This study discusses woman's status under Islam; it discusses Islamic laws relating to marriage, divorce and dower; it discusses polygamy and concubinage which were not long ago important political institution of Islam; they were made possible by its fast- growing Imperialism and they in turn had fully served its expansionist needs.
According to the author, Islam probably inherited a world where woman's position was low, but it became worse when Islam took over and the old Arabic social practices became Revealed Commands of God.
Today woman's problem in Islam is more ideological than legal; her depressed social position derives from her depressed theological position. Woman can receive no justice much less honour in a religious ideology which has no concept of a female God. Although the Quran may teach here and there kind treatment of woman, it is within the framework of man's unquestioned superiority, moral and meta- physical.
But now under new compulsions and impulses, some effort is being made to improve woman's lot. The author welcomes this effort but believes that the problem of reform under Islam is a difficult one; he holds that no worthwhile reform is possible within the ideational and ethical framework of Islam's traditional theology - as Taslima has discovered by experience.
The author also mentions Islam's treatment of the infidels, a related and even more cruel aspect of the same problem, and also a question of grave concern to the non-Muslim world. The two credos derive from the same source - an inadequate and undeveloped spirituality; they also need the same cure - a review of religious categories such as exclusive gods, exclusive intermediaries and exclusive revelations. Any basic reform in Islam requires a new intellectual lead derived from a very different concept of man, woman and, yes, of deity; it requires self-questioning, a questioning about Islam itself! But for that, is Islam ready yet?
Ram Swarup graduated from the University of Delhi in 1941 and has been an original writer and thinker ever since. He participated in his country's struggle for independence, courting imprisonment. For some years, he was a close associate of British-born Mira Behn (Miss Slade), Mahatma Gandhi's adopted daughter. In the fifties he led a movement warning against the growing danger which international communism presented to the newly won freedom of the country. Around 1957, he took to a life of meditation and spiritual reflection, and since then he has made a deep study of the scriptures of different religious traditions.
Mr. Swarup is a noted writer in many fields. His previous books and brochures include Communism and Peasantry: Implications of Collectivist Agriculture for Asian Countries, Foundations of Maoism, and Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism. His Gandhism and Communism stressed the need to raise the struggle against' communism from a military to a moral and ideological level. The brochure caught the attention of several US Congressmen, and some of its ideas were adopted by the Eisenhower administration in its agenda for the Geneva Conference in 1955. His Gandhian Economics, small but seminal, shows that the present industrial production system suffers from circularity, a deep internal technological contradiction - coal and iron, and a hundred other commodities symbolized by them, producing and consuming one another in a crescendo, round and round. His magnum opus, The Word As Revelation: Names of Gods, is on linguistics, philosophy, Vedic exegesis, and Yoga. It shows how a religion of 'many Gods' represents authentic spirituality.
Mr. Swarup's latest book, Understanding Islam through Hadis: Religious Faith or Fanaticism, has played an important role in opening up Islam for discussion, hitherto a tabooed subject in India.
Mr. Swarup is a distinguished spokesman of renascent Hinduism which, he believes, can also help other nations to rediscover their spiritual roots.
Woman in Islam discusses briefly Islam's laws on marriage, divorce, dower, polygamy, concubinage as derived from the Quran and the Sunnab and subsequently codified by Muslim legists. These laws are often arbitrary, particularly those relating to divorce. Therefore, it has been painful to write these essays and it must be painful to read them too.
However; the problem of woman in Islam is more ideological than legal. Both traditionally and in its deeper conceptualization, Islam's world has been a male's world in which woman has held frankly a low position. Perhaps that is the kind of world Islam inherited and woman's position became worse under new ideological pressures. But now Islam itself is under pressure and it lives in a different world than it has known. The question of Muslim woman has opened up and there are voices of protest and there is demand for change. True, those voices are still feeble and not entirely unequivocal, but they can no longer be ignored and they cannot remain without influence for long.
However, the problem of those who seek change is not easy. Islamic laws on marriage and divorce are not just social legislation which could be changed in response to new social mores and needs; they are revealed truths, Allah's commands and, therefore, unalterable. To seek to change them is both a crime against a truly Muslim State and rebellion against God. True, perhaps some of these- laws were once current-social practices among the Arabs of the time of the Prophet; but once they were adopted by Allah and acquired heavenly sanctions, they were no longer amenable to legal modifications or even normal social wear and tear or silent social change .
Under the circumstances those who seek, a change hope to humanize Muslim legislation through reinterpreting the Quran. They point out that the Quran was not always so unalterable, that there was a time when different and multiple interpretations of its texts were possible and different schools of jurisprudence that exist today testify to that period of freer discourse. And in anticipation, they have already begun with their reinterpreting and in the process have given us a Quran which was not known or even suspected by Islam's best minds and legists in the past. Similarly, though they have failed to serve the cause of Muslim woman, they have certainly used the pretext for doing some fine propaganda for Islam. In any case it is not they who have used the authority of Quran for their purpose, it is the Quran which has used them for strengthening its over-all authority.
In this study, we have held that no worthwhile reform is possible within the present ideational framework of the Quran and the Sunnah. But this fact should be openly rec- ognized and squarely met. Any other method, particularly the one mentioned above, will be self-defeating. It will merely strengthen the authority of the very sources of the ideas which have kept woman down. Some interpretation is permissible and even necessary but it should not become insincere and the Revised Version should not lose all touch with the Authoritative Version.
Some unreal discussion along the false lines mentioned above was already going on in India when Taslima Nasrin burst on the scene. Taslima is a genuine reformer, very different from the ones we know in India. She has convictions and can suffer for them. She has been in the forefront of the struggle for women's liberation and has opened up this question in a big way along with a host of other important questions like the question of free discussion under Islam, the question whether man's best authority is Reason or a Book, and even the tabooed but very important question of the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam.
On the woman question she seems to agree with us and she has found by her own experience that reform is not possible within the four walls of Quranic morality. In a television interview she recently gave to the Australian Broad- casting Corporation, she said that "Islam treated women as slaves," and if they "wanted to live with dignity" they would have to live "outside the Islamic law." She had therefore earlier suggested that the Quran should be revised. We all know the subsequent story; how the hell broke out and she now faces the fatwa of death.
We appreciate what led her to this view. We also salute her courage in expressing that view, a courage which is likely to bring her martyrdom. But would the course she has suggested help the cause that is uppermost in her mind? The problem is sensitive and the course she has suggested is not viable. There are other considerations too. Firstly, a book has a right not to be revised and expurgated except by its author; secondly, the readers of a book like the Quran, which is held in such high esteem by them and which has been preserved unaltered with great care over centuries, have a right to have it as it is. In the new climate, we may differ with the book but in that case the best course is we write our own book or commentaries to show why and where we differ.
To my mind the Quran needs not nee-interpretation or revision but it needs to be reviewed, re-examined, and reappraised; it does not need rewriting, it needs rereading by a critical mind and an alert heart - that is, by a heart open to larger truths of life and having wider sympathies. It needs to be discussed more widely and the unstated requirement that it should only be praised should be considered unworthy of an intellectual and spiritual venture. A reawakened humanity needs rationality as well as internality in its scriptures.
Woman in Islam has also passingly mentioned Islam's treatment of the infidels and its neighbours. This is important for many of us who are infidels of Islam's definition. Islam has treated her women badly enough, but it has treated its neighbours far, far worse. The two problems are not unconnected but we cannot go into this question here except to say that they originate from the same ideology, the same attitude, the same mind, the same psyche. Historically too, religious ideologies which have been unkind to women have been cruel to their neighbours.
Quran is an ideological work. It manifests a certain kind of mind and psyche which regards quite a sector of humanity as inferior. It treats women and infidels as inferior. It may recommend kindly behaviour towards them here and there which become quotable pieces of the liberals - but that is quite compatible with intolerance, persecution and systematic cruelty towards them on a large scale. Yes, Quran needs reviewing and re-examination, not revision.
In this book we have praised Taslima for speaking for Muslim women who do not have many spokesmen in the Muslim world. But her real glory is that she has also spoken for the persecuted Hindus in her country - for whom no one speaks, not even the Hindus. And in fact this is what rankles in many minds and that is why she has not found much support even in liberal circles. Muslim orthodoxy and Muslim liberalism may be divided on the question of Muslim women, but they are one where the infidels are concerned. It is curious but true that in Muslim history there has been no protest from Muslim quarters against what Islam has done to non-Muslims.
In this book, we have said that for sympathizing with Hindus, Taslima is not likely to be more popular with Hindu 'liberals' in India than with Muslim liberals in her own country. In some ways, Hindu 'liberals' are worse than Muslim liberals. Their first and fondest antipathy is Hinduism; and the rest of their politics is a mere corollary. Taslima has de- scribed the sorry plight of the Hindus in Bangladesh. The anti-Hindu Hindu 'liberals' in India can never excuse her for that though some may make some appropriate noises to look liberal. In fact, this role of Taslima remains unrecognized and even unmentioned and every effort is made to push it under the carpet in order to suppress the very idea and need of such a role.
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