Poet-philosopher Nida Fazli, who died earlier this week, was once confronted by Muslims during a mushaira in Pakistan for a song he wrote for the film Tamanna.
The couplet of contention was this: 'Ghar se Masjid hai bahut door, Chalo yun kar le, kisi rote hue bachche ko hansaya jaye.' (The mosque is too far from home, so let's instead make a child smile.)
When angry listeners asked how a child can get priority over a mosque, Fazli replied: "A mosque is built by men, but children are created by Allah."
What would have Fazli, and his inspiration Kabir, who was a lifelong critic of self-anointed custodians of religion, said on hearing that Muslim women, creations of Allah, can't become clerics because of laws created by men?
The debate on the eligibility of women to become qazis has been ignited by a section of the Muslim clergy's vehement opposition to the idea. A week ago, they denied permission to two women from working as qazis in Jaipur, saying there is no such precedent and the Quran doesn't allow anybody other than a man to interpret and enforce the Sharia, Islamic law.
The two women, Jahan Ara and Afroza Begum, were trained as qazis by Darul Ulum I-Niswan, a Mumbai-based organisation set up as part of the Indian Muslim women's movement for more rights.
The organisation says it felt the need for female qazis after realising that women were being cheated by many male clerics during weddings by hiding important information.
So it decided to train women for two years in Islamic law to perform marriages and intervene in matters related to nikaah, talaq and meher.
But, the chief qazi of Rajasthan, Khalid Usmani, refused to let them work. "A woman can't become a haakim (judge or ruler). In Islamic history, there is no evidence of women being allowed to become qazis," he argued.
The women and social organisations of Rajasthan are outraged by this opposition and attack, which., they believe., is being led by the All India Muslim Personal law Board, Jamiatul-Ulame-Hind, the Jamait Islami Hind, the chairperson of the Rajasthan Madarsa Board, Anjum Educational Welfare Society, Taiba Social Welfare Society, Chief Qazi of Rajasthan and the Jaipur Mufti.
That women are considered second-rate citizens, naqis al-aql (intellectually inferior to men) and naqis al-iman (inferior in faith) is an old story. Due to deep-rooted biases, Muslim women are not allowed equal rights and opportunities.
They are under-educated — the result being 800 million out of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims are illiterate; they are under-utilised in the society and face regressive laws and customs. Even in developed and developing countries, they work from behind the veil of poverty, ignorance and inequality and contribute very little outside their home.
All this in the name of the Quran, which doesn't favour such discrimination. The biased laws are just an innovation--man's creation against Allah's creation-- by the patriarchal clergy to retain a firm grip on women.
Muslim scholars say the discrimination and oppression is not because the Quran dictates them, but because its laws have been interpreted, even forged, by men to keep women on the leash. According to a spokesperson of the Darul Ulum Deoband, a renowned centre of learning and Islamic studies, Islam allows women to become qazis and perform all the rights and duties vested in them without restrictions.
Others argue that famous historian and Quranic commentator, Tabari, had pointed out that there is nothing in the religious texts that forbids women from becoming qazis.
Prophet Mohammed's own house had independent, enterprising and scholarly women. By many accounts his first wife Khadija bint Khuwaylid was the richest woman in Mecca, who employed several men in her business.
His youngest wife Aisha Binte Abu Bakr was also a scholar. She is believed to have such a great memory that she narrated several thousand Hadith, some of them on marriage and divorce. And the earliest compilation of the Quran was kept in the custody of the Prophet's wife, Hazrat Hafsa.
Ironically, the male clerics are willing to follow laws based on the Hadith narrated by the Prophet's wife. But they are not willing to let women interpret them.
When the Prophet died, he had no surviving male offspring. The Prophet's bloodline was carried forward by his daughters. That Muslims would discriminate against their own daughters in the name of the Quran would have been unimaginable for the Prophet.
As an old saying goes, if the Prophet and Quran are raazi (agreeable), why can't a woman become qazi?
Obviously, the aim is deny equal rights and opportunities to women, to keep them under the tyranny of male patriarchy. The fear among the clergy is that women qazi would be more keen to fight for the rights of women in matters of separation and alimony. And they could lead a movement for reforms and equal rights.
The opposition is because of the fear of independent women. Not Allah.