A fatwa issued by PKK Ahmed Kutty Moulavi, the head Imam of Palayam Jumma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram, in 1998 permitting women to enter the mosque and offer prayers during the month of Ramzan spurred a strong demand from progressive sections in the Muslim community for ending gender discrimination in places of worship.
The activists who spearheaded the campaign beat a retreat after the Imam’s Council issued a counter fatwa denying women entry in the mosque and pressed a squad of Kazis to conduct a door-to-door campaign against the plea. The demand re-erupted several times from various parts of the state since then but the conservative sections suppressed it.
However, the last month’s Supreme Court verdict lifting a centuries-old ban on the entry of menstruating women in the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple has rekindled the hopes of Muslim women in securing their constitutional right.
While a few organisations are planning to launch a campaign in the light of the apex court judgment, a Kozhikode-based progressive Muslim women’s forum is all set to approach the Supreme Court not only for women’s entry to the mosque but also for priesthood.
VP Zuhra, who heads the forum called Nisa (which means women in Arabic), said they were planning to file the petition early next week. She told Firstpost that the petition to be filed by leading advocate Venikta Subramaniam will pray for freedom for women to pray in all mosques in the country and also to be appointed as Imams of mosques.
“Women are not allowed to enter and offer prayers only in the mosques run by a few Sunni organisations in the state. The others allow the women to perform namaz in a special space separated from men. This shows that the restrictions imposed on women in Sunni mosques have no religious basis,” said Zuhra.
“I have gone to Mecca where men and women worship Allah together. I have read in texts of Islamic history that Prophet Mohammed allowed his wives to be present in mosques even when they were menstruating. So, when Allah and his Prophet have no problem with women worshipping in mosques, why are women being denied their right?”
She said the people who have barred the women from mosques are male chauvinists who want Muslim women to stay inside their homes looking after their husbands and children.
“The present-day women are educated and vying for equal roles in all spheres of life. When they are allowed to participate in all activities and even contest elections, how can they be barred from offering prayers in a mosque? The religious leaders are not ready to grant as they fear threat to their hegemony,” says Zuhra.
The conservative sections in the community have been opposing the women’s plea, saying that women's entry to mosques is 'un-Islamic'. They cite texts in Quran that say that the best place of worship for women is their homes to justify the ban.
“This is applicable only when they offer prayer five times a day. This cannot be applied to common religious gatherings like a Friday sermon or Eid prayers where they get to listen to sermons and religious discourses, which are a major source of knowledge. The conservative sections do not want women to be empowered with knowledge,” says Zuhra.
She said that a large number of women have been studying theology and many of them were qualified to become Imams. They have all the rights to work as priests and lead prayers in mosques.
Zuhra said she was hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the right of the women in the light of the recent series of gender equality verdicts, including the Sabarimala judgment.
However, senior advocate C Shukoor, is doubtful about the maintainability of the Nisa petition in the apex court since there is no rule or court ruling against women’s entry in mosques as in the case of Sabarimala. There is no universal ban on entry of women in mosques, he added.
“Moreover, there is no need for Muslims to go to mosques for prayers as there are no deities in mosques as in temples and saints in churches. The concept of God in Islam is different. It is omnipresent. Hence, the Muslims can pray anywhere on the earth,” the lawyer told Firstpost.
However, he said that there may be a case for gender equality in the petition. This is a complex issue in the community since the Muslim women are discriminated against in all spheres of life, including the right to property.
Zuhra said she had discussed the legal point regarding the maintainability of the petition with her advocate and he had assured her that she had a strong case against denial of entry to women in mosques since it was against Article 15 of the Constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
The Nisa chief, who rattled the conservatives by waging a relentless battle for equal rights for women ever since she was pushed to the streets along with two children through a triple talaq, is prepared for a long battle. She had joined the legal battle against instant triple talaq, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year.
Zuhra said a number of organisations had extended support to her in the fight for women’s right to worship in the mosque. Some of them will be joining the legal battle. She is also expecting support from the Left parties which supported the apex court's verdict on Sabarimala.
In fact, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had raised the question of women’s entry in mosques after the apex court permitted women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple. He said that his party was against all types of discrimination against women and its stance will be same in the mosques case too.
Aboobacker Musaliar, who heads the Kanthapuram faction of the Sunnis, was not available for comment. However, a leader of the faction, who did not want to be identified, said that the move to file a case for women’s entry in mosque was misguided and added that they will fight it in the court.
Updated Date: Oct 11, 2018 19:19 PM