Muslim women set new trends in Kerala

Story By: mattersindia.comKozhikode: K K Fathima Suhra, a middle aged post graduate Muslim woman in Kerala, was busy in shopping for her school going child.

Like most of the educated Muslim women in the state, the native of Santhapuram village in Malappuram district also tends to give primary priority to discharge her duty as a house wife, taking care of her family and ardently supporting it to accomplish its needs.

But what makes this woman special is that she is now spending her time with the Mahallu committee (a local area under the clerical care and religious jurisdiction of the mosques, almost same as the diocese system, followed by the Christians), which has been under complete male dominance.

She is now the member of Shanthapuram Mahallu committee, who regularly attends the meetings and shares her opinion along with her colleague K K Basheera.

When went to Shivapuram, another village in neighboring Kozhikode district, it was the same scenario, where three women, R C Sabira, V K Rahmath and K K Raseela, have broken the prolonged male dominance in the Mahallu committee.

The trio is actively taking part in the meetings and other religious, educational, welfare and charity activities, taken up by the Mahallu. The new trend started at Shivapuram in the middle of 2013 when the first woman became a member of the Mahallu committee.

The group of Muslim women are the illustrative of an emerging scenario, which they perceive as the milestone in Muslim women empowerment and in to some extent, the social empowerment of Muslim community. And further, they argue, this is the revival of the tradition of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), Caliphs and great scholars, who allowed due representation for the women in various religious domains like education and law making and sought their opinion in the subjects, related to women.

Interestingly, what drew them, according to Fathima, toward the Mahallu committee were quite religious motives.

“Being a well-educated Muslim woman, I am obliged to do my bit for the community whether it is leadership, advice, support and sharing opinion. Mahallu committee is the best platform, where I can discharge my duty,” says Fathima.

She harshly confronts the male dominance saying the measures needed to address the woes of the women could be appropriately drafted and implemented by the women.

“There are several problems, being faced by the women in her familial and social life that couldn’t be smoothly accessed by the men. Moreover, she might be suffering through other issues, which they don’t wish to expose before the persons belonging to opposite sex. As a woman, I have easy access to their problems and can take up easy redressing measures,” she adds.

The group is now active in conducting surveys and running welfare schemes including counselling, survey and career guidance, aimed at the social uplifting of the women belonging to their Mahallu.

According to Fathima, divorce cases are the illustrative of the denial of due justice to the women. “The Mahallu committees and clerics often commit criminal lapses by not giving an ear to the version of women as they are, presently, denied direct access to the women. They are confined to approach the parents or brothers asking for women’s version. In this backdrop, presence of women in the committee assumes significance as we can take their version directly and convey it to the committee leaders and clerics in the true sense in a bid to ensure them due justice,” she adds.

Cases of familial issues and divorce have been downward since the group of women was fielded to the house-holds as the representatives of the Mahallu committee.

“We owe much to the male leaders as they lent us opportunity to serve the community. They extend us befitting consideration to our opinions and suggestions,” Fathima is not averse to convey her thanks to the Mahallu leaders for being selected as a member.

Meanwhile, the transformation has evoked a mixed response from the Muslim outfits in the state. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and two factions of the Salafi wing endorsed the move citing it will help improve the social status of women and further draw the educated women towards the initiatives, taken up by the Mahallu committees.

“If you need a transformation in the community, make women empowerment and representation possible, you have to raise questions towards the patriarchal underpinnings of the society, and irrational distinctions,” says M K Mohammed of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.

While endorsing the move, Mohammed argues, it is the need of the hour to bring such changes. “It seems not to smash the much hyped traditional values. Tradition doesn’t contradict the essential reformation. In Prophet’s era, there were no Madarasas functioning. The system came into existence while there was a need. Just like, the move is the product of a need,” he says.

“Islam not only accords certain rights of their own to women but also demands the community to adopt positive measures in their favor for the uplifting of the entire society,” says P Ruksana, state president of Girls Islamic Organisation.

Hailing the move she said it was meant to create a social environment within the community, where women can play their role in leading the society to a better future.

A conference, hosted by the Kerala Nadwathul Mujahideen (KNM), a Salafi outfit in the state, had focused on the steps to disseminate the move to more places. The conference, held at Manjeri in Malappuram district few days back, termed it as a move of great importance in the current scenario of impunity and inequality.

Earlier, a state conference, organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in Malappram district, had passed a resolution seeking representation and reservation for women in Mahallu committees.

Traditionalist factions protest the move

Meanwhile, the move drew the ire of some traditionalist factions in the state. The dissent was quite tangible in the statements issued by some clerics soon after the demand was raised by the conference of Kerala Nadwathul Mujahideen (KNM) to allow the women representation in Mahallu committees.

Kottumala Bappu Musliyar, secretary of the Samastha Kerala Jameyyat ul-Ulama (SKJU), which follows a traditionalist theological position, came down heavily against the move saying it was denigrating the true spirit of the traditional values of Islam.

While having a talk with, Musthafa Master Mundupara, spokesperson of SKJU, said that the move was nothing but the part of the much hyped so called reformation, which has been celebrated by the reformist groups in the state.

Adding further he clarifies that the present mode of Mahallu committees, followed by the traditionalist groups in the state, were adequate to meet the requirements of the women.

“We give prime priority to the woes, being faced by the women and moreover, we conduct special classes and interaction sessions in Madrassas to hear and redress their woes. Ours is not an archaic mechanism,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Dr Zubair Hudawi Chekanur, former registrar of Darul Huda Islamic University, and special officer of the Department of Arabic of Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, assumes that the move will catalyze influence in the community. The new move will unleash a broader process of talks and discussions and will lead into the imitations by the traditionalist groups.

Hudawi argues that the under-representation of women was not an agenda of the traditionalist groups. What these groups show is a tendency of responding to the changes in a slow manner, which could be, according to him, a mature approach rather than an act in hasty. “It seems to be not a dire need,” says Hudawi, “to allow women representation” and adds that some relevant reforms in the present system are adequate to meet the needs of women.

“While it comes to utilizing the potential immersed with the women folk, the Mahallu committees are competitive. The institutions, set up exclusively to educate the Muslim girls both Islamic subjects and modern texts, testify that the leadership of traditionalist groups is not loath to provide women institutional access. Despite there are male committees, the women have started to be very visible in activities, meant for the women empowerment in the Mahallus, controlled by the traditionalist groups,” he says.

He strongly opposes the stereotypical notion that the traditional groups are opposing the transformation saying that they are attempting to fashion women empowerment in their own way.

One may agree with his argument or not, but winds of change are definitely blowing in Kerala’s Muslim community bearing clear signs of new movement. Definitely, here, Muslim women have dared to come out of the traditional corridors of the power.

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