My grandmother and I were always at my mother’s bedside when she fell seriously ill. We took care of her day and night. No one else was by her side for too long at that time.
The men of the family were busy with themselves. But as soon as mother died, these men intervened and decided on their own what needs to be done with the dead body. They carried mother on a khatia for the namaz-e-janaza.
When I wanted to join the funeral, I was told that women were not allowed to attend namaz-e-janaza or visit a graveyard. The gist of what the men told me was: It didn’t matter that I was the child of my mother -- I did not have any right to walk behind my mother’s dead body, or to join the others to perform the namaz-e-janaza, enter the graveyard, pour soil into the grave.
Why not? Because I am a girl. Islam has forbidden girls to attend namaz-e-janaza or visit graveyards.
In Bangladesh, a girl can never participate in a namaz-e-janaza. But it is allowed in Pakistan, and probably in several other Muslim countries. The namaz-e-janaza of human rights defender lawyer Asma Jahangir was held just a few days back, and a good number of girls participated to pay respect.
Some of them, including Asma Jahangir’s daughter, prayed while standing in the front row. Did Islam, in fact, permit women to take part in the namaz-e-janaza? The answer I got is -- there is no permission. It is mostly prohibited.
It is thought better for women to stay at home and pray. But if women decide to attend the namaz-e-janaza, it is not against the laws of Islam. If they decide to do so, they have to stand behind the men, never in front of them.
Some people say that during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the women of Arabia used to take part in namaz-e-janaza. It is likely that they had to stand in the last row. 1,400 later, women’s rights ought to have made advances. Unfortunately in Bangladesh, women are not permitted to take part in namaz-e-janaza, let alone be allowed to stand in the front row.
Why can Bangladesh not achieve what Pakistan has achieved? Pakistan was born on the basis of religion, whereas Bangladesh on the basis of language, culture, and secularism. The foundations of these two states are worlds apart. The level of freedom and rights enjoyed by women in a religiously inclined country like Pakistan has not even been achieved in Bangladesh.
I do not mean to say that women do not face oppression in Pakistan. They do. But in Bangladesh, women are not only being oppressed, but also being deprived of their own rights. Women here are unable to enjoy even the little freedom Islam has provisioned for them. Even though women have the right to participate in namaz-e-janaza prayers, they are deprived of that right in Bangladesh.
Last month, a woman named Jamida Bibi led the jummah prayer at Wandur Cherukor village in Malappuram in the state of Kerala in India. Islam may approve of a woman leading the prayer of women devotees, but it is impossible to imagine that men will say the prayer standing behind a female imam.
This was something unimaginable made possible by a village woman. Both the men and women said the prayer standing behind Jamida Bibi. In the khutba
(sermon) after the prayer, Jamida talked about equal rights of women and men. She said the Qur’an speaks for equal rights of women and men, and discrimination is created by people.
She said she will fight against this discrimination. Jamida also said: “It is not written anywhere in the Qur’an that the men will always administer the prayers.” Jamida has faith in the Qur’an, but not on Hadith. She argues that Hadith were not set down by Allah or the Prophet (pbuh), but rather by the followers of the Prophet (pbuh).
Jamida does not have faith in those followers. For 1,400 years, it is the men who have been making the decisions over everything relating to the lifestyle of Muslims, and Jamida wants to change this convention. Jamida does not administer the prayers at the mosque, she does it at the office of her Qur’an and Sunnat Society.
A mosque does not have the right to prohibit the entry of women
Hearing of this, Muslim political party Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s Secretary Abdur Rahman said: “What Jamida Bibi did was just drama.” A fatwa (a ruling given by a religious body) has been issued against Jamida Bibi. But she is not someone to be easily intimidated.
She vowed to continue leading prayers, regardless of fatwas. And if need be, she will seek police protection. Jamida Bibi also said: “How can a country like India move forward if the rules discriminating against women are not changed?” Why do not we have courageous girls like Jamida in Bangladesh, or in any other Muslim country? Women are still facing obstructions for going out to the mosque for prayers.
Women in many Muslim countries say the prayers in the mosques. But in the Indian subcontinent, women’s feet are shackled at every step. Nowhere else do women face as much obstruction as they do here.
There are a few mosques where women say prayers in areas segregated from the men’s space, maybe on the other side of the wall, but a notice in big letters is seen hanging at the entrance of almost all the mosques: “Women not allowed.”
To Muslim men, women are impure. Barbarians of the dark ages also used to say that women could go to mosques, but it was better if they stayed at home and said their prayers. It is mentioned elsewhere, however, that praying in a congregation is more pious. So, why cannot women gain the piety of the congregation? What Islamic law would be brandished if women demanded access to all the mosques in Bangladesh?
There are many Islamic rulings on women that are not clear. If there is one Hadith with a ruling that women can travel as far as China in pursuit of knowledge, there is a contrary one too, cautioning the women never to set foot outside her home. People get confused by these contrary rulings.
It is not that Muslims are not catching up with the times. But they have remained tyrannical when it comes to the rights of women.
The Qur’an and Hadith do not speak of equal rights of women. The Qur’an and Hadith also do not speak of things like mobile phone, TV, computer, internet, and Facebook which Muslims use without restraint.
If a girl from a Kerala village can lead the prayers, why should others not pursue such change in other Muslim societies?
Ensuring women the right to say prayers in mosques is not enough today. They should be given the right to lead the prayers.
Islam speaks of equality -- my ears have been deadened by listening to this statement time and again. Oh, how I wish to be convinced that Islam speaks of equality!
The Islam of the seventh century has to be appropriated to the Islam of the 21st century, a version that does not object to women going out to mosques for saying prayers, or leading prayers.
Taslima Nasreen is a novelist. The article was originally published on banglatribune.com and has been translated from Bangla.