingly, he does not want them to become maulvis like himself and his father. ‘I hope they will become doctors, engineers, lawyers or government officials. But, at the same time, they must have a good grounding in religious education’, he tells me.


Another institution that I visit on this trip is the Muhammadiya High School, in the village of Sakras, not far from Ferozepur Jhirka. When I saw it last—in 1992—it was a small madrasa. Now transformed into a regular co-educational school, it caters to almost 400 children, a fourth of who are girls. A little more than a tenth of the students of this Meo-run school are Hindus, the rest being Meos. The school follows the syllabus prescribed by the Haryana Board, to which it is affiliated, but it also has facilities for Urdu, Arabic, and Islamic Studies. Although its medium of instruction is Hindi, it arranges for its senior students to take the examinations conducted by the Jamia Urdu, Aligarh.

At the school I met a maulvi—whose name I forgot to ask—who teaches Islamic Studies to students in the primary and middle classes. He opines that it is imperative that the madrasas modernize by introducing at least a basic modicum of modern subjects in their curriculum. This, he says, is crucial especially since in Mewat the ulema continue have a very strong influence, and if they are seen as supporting modern (in addition to religious) education, it can have a very powerful and positive impact on the wider Meo society, inspiring Meo parents to seek modern, in addition to Islamic, education for their children.

At the same time, the maulvi is critical of some maulvis, associated with the larger madrasas, who are vehemently opposed to any sort of modernization, including the government’s madrasa modernization scheme. ‘They are financially strong, so they feel no need to take advantage of this scheme. They fear that through the scheme the government might interfere in their finances’, he surmises. ‘They continue to spread rumours that the government is engaged in a conspiracy to interfere in the madrasas and, thereby, to destroy them in the name of reforms. In this way, they want to keep modern education out of the madrasas’, he continues. He is clear, though, that madrasas must not balk at teaching their students the basics of ‘modern’ subjects—with or without the financial assistance of the government—because, otherwise, he warns ‘madrasas will find themselves anachronistic, being unable to keep up with the times.’ ‘Madrasa students who don’t know a word of Hindi or English feel terribly ashamed when they have to seek the help of others for even such small matters as filing in railway reservation forms or for writing an address on a letter. Being forced to be helpless in such matters is quite contrary to the stature that one expects of the ulema’, he bemoans.

Another man I meet at the school is 68-year old Maulana Kamaluddin Nadwi, a Meo graduate of the renowned Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa in Lucknow. Uncle of the director of the school, Abdul Ghaffar, he is, in some sense, the main inspiration behind it. ‘Over time’, he tells me, ‘many Meo ulema have changed their position on modern education. Only a few of them—maybe just a fifth—remain somewhat opposed to it in its present form. They fear that the sort of education that is imparted in general schools will impact negatively on the religious identity and commitment of Meo children. At the same time, they realize that the demand for modern education is immense. That is why they have been forced to modify their views.’

Maulana Nadwi comes across as a passionate advocate of what he calls ‘a balanced and holistic Islamic concept of education’, combining both modern as well as Islamic subjects. He does not conceal his differences with those maulvis, such as some very staunch activists of the Tablighi Jamaat, which still remains strong in Mewat, who argue that modern education is opposed to Islam, a claim, he argues, that they assert simply to promote their own vested interests that depend on keeping people ignorant. He recites an Urdu couplet to stress his point:

Mudda tera agar duniya mai hai talim-e deen

Tark-e duniya qaum ko na sikhlana kabhee

(‘If you want to promote religious education in the world, do not teach the community to renounce the world’)

It is not simply out of practical considerations that Maulana Nadwi argues for a healthy mix of both ‘modern’ and Islamic subjects in the madrasas. Rather, he says, his appeal is based on his understanding of Islam, which, he says, countenances no division between religion and the ‘this-worldly’, unlike Christianity. ‘Muslims pray to God for success in both this world and in the life after death’, he reminds me, ‘so how can we, especially our ulema, ignore knowledge of this world?’ ‘The Quran refers to those who have truly submitted to God as the best community, which has been created for the welfare of people’, he poignantly asks, ‘but what welfare can we present-day Muslims provide others when we ourselves have no knowledge of the present world?’

Maulana Nadwi passionately argues the case for Meo girls’ education, lamenting that the Meos have one of the lowest rates of literacy among all the various communities that inhabit India. ‘Islam insists that education is a duty binding on all Muslims, men as well as women’, he says, ‘and hence those who oppose girls’ education, ironically in the name of Islam, adopt a completely anti-Islamic stance.’ In sharp contrast to most other Mewati maulvis, Maulana Nadwi argues that Islam does not prohibit Muslim women from seeking suitable employment outside their homes, if the need so arises, or from playing roles in the public sphere. ‘While abiding by the rules of Islamic decorum, Muslim women must participate in public activities and take up suitable careers. In this way, they can have a salutary impact on people of other faiths who have negative views about Islam, based on serious misunderstandings and on wrong interpretations of the faith on the part of many Muslims themselves’, he stresses.


The winds of change blowing across Mewat have not left even traditional madrasas unaffected. Many of these have now included a basic course in ‘modern’ subjects while continuing to focus mainly on traditional Islamic learning. One such madrasa is the all-girls’ Madrasat ul-Banat Khadjiat ul-Kubra at Patparbas, near the town of Nagina. Established in 1994 by Maulana Syed Muhammad Sulaiman, it is one of Mewat’s only two girls’ residential madrasas. Associated with the Deobandi school, the syllabus it follows is ‘traditional’. Texts penned by numerous Deobandi elders specifically for women, most notably Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi’s Bahishti Zevar and Bahishti Sumar, form the core of the madrasa’s five-year maulviyat course, after which students are encouraged to shift to the Jamiat us-Salehat, a large girls’ madrasa in Malegaon, Maharashtra, to train for an additional three years in order to become full-fledged religious scholars or alimas. Presently, some sixty Meo girls, aged between six and fourteen, study and stay at the madrasa. Education is free, but a monthly fee of three hundred rupees is charged for boarding and lodging, but only from those girls whose parents can afford it.

In addition to the core religious or traditional subjects, students at the madrasa now also learn basic English, Hindi and Mathematics, besides practical skills such as tailoring, embroidery, cooking and first-aid. Says Maulana Sulaiman, ‘The Prophet made education a duty for all Muslims, including women. It is as important as food is. The real ulema have never opposed girls’ education or modern education, unlike what is often alleged. Instead, what they are against is immorality, un-necessary intermingling of the sexes, and licentiousness. Otherwise, they have no problem with them.’

That statement I am to hear from almost every Meo maulvi I meet on this trip—a clear indicator of the veritable educational revolution underway quite unnoticed in Mewat today.


Because the Tablighi Jamaat, today the world’s largest Islamic movement, had its roots in Mewat, many Meos identify themselves with it—even if, for many, this may be only nominal. The founder of the Tablighi Jamaat, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, is credited with having founded a number of maktabs and madrasas in Mewat in the 1920s. Today, there are several hundred such Islamic schools across the region.

Returning to Mewat after almost two decades, I was eager to learn if the veritable revolution that was so apparent in terms of many Meos’ desire for modern (in addition to Islamic) education for their children was shared by the Meo ulema as well. When I conducted fieldwork in the region in the early 1990s, the general perception was that the majority of the local ulema, mostly associated with the Tablighi Jamaat, were not at all enthusiastic about modern schools, particularly because they considered their general environment to be ‘un-Islamic’. I wanted to find out if that was how the ulema in Mewat continued to feel.

Established in 2005, the Ma‘adan ul-Ulum in Jhimravat village in Ferozepur Jhirka’s Nagina block is a modest-sized madrasa. Maulana Ilyas, its head, is an active worker of the Tablighi Jamaat. ‘There is no division between religious and worldly education in Islam’, he tells me, quite in contrast to what many other Tablighi activists would claim. His own son, he says, is studying at the Jawaharlal Nehru university in New Delhi, citing this as proof that he and many of his fellow ulema are not opposed to modern education in principle. He notes, with considerable enthusiasm, that while two decades ago there were hardly any privately-run Meo schools in Mewat, today they number almost 50, although this figure is less than half of those run by non-Muslim Mewatis.

Yet, the Maulana does not favour the teaching of modern subjects in the madrasas beyond a basic limit. ‘The burden would get too much for the children, already loaded with a heavy curriculum, to bear’, he argues. He, however, admits the need for madrasas to have a basic understanding of modern subjects, pointing out that his madrasa had earlier employed a teacher for English and Hindi but that he had subsequently quit his job. ‘Our community does need modern education’, he explains, ‘but those who want to go in for that sort of education at a higher level should study in schools. Why expect madrasas to cater to their needs?’

Another alim associated with the Tablighi Jamaat, Maulvi Qasim, principal of the Madrasa Muhammadiya Anwar ul-Quran, on the outskirts of Ferozepur Jhirka town, echoes similar views. ‘The Mewati ulema, by and large, now do not oppose children studying in regular schools, provided it does not lead to them straying from Islam’, he says. One reason for the relatively low rates of enrolment of Meo children in government schools and their high drop-out rates, he explains, is that in many such schools in the region, students are made to recite Hindu prayers—their teachers and principals being largely Hindu. ‘In many villages, parents of Meo children have only two choices—to send their children to such schools or to none at all’, he says, adding that the best alternative is for the Meos to start their own modern schools which should also provide some religious education. With average Meo landholdings rapidly shrinking and Mewat still starved of canals, he says, the largely peasant Meos are now realizing the importance of modern education. ‘Earlier, they used to be largely self-sufficient farmers, and so they considered a bit of religious education enough for their children,’ he points out. ‘Now, with the growing economic crisis in the agricultural sector, they need to go in for new occupations, for which they realize that they also need modern education.’ This realization is also visible in Meo Tablighi ulema circles, he says. ‘Today, relatively few Tablighi activists, mainly those who have little knowledge or awareness or who are very traditionalist in their thinking, continue to oppose modern education’, he comments.

Maulana Khalid, head of the Dar ul-Ulum Mewat in Ferozepur Jhirka, is the son of the founder of this madrasa, Maulana Ishaq, one of the closest Meo disciples of Maulana Ilyas, founder of the Tablighi Jamaat. Established in 1994, the madrasa provides a traditional Deobandi-style education, based on the dars-e nizami pattern, till the fazilat level, one of the only four madrasas in the whole of Mewat to do so.

A year ago, the madrasa introduced the teaching of basic Hindi and English to the 35 children on its rolls. ‘We did so because of compulsion (majburi)’, Maulana Khalid admits. ‘Worldly subjects are not compulsory, while the sixteen disciplines taught through the dars-e nizami are’, he contends. ‘We want to keep our students useless (be-kar) as far as the world is concerned so that they can focus only on religion (deen)’, he explains when I ask him why he does not believe that modern education is necessary for the would-be ulema that his madrasa is training. ‘Only that knowledge (ilm) is important that helps us in the Hereafter (akhirat). Secular knowledge is important only to the extent that it helps us follow the deen. One can be without secular knowledge and still be a good Muslim,’ he claims.

Maulana Khalid vigorously shakes his head in denial when I opine that secular education is crucial for Muslim empowerment. ‘The President of India was a Muslim, and so were top police officers, when thousands of Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002’, he retorts, ‘but they did not open their mouths against that barbarity. It was the ulema, who don’t have secular knowledge, who did so.’

Nor does Maulana Khalid believe, as some contend, that it is the lack of ‘scientific’ education that is keeping Muslims ‘backward’. ‘All great scientific inventions were actually made by Muslims’, he contends. ‘It is not the lack of scientific knowledge that is the cause of our malaise but, rather, the lack of faith (iman)’, he stresses. ‘All this is a result of a Jewish conspiracy. Enemies of Islam have spread all manner of immorality among Muslims in order to weaken them,’ he rattles on, visibly irritated.

The conversation turns to girls’ education. ‘Islam does not prohibit it’, the Maulana says, ‘but in today’s times it is virtually impossible for women who have a secular education to lead Islamic lives, and so it is better to refrain from it,’ he argues.

The Madrasa Moin ul-Islam, Mewat’s largest madrasa, located in Ferozepur Jhirka town, was set up by Maulana Ilyas, founder of the Tablighi Jamaat, in 1922. Run directly by the Tablighi Markaz, the global headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat in Basti Nizamuddin in New Delhi, it has some 300 students, almost all Meos, on its rolls. It follows the traditional Deobandi-type syllabus and has made no provision at all for teaching modern subjects.

Says 35 year-old Mufti Zahid Husain, the director of educational affairs (nazim-e talimat) of the madrasa, a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum in Deoband, ‘We are not opposed to Meo children taking to modern education, but we don’t want to teach subjects like English here because then our students will be neither partridges nor quails (na teetar na bater). They would not be good maulvis nor good scholars of modern subjects’ He is, however, open to the idea of madrasa graduates joining colleges and universities, if their intention, he adds, is to use this knowledge for what he calls ‘service of Islam’. He cites with approval the example of some new Muslim-run centres in the country that train Deobandi graduates in a range of modern subjects, including English, and encourage them to enroll in universities for a wide range of courses, not just Islamic Studies.

That I find a pleasant surprise, for twenty years ago, when I visited the very same madrasa, I was told by a senior maulvi who taught there that universities were ‘slaughterhouses of the faith’.

The winds of change have thus, it appears, not left even the bastions of conservatism in Mewat—the Tablighi madrasas, who describe themselves as ‘fortresses of the faith’ (deen ke qile)—unaffected.


On my last day in Mewat, I fixed an appointment to meet a Meo woman whom I had heard much about—46 year-old Mohammadi Begum. When I did fieldwork in Mewat two decades ago, she was the only Meo female to have earned a Bachelor’s degree. Today, there are some three hundred others like her—which, considering that the Meo female population is estimated at around 600,000, still does not amount to much.

When I met Mohammadi ji, she was surrounded by a flock of men and women who had come to hear for various requests, for, as a well-known social activist, she has wide contacts in all the right places. I asked her to tell me her story—from being a girl child of a poor Meo family, fighting against poverty and deeply-entrenched patriarchal prejudice, to becoming the first-ever Meo woman to study in college and acquire a government job.

‘My parents were not educated but they were socially very aware’, Mohammadi begins. ‘We shared our house in Maholi village with a family of Punjabi Hindi refugees from Pakistan. They had educated their girls, and so my parents felt that they should do so, too.’ Those were the days when hardly any Meo girls went to school, being made to work in the fields or graze livestock instead. ‘My mother insisted that she would do all the work but that we all—me, my two sisters and two brothers—must go to school. At that time it was simply unheard of for Meo girls to ride cycles, but my mother insisted I should learn to do so. If boys could ride circles, she would say, why not girls?’

Mohammadi’s elder sister soon dropped out of school, and began helping her father on his small plot of land. She tended to the family’s buffaloes, selling their milk to earn money to support her siblings’ education. Mohammadi, however, continued with her education. In 1979, she passed the matriculation examination, and, four years later, won the proud distinction of becoming the first Meo woman graduate. Many men in her family frowned on the idea of her enrolling in college. Some even claimed it was not proper for Muslim girls to do so. ‘My brother opposed this, saying that boys might trouble me’, Mohammadi goes on, ‘but my mother told him off, saying that he was useless if he could not protect me from the boys’.

At this juncture, one man came to her rescue—Mr. Madhur, the Hindu principal of the Nagina College. ‘Madhur Sahib was so excited on learning that I, a Meo girl, had passed the tenth grade exam that he came all the way to our house and pleaded with my father to let me study in his college. We did not have enough money for the fees. Madhur Sahib covered the charges himself, saying that I was like his own daughter.’

Mohammadi did so well in college that from the second year of her BA degree she began receiving a scholarship. And, contrary to the fears that she might go ‘astray’ or be troubled by boys, the boys in her college, mostly non-Muslims, came to greatly respect her, she says with a hint of well-deserved pride.

After her graduation, Mohammadi worked as a teacher for a year at the government’s Bal Bhawan school in Nuh town—the first Meo woman to take up such a post. A year later, in 1984, she married Basheer Ahmad, who was then a naik in the Indian Army and who later went on to become an engineer in the Haryana Electricity Board and then a Sub-Divisional Officer and the sarpanch of his village. When her husband was posted to Hyderabad, she went to Delhi and enrolled for a Master’s programme in History at the Jamia Millia Islamia, after which she did a degree in Library Science from the same university and B.Ed. from Sonepat University. In 1988 she joined the government’s Mewat Model School in Ferozepur Jhirka town as a librarian—again, the first Meo woman to take up such an occupation—a post that she continued in till 1996.

‘I wanted my husband to have at least a graduate degree’, Mohammadi relates, ‘and so I insisted that he enroll in an engineering course. He did so, failing five times consecutively, but I told him never to give up. Finally, in the sixth attempt, he passed!’

‘I loved my work in the library’, Mohammadi rambles on, ‘but I wanted to do something more substantial for my people, especially for Meo women, who have the dubious distinction of being the least literate women in the whole country. Gruelling poverty, deeply-rooted male prejudice and authoritarianism, opposition from some maulvis and indifference on the part of politicians and bureaucrats all add up to make life for Meo women extremely harsh.’ Mohammadi then joined the Mewat Mahila Evam Bal Vikas Sanstha, an NGO working for Mewati women and children. Her task was mainly to promote women’s empowerment, health and self-help groups and vocational centres. She carries on this work today, but in the capacity of field-coordinator for projects run by the government-funded Mewat Development Authority. As part of her work, she often travels outside Mewat for workshops and seminars on women’s issues.

‘I’m kept busy the whole day, traveling throughout Mewat. I leave home at 7 in the morning and get back only by around ten at night’, she says. Witnessing her dedication, she says, even diehard religious conservative among the Meos, including Tablighi Jamaat activists and ulema, many of who frown on women working outside their homes and dealing with men, now hold her in high regard. ‘I have found that if one’s intention is good, then no one will object’, she muses. Seeing her example, she says, her relatives who had initially opposed her going to college are sending their own girl children to school. ‘The greatest joy for me’, she tells me, ‘is when people tell their girls that they should become like me.’

A mother of four—two girls and two boys—Mohammadi wants her children to carry on in her path. Her eldest child, Feeha Benzair, scored almost 90% in the twelfth grade and is now in Kota, where she is taking tuition for the medical entrance examinations. Her other children are still at school. She has high hopes for them. ‘I want them all to live in Mewat and to work for our people’, she beams. Read More...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

She's Got Mail

My daughter was so happy today to receive her first pen pal letter! Her pen pal included these cute stickers, MashaALLAH and my daughter couldn't be more thrilled.

We've already mapped out where everyone lives on our map and I think we'll take a cue from Umm Tafari's blog post and have a few geography lessons, InshaALLAH.

JazakILLAH Khairin to the sisters who have made this happen - AlhamduLILLAH we've also found a pen pal for my son,(InshaALLAH we will mail his first letter soon).

This is a coloring page that came with her letter. She colored it right away and wanted to show her pen pal.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Cheat Sheets for Teachers

Go here to see all 100.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Button Garden

I have a ton of buttons that I keep in a jar. I saw this last week online and added it to the workbox this week. It was an instant hit, especially since glue was involved. Simple. PDF for the paper if you want it is here.

Ah yes, it's from the free downloads section of How About Orange. Read More...

Starting a Fire With Coke and Chocolate

This is a tutorial from Wildwood Survival

From My Inbox

LOL, I get the most Emails from my husband - literally hundreds just waiting to be read. He finds good stuff all the time and I can't keep up with checking it. Here's a good one:

"The bigger desire you have for a sin, the bigger your eemaan is if you leave it."

Imaam Muhammad bin Saalih bin al-`Uthaymeen (Rahimahullaah)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Online Quran Learning – The Benefits!

The exact meaning of Quran is "the recitation". Entailing this, learning and reciting this holy book is considered as one of the greatest and noblest acts that can be performed by any Muslim. Quran reading can surely refresh us and give us a feeling of being under the blessings of the Almighty Allah. Everyone knows that the holy Quran is rich with information on all subjects and is equally beneficial to us in this world and hereafter, and due to this many online platforms have been established where you can learn and read Quran online.

Online Islamic school is a source for quality online education for Quran, Hadith, Fiqah and many other Islamic topics. There are qualified Islamic teachers are available to help learn Qur'an online according to Tajweed rules, providing one-on-one lectures. Tajweed and its application can only be learned with a qualified teacher. The rules themselves can be studied independently, but their correct application can only be done by listening to, reciting to, and being corrected by, a qualified teacher of the Qur’an.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "The most superior among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Qur'an and teach it." [Sahih Bukhari (Book #61, Hadith #546) thus the importance to learn Quran is evident as it is the last revelation of GOD. One meaning of Qur’an is "recitation", the Qur’an itself outlining the general method of how it is to be recited: slowly and in rhythmic tones. Tajwid is the term for techniques of recitation, and assessed in terms of how accessible the recitation is to those who are intent on concentrating on the words and recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones.

The Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “Read the Qur’an, for verily it will come on the Day of Standing as an intercessor for its companions.” [Muslim]

Monday, January 11, 2010

LOL I Blame Umm Raiyaan For This

She's thinking about making changes to her blog - and the more I thought about her blog post, the more I wanted to change mine. Then, I stumbled across these free backgrounds and well, I had to go there. If it hurts your eyes I can tone it down, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Arabic translation ترجمة جميع اللغات

Arabic translation ترجمة جميع اللغات

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I don't know who said it, but I thought it was nice. :) Read More...

Workboxes Work So Far

AlhamduLILLAH, my daughter and I are really enjoying the workboxes. She likes having her work set out for her and it helps me to focus on the younger children without having to tell her what is next all the time.

We were able to schedule some exercise (they get it when they play but it's nice to have something structured), and a scheduled snack.

Qur'an is not neglected anymore, AlhamduLILLAH. It's right there in her workbox so when it comes up, she goes to the computer and plays her mp3 to learn her surah. She knows all of Suratul Balad now except one line, mashaALLAH. Later in the day, we recite what we know and practice with one another or she works with her Dad while I work with her younger brother. MashaALLAH, he knows Fatiha, and Nas and part of Ayatul Kursi now.

I still have readers from Calvert School (bought on Ebay a long time ago) so I pulled them out to work with my son. He's doing well but he prefers to read from lined paper instead of the book for some reason. I wrote the sentences on paper and then I gave him a crayon and asked him to search for certain words and circle them.

I visited Islamic Bulletin Boards and downloaded the 99 Names and Attributes of ALLAH thermometer - another task that we need to add to the list, InshaALLAH.

There's always much to do but InshaALLAH we'll get it done. Read More...