While throwing out the petition filed by Akhila Bharatha Hindu Mahasabha, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice, Ranjan Gogoi, said "Let a Muslim woman come and challenge it. Then we will consider." The apex court has once again won the admiration of the community by acting sanely on an issue that is all set to become high on the agenda of the Saffron organizations in the days to come to corner the beleaguered Muslim community in the country.
However, what the justices said doesn’t really convey the real picture. A Muslim couple has already approached the Supreme Court asking the apex court to stop the practice of prohibition of women’s entry in the mosque. The couple that belonged to Pune said that efforts by women to enter mosques have been thwarted by mosque authorities.
A major issue in the making
There are telltale signs that this will become a major political issue in the days to come thanks to the fact that the BJP has already succeeded in making stringent anti-triple talaq law a reality. Triple talaq bill was aimed at not providing justice to Muslim women, but to show the Muslim community its place. A civil issue has been turned into criminal issue by the where a person giving triple talaq to his wife is condemned to three year’s jail term. This is not just discriminatory but also destroys any chance that the couple will ever be able to live together in peace.
Congress leader, Shahshi Tharoor, rightly called the legislation a class act during the debate in the Parliament and said that abandoning of women by their husbands is not merely limited to the Muslim community in the country, but is equally prevalent among other communities including Hindus. He demanded the government to make a universal law to provide protection to all women.
Is entry of women banned in mosques?
There is no denying that Muslim women are not allowed entry in most Muslim places of worship across the country. Thousands and thousands of mosques, across the width and breadth of the country, will never allow the women to enter mosques. This is an undeniable truth and therefore close to 100 million Muslim women are not allowed to enter mosques and offer daily prayers or even Friday prayers. Women are not allowed to even participate in Eid prayers in most of the places.
The mullahs in mosques, most mosques at least, will never allow the women to enter their mosques. They will go to any extent to deny the women an entry, let alone praying there. But is it the whole truth?
What is the reality?
While Muslim women are not allowed entry in many mosques, there are many mosques across the country where women are allowed to not just enter, but also offer daily prayers. Delhi’s iconic Jama Masjid in the heart of Shahjahanabad, despite being run by a very conservative clergy, allows unrestricted entry to women. They freely offer prayers wherever they want and whenever they want. Not just Muslim women, the mosque allows the entry of women from all religious background without any restriction. This can be observed by anyone who visits the mosque constructed by fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan.
Jama Masjid in Delhi is not the only place where women can go and offer prayers. Many other mosques in the national capital also allow the women to enter the precincts of mosques and offer prayers. On the contrary, many mosques run maktab, basic madrasas where Quran is taught to kids, a number of girls go to study Qur’an after their school hours. This is very common practice. In Kerala, women are allowed entry in almost every mosque, irrespective of the denomination of the sect or sub sect.
Muslim women have been given unrestricted entry in mosques since the very beginning. During the time of the Prophet, Muslim women used to offer five times daily prayers in the Mosque of the Prophet. They were also asked to offer Eid prayers in massive grounds outside the town in congregational prayers. Even those women who were in their periods were asked to join the prayers and be part of the congregation.
Men, women pray together in Grand Mosque of Mecca
During Haj, a rainbow of colours descends on Mecca, Mount Arafat and Medina, where women of all shades can be seen completing pilgrimage rites together. There is no place, even holiest of holy places of Islam, where there is any discrimination against women or their entry during the week long pilgrimage.
Even now, women in the Grand Mosque of Mecca circumambulate around Kaba along with men and there is nothing separating the two, not a wall or anything else. They also offer prayers side by side, behind the same imam, who leads the prayers. The same is true in the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, where thousands and thousands of women offer prayers in the beautifully built mosque. While in the mosque of the Prophet there is a separate enclosure for women, in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, there is no separate space for women and they offer prayers along with men.
Similar is the practice in much of the world. From Turkey to Indonesia, US to UK, Algeria to Libya and Iran, women go and offer prayers in mosques. Earlier, this used to be practiced in much of the Indian Subcontinent as well. Almost all the historic mosques across the country have separate enclosures for women where they used to offer prayers behind the male imam. The practice of not allowing women is unique to only Indian Subcontinent and this too developed as the community suffered from educational backwardness. In places where Muslim communities are largely educated this practice has come to an end. This includes many places in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharasthra and even many places in North India.
Islam is not responsible for banning the entry of Muslim women in mosque. An ignorant and obscurantist clergy should be held responsible for this malaise and many other similar practices hounding the Muslim community across the country. The half educated clergy is not well-acquainted with theology and therefore has obfuscated those issues where there was no confusion at all.
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