Thursday, October 26, 2006

Asra Nomani, Daud Sharifa, and the Women's Mosque

Congratulations are due to Asra Nomani, who won this year's SAJA fellowship for a planned project to go to Tamil Nadu to report on movement to build a women's mosque there. The project has been initiated in the town of Pudukkottai, as a reaction against male-dominated mosques and local, male-only Jamaat boards, that have the power to decide many personal and marriage-related disputes in India's Muslim community.

The movement is being spearheaded by a woman named Daud Sharifa, and has already received a fair amount of coverage in the past two years from outfits such as the BBC. (More stories can be found here [Outlook] and here [New American Media]). Despite getting quite a bit of attention, the project is years away from completion owing to fundraising difficulties.

However, as one reads more about Daud Sharifa, the symbolic project of actually building a women's mosque (which would be the first one to be built anywhere in the world) begins to seem somewhat secondary to what might be her main goal: building a broad-based, national movement to support the rights of Muslim women. Since the government has done little to help (and sometimes much to hurt) the cause, Sharifa and her NGO, STEPS, have gone ahead and created a women-only Jamaat ("Jamaat" means "Congregation") to arbitrate family disputes using a feminist slant on Islamic law. They have been in operation since February 2004, and get a steady stream of cases to resolve (according to this article, they get about 15 petitions a day).

Daud Sharifa's justification for the project seems strong:

"The male jamaats are unlawful kangaroo courts that play with the lives of women. A mosque-jamaat axis is a power centre that controls the community. When women are refused representation here, we have no choice but to have our own jamaat. And since a jamaat is attached to a mosque, we have to build our own mosque." (link)

Critics of the idea are for the most part the usual suspects, but at least one prominent Muslim woman, Badar Sayed, has also criticized Sharifa's plans as a kind of defeatist separatism: "We need to fight alongside people. We can't just separate ourselves and put the clock back 100 years." (link)

Incidentally, Sharifa weighed in righteously last year, when the Indian Ulema went after tennis star Sania Mirza, for having the gall to play tennis in shorts. In response to Anna's post on the topic, Punjabi Boy posted a comment from the same Daud Sharifa:

"If Islamic law says a woman is not supposed to wear such clothes, then they should know the same law also forbids dowry, alcoholism and incest. Yet the jamaat promotes dowry and even guns for a share in it. Why don’t they stop it first if they’re living by the Islamic law? They’re not bothered about a girl earning pride for the country. They are making an issue out of a stupid matter," said committee coordinator Daud Sharifa Khanam from Pudukottai (link)

Yes, exactly.

Let's hope Asra Nomani's forthcoming coverage of Daud Sharifa and the "women's Jihad" sheds more light on this inspiring example of grassroots struggle.


Blogger ana beynaam said...

Let's hope Asra Nomani's forthcoming coverage of Daud Sharifa and the "women's Jihad" sheds more light on this inspiring example of grassroots struggle.

Yes! Let's hope so. :)

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sherifa is putting more efforts to bring all the women forward,last 15 years more than 15% of women got the education in muslim

12:09 PM  

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