Tag Archive for Indian Muslims

Muslim Women’s Rights: Artificial Concern?

Ulema Convetnion India

Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the largest Muslim women’s groups in India questions the credibility of Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind’s new-found concern for Muslim women’s rights

By Noorjehan Safia Niaz

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, one of the leading Islamic ulama organizations in India, passed a resolution on the rights of women at their public convention held in New Delhi on 19th May. Of the 17 resolutions, the 16th – titled as Resolution about the Rights of Woman – reads  “…. this general session of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind feels that today’s Muslim society is callous towards the rights of woman. It is a matter of anguish that girls are treated as burden and they are denied well- upbringing, education and right to inheritance. Injustice and cruelty to wife and divorce is rampant in Muslim society….. Therefore this General Session of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind appeals to the Muslim community to act on Islamic instructions about rights of woman.”

It is definitely a welcome change that a religious organization like Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind (JUH), with grassroots network across India has passed a resolution showing concern over Muslim women’s status in the country. However, one wonders whether it is just paying lip service, considering the fact that women’s rights have never been an issue for most religious organizations, including JUH in the country.

Muslim women cannot ignore the fact that powerful and influential bodies like JUH are extremely patriarchal and almost exclusively male and have conveniently ignored the basic premise of Islam which is equality and justice. Issues like women’s rights, patriarchy, and domestic violence are alien to them. For years these groups have usurped for themselves the right to read, translate and interpret the Quran. Many translations of the holy book on key issues concerning women are in their own notions of patriarchy. Quranic verses have been twisted out of their contexts to deny women what has already been ordained.

How genuine is this call when we know that these demands are made at the absence of Muslim women? There was not even a single Muslim woman present at the Ramlila Maidan event. If JUH had made any serious attempt to talk to women and understand their issues, they would have sought representation of Muslim women at the event.

We, as Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), challenge the JUH that if they are genuinely concerned about the status and rights of Muslim women, they must throw open their membership to Muslim women and give them space to discuss their problems. Muslim women’s rights are human rights too and it is time influential Islamic bodies like JUH make an honest attempt to talk, discuss and engage with the women in the community.

Noorjehan Safia Niaz is the founder member of BMMA. She has been working for many years across the country to mobilize Muslim women’s leadership.


Muslim Women’s Movement: Dismantling Patriarchy

muslim women-1

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan led by Muslim women, works towards the empowerment of Muslim women and diminishing the marginalisation of Muslim community

By Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman

Muslims, the largest minority in India, have poor human development status- widespread illiteracy, low income, irregular employment as documented by various agencies – implying thereby a high incidence of poverty and marginalisation. Muslim women suffer from multiple marginalisations facing not just poverty, lack of education, inequality and lack of opportunities but also of living in a marginalised minority community which is deeply influenced by religious patriarchal forces.

The rise of communal and conservative forces made matters worse resulting in increased insecurity and sense of alienation within the community. The rise of terrorism and the impact from the so-called war on terror, the increasing negative impact of the forces of imperialism and capitalism has led to the Muslims being a community under siege. In this context the issues of the Muslim women are put at the back burner.

Thus a strong need was felt to create a collective that will not only address the concerns of the Muslim community, particularly of the Muslim women but also take concrete steps to ameliorate this situation. It was felt that a mass organization is required where the most oppressed and marginalised sections get a voice and are able to mobilize themselves.

With this context in mind, some Muslim women got together and formed the BMMA or the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement in January, 2007. Forming Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan [BMMA] was the first step in that direction where the Muslim women not only take leadership of their own issues but also issues of the community. In its sixth year the BMMA’s membership has crossed 30,000 members across 15 states. Our membership is open to all, including men, who share our vision and mission.

BMMA is a national, autonomous, secular, rights-based, non-party political and mass organisation led by Muslim women working towards understanding and ameliorating the marginalisation of Muslim community and Muslim women and to work towards empowering Muslim women and take steps to ensure their social, economic, political, civil, legal and religious rights. It wants to take forward the process of legal reforms within the Muslim personal law.

BMMA wants to understand the caste hierarchies within the Muslim community and raise the   issues of Dalit Muslims. In all, it wants create an alternative progressive voice within the Muslim community. It also seeks to collaborate and build alliances with other movements and networks that are fighting for social equality and human rights.

Muslim Women's rights Feminists India

Photos by Ramlath Kavil

The BMMA believes that no movement can succeed if it is not able to fulfill the basic needs and requirements of the people who join it. Women who are extremely marginalised and face dire poverty on a daily basis cannot afford to listen to empty talks and slogans. This was evident to us in our very first year when women asked the BMMA how the membership money that they pay would make any difference to their lives. Aapko membership ka paisa dekar hame kya milega? The leadership of the Andolan was galvanized thus to mobilise Muslim women around their concerns and take initiative and concrete steps to help them fulfill their needs.

For BMMA political advocacy is not confined to doing submissions to Planning Commission, or to the National or State Minority Commissions but the focus is more on mobilising Muslim women to build community pressure on the local ration shop owner, local ration office, local hospitals and clinics, give letters of demands to ward officers, to health officials, to education ministers, to local corporators, MLA and MPs. Advocacy has been encouraged at the grassroots by village and districts leaders.

Activities of BMMA at the local, state and national level include facilitating the emergence of Muslim women’s leadership in society, campaigning for the implementation of the recommendations of Sachar Report, campaigning for reforms in the Muslim Family Law, facilitating Muslim women to raise her voice against the conservative, communal and fascist forces and engaging with Muslim girls for their educational and social empowerment. In the last 5 years the BMMA has been able to develop the leadership of Muslim at the national, state, district and to some extent in some states at the block level also. In each state Muslim woman’s leadership has emerged in at least 5-6 districts.

BMMA’ apex decision making body, the National Council, comprises of the founder members as well as the state leaders. Each state is headed by the State Council which comprises of state leader along with district leaders. Thus the structure goes down to the village level. The day to day activities of the Andolan is monitored by the National Working Committee. Internal communication and coordination is carried out by the National Secretariat based in Mumbai. The National Council meets regularly to take programmatic and administrative decisions and sets achievable goals every year which are in consonance with its vision and objectives.

In the coming years we hope to reach out to more states and thus to more Muslim women for creating a just and humane society.

Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman are founder members of BMMA and have been working for many years extensively across the country to mobilise Muslim women’s leadership.