Bengali Muslim’s Dilemma on Women Issues -By Mahfuz Mollah


Bengali Muslim’s mind was read by many secular and thinkers in Bengal through secular and even communist outlook. But there is no attempt to read Muslim’s mind through Islamic outlook. And the identity and ideological problems we are facing as Muslim in this region lies in this type of negligence towards history and narrative building. The problems worsened when it comes to ‘women Rights’ issue which was neglected by Bengali Muslims through many centuries although it is ‘Said’ that, ‘Islam gives proper rights for women’. The role of women in Islamic intellectual tradition is now being discussed in this ‘Human Rights’ and Feminism’ Era. Muslim women contributed in Hadith Literature, Islamic Jurisprudence, and literature and even in science. Their Contribution in hadith Literature is now talk of Islamic intellectual arena after the research made by Dr. Akram Nadwi. Many other books were written in the last century regarding women rights in Islamic golden age and in other ages. Many books dealt with the origin of Islamic women rights in Quran, Hadith and Islamic tradition.  Many were written by remembering ‘Said’ contribution of women in Islamic intellectual tradition. But obviously man more were written Directing women to ‘their duty, Dress code and so on.
Before the virulent Invasion of feminism in Islamic world in 19th and 20th century , there was less writings regarding women rights and it wasn’t possible also despite the tradition of  women’s participatory role in Islamic societies not only in intellectual tradition but also in socio-cultural leadership and even in state Administration. But there was a ‘Tradition’ to talk about but that ‘said tradition’ wasn’t present in this Subcontinent particularly in Bengal.  A woman got the power of Delhi in 13th century but it was more about power controlling as happened in many states in this subcontinent before and after this. Many princesses got power to control the power by any Dynasty or Ruler. But women ’s right is not only about getting state power rather it is more about women’s participatory role in socio- cultural matters, which was present in Islamic tradition through centuries but not in this subcontinent. So what happened between Islam’s journey to this subcontinent and the reality we experienced through centuries? What makes difference between Islamic tradition and Indian Muslims particularly Bengali Muslims practices and Attitudes regarding women?  Was it influenced by any Perso-Turkish experiences through which Indian Muslims got Islamic teachings and tradition or was it the problem of subcontinent emanated from dominant Hinduism’s attitudes towards women? We should Read the ‘Mind’ of many to find out the reasons for which we reached here.
Obviously Islam’s journey to this subcontinent through Perso-Turkish region and experiences shaped Islam’s ‘Hind’ version of Attitudes towards Women.  I don’t want to be Dreamer of such and such golden age or so called ‘Arabized’ one but to be ‘Islamized’ one is necessary with envisioning the women rights in the light of Islam’s basic sources and traditions through many centuries. Islam has adopted many socio-cultural Institutions and traditions from this subcontinent.  But the Adoption (which is certain) of Hinduism’s Attitude towards women has made the tradition weak and the counter to feminism in recent days is weakened for that reason also. The absence of the tradition provoked the women rights workers and feminists to criticize Islam in this region although I can’t strongly hold the view that, Feminists didn’t win the battle in Arab for existence of women rights (Also less from Islam’s vision) but there was counter from Muslim women thinkers and Activists by extracting Islamic practices and traditions.  Although, Feminists are not happy with that ideal ‘ Islamic Women Rights’ rather their vision is basically to uproot the role of religion and social norms and  make a ‘Feminotopia’. Nonetheless, we have to win over their invasion in the name of women emancipation and women empowerment. In this regard, we have to reconstruct our thoughts and attitudes regarding women in the context of Bengal. We have to re-evaluate the ‘Islamic’ Tradition and what happens in Bengal after the arrival of Islam when syncretized with Hindu Tradition.
If we think about the Fundamental Rights such as personal liberty, freedom of thought and speech and other matters which ensures equity and fairness which are ensured by Islam’s fundamental texts and traditions but not implemented and maintained in this subcontinent particularly in Bengal. There is basic necessity such as education which is also made compulsory for Muslim men and women, but it wasn’t also maintained in this region as far as we know about education system and more importantly the girls weren’t given religious education also. Although in family they were given necessary religious education for some basic practices.   There was more importance given to the ‘Purdah’ and ‘family’. The interpretation of Quran and hadith was also distorted by Ulemas. And here is another paradox.  Those Ulemas who was influenced by ‘Sahih Islam’ and struggled against ‘Innovations’, they weren’t also interested in restore the women rights in this region. Were they in Dilemma? Are We in Dilemma? There were fewer problems such as education, women’s participation and other less complicated issues. But in the last half of the Century, there were many problems contradicting Islam such as women’s ‘Equal’ Rights, Birth control or family planning to make it symphonious and now the wave of women’s sexual rights and so on we are experiencing in these days. Islam endorsed women rights which will ensure Human dignity and rights to that extent which will not perish the social institutions where these problems aroused by feminist in last half of 20th century will perish the human’s existence itself. So, we have to break the shackle of Dilemma which prevails in that ‘Bengali Muslim Mind’.
There are fewer problems regarding education whether religious and secular now. The problem is about secular education system and its influence on girl’s mind. This system should be changed and modified. Other socio-cultural institution should be modified in a way that will support Islam’s Cause. More importance should be given to girl’s personal liberty, decision making power and participation in social activities by providing them good ambience to nourish them in Islamic way. Imposition shouldn’t be made anyway, rather it should be family education and social norms which will influence them to make their life Islamic.
We have to recollect some exemplary women’s lives but not only those who were in golden age but also those brave women who faced the challenges of modernity and secularism and made their life Islamic through their life.  Many activist women are working now for Islamic cause and many brave women are making their efforts and sacrificing their life for Islamic cause. Their lifestyle should be discussed more and more. Because they are contemporary and facing challenges which our girls and women are facing. We have to re-evaluate Rokeya, although it sounds odd but there is possibility to think about Rokeya in other way. And there are more women to be re-evaluated in Bengal to make a strong ‘Bengali Muslim Women’ narrative which will take away the stronghold of feminists from girls and Women’s mind.

The writer is an undergraduate student of the University of Dhaka.

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