Marking a new chapter in the discourses on Muslim women and Islamic feminism, Muslim Women’s Colloquium conducted by Girls Islamic Organization, Kerala on 25th and 26th of February provided an open platform to present and discuss various issues from epistemology and theology to the representation of Muslim women in campus politics. Attempts were made to reread and look at the female characters in Islamic history with a fresh perspective, reinforcing the message that Islam as an ideology does not ever lose its significance or contemporariness in any era. It also boldly criticized the misogynistic attitudes prevailing within the Muslim community and sought to question at individual and social levels, rather than from academic lenses alone.
The event was marked for the rich participation of girls and women both as audience and organizers. The colloquium was inaugurated by human rights lawyer and activist Flavia Agnes who closely works with the Muslim community. She stressed the importance of affirming the position of women in Islam and the strides Muslim women have made towards progress. In the course of her talk, “Muslim Women and the Politics of Uniform Civil Code”, she discussed how instances of domestic abuses often go unreported and seemingly legitimized. She also said that she does not believe Uniform Civil Code to be the cure-all of the problems Muslim women in India face; and remarked that each community should have the freedom to choose UCC if they so wish to and not forcibly be imposed on them. M. I. Abdul Azeez, Ameer of Jama’ate Islami Hind(JIH), Kerala chaired the inaugural session which had Engineer Mohammed Saleem, Secretary General of JIH as the chief guest. He highlighted the need for platforms as these at a time when the Islamophobic cultural wave is gaining momentum nationally as well as globally. He also offered constructive solutions.
Felicitations were offered by Adv. Noorbina Rasheed, Shamseena Islahiya (President, MGM), and Fathima Thahliyah(President, Haritha). The guests and paper presenters welcomed the inceptions of such dialogues from within the Muslim community.Muslim Women’s Colloquium stands unique in that it sought to strike a balance between the stereotypical attitude of the Muslim women as being victimized and oppressed on one hand, and the representation of Muslim women as being absolutely free from patriarchal clutches. The papers presented and the discussions followed attempted to reread the scriptures and Islamic traditions, and conduct a reality check in the current scenario of Muslims in India against their social, cultural and political backdrops.
The first two sessions titled, “Epistemology, Tradition and the Question of Authority in Islam” and “Muslimah Theology and Gender Hermeneutics of Islam” sought to unravel the inherent patriarchy in the several interpretations of Qur’an and Hadith; and reread the women in religious traditions. The vision of Muhammed Abdu on Muslim women provided impressive insights to the audience. Expert talks were delivered by Dr. Varsha Basheer(University of Berkeley), Dr. Jenny Rowena(University of Delhi), Dr. Sherin B. S.(EFLU, Hyderabad) and K. P. Salva(Former Zonal President, GIO).
The next two sessions entitled, “Identity and Representation of Muslim Women” and Muslim Gender Politics: Decolonial Approaches” propounded on the participation, role and intervention of Muslim women in various spheres particularly in the political and social reformations. The paper presented by Noorunnida M., a Ph.D. scholar at Center for Women Studies in UoH titled, “ Gendered World: A Study of Madrasa Primary Text books in Kerala” attracted the attention of the audience as it glanced through select chapters of these textbooks and attempted at exposing the stereotypes inherent and reinforced in them on gender roles.
The highlights of the fourth session entitled, “Muslim Women Lives and Biographies” including a remarkable paper titled, “Political Economy of Migration in Muslim Matrilineal Families” by Ansiya Rahman, a Ph.D. scholar at School of Economics in Central University of Kerala, among other several interesting ones, was felt by the audience to be truly inspiring.
The final session, “Campus Politics and Muslim Women Engagements” were enriched by the participation of Ladeeda Sakhaloon from Kerala University, Bhupali Vitthal Magare, an M. Phil. candidate for African Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and who is also the President of BAPSA, Nikhila Henry(Senior Reporter at The Hindu), Salwa Abdul Khader from Government College, Madappally, Rahmathunnisa(Vice President of Women’s Wing of JIH Kerala) and Ruksana P.(President, GIO Kerala). Strong voices of solidarity for the fair and peaceful politics, especially those emerging from the marginalized communities standing up for their rights, and stern notes of protest against the hooliganism of parties such as the SFI were heard throughout the session with sharing of personal experiences from the campus lives of Salwa Abdul Khader and Bhupali Magare.
The Valedictory session of the Colloquium was held at Muthalakkulam Ground with a public conference. Dr. Insha Malik, Assistant Professor at School of International Studies, Tehran addressed the gathering. Even while the whole nation hotly debates issues of Triple Talaq, Muslim women hesitate to speak and her voice is deliberately unheard by the mainstream, observed Dr Malik. She added that secularists, the left wing and the right wing speak of Muslim Women and Triple Talaq and find time for such talks, but Muslim women are unwilling to speak for themselves; and cited sexual assaults, domestic violence, false portrayals by political parties, and oppression as problems concerning Muslim women. This does not mean that a Muslim woman should always occupy the victim position or that they are always in need of protection; she should rather be able to define herself and be a harbinger of social changes, Dr. Malik said. She also remarked that the living condition of Muslim women in Kerala are quite different from those in the Northern regions of the country and that the former enjoy a greater degree of freedom and opportunity to work outside(their homes, in the society).
The Muslim Women’s Colloquium is expected to boldly open up doors for exploring, understanding, rereading and analyzing the culturally established norms within the Muslim community. The responses which followed after the colloquium stand testimony to the success of this initiative. Dr. Sherin B. S. posted on facebook: “…The community has a lot to hear from them and gain by listening to them. And the feminist movement definitely will be benefited if these voices are heard across platforms….” Dr. Varsha Basheer commented: “… each day the network grows, we all build, learn and keep rising an edifice against all oppressive structures.… ” Bhupali Magare expressed her happiness at the emergence of such voices.
Muslim Women’s Colloquium is one of the numerous programme conducted by Girls Islamic Organization with an aim of the overall development of girls and women and assertion of their identities. They have been in the forefront of several social, political and cultural issues affecting this section of the community like the objectification of the female body, denial of rights to the marginalized sections, and the ban on wearing the Hijab. Programmes earlier organized in this respect including Thartheel and Canvascarf exhibit GIO’s belief in the potential of the womenfolk in shaping a healthy society.