By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
01 December 2018
An innocent play performed as part of an annual school festival ended up offending a section of Kerala Muslims so much that they formally lodged a complaint against it.
The play features a young Muslim girl who is in constant debate with her father, a muezzin in a local mosque. With aspirations to touch the sky, this young girl questions many notions of Islam regarding the supposed inequality between men and women.
She questions why women are supposed to eat half as much as men. After being chastised by the father for her persistent questions, she asks if women really deserve half of what men get, then why is it that they (women) should not wear half the clothes as compared to men. The last straw is when she asks her father if she can make the call to prayer very much like he does in the mosque. Furious, the father locks her up saying that it is not allowed in Islam and that only men have the right to give a call for prayer. He reminds her that she will not reach heaven if she does anything like this. The daughter replies that she would not like to go in a heaven in which she cannot sing and dance. Fortunately, the play ends with the father relenting and allowing her to make the Azaan.
The play is about women’s right, dignity and gender justice. It is also certainly humanist in the sense that the father eventually relents and redeems his own humanity. Also, the play would have lent itself to the current Muslim women’s movement in Kerala which is demanding entry of women in mosques.
But then, all good things must come to an end. And in Muslim context, many a times it ends before it even starts. The SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India), which is the political front for Popular Front of India (PFI) raised a huge hue and cry and even took to the streets to protest against the proposed play. Raising the familiar cry of hurt religious feelings, they demanded that the school in which this play was to be performed pull it back and tender an apology. The SDPI said that the play was intended to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims. Had this been some other context, we would have seen debates about freedom of expression and the right to dissent but then we hardly hear about such things when there is a Muslim context.
Unable to bear the pressure from SDPI and with no support forthcoming from anyone, the school now has decided to change the play and have promised not to hurt the religious feelings of anyone.
So how should we understand the claim of SDPI when it says that the play hurt the feelings of Muslims? How can a school play, performed in some corner of the country, end up hurting the feelings of the followers of a religion which is fourteen hundred years old? But then that perhaps is not the point. The larger point that SDPI is trying to make is that there can be only one version of Islam which should be acceptable to all Muslims and that they (SDPI) are the representatives of that religion. This religion, which they claim to be the sole spokesman of, is understood to be anti-women to the core. Any talk of women’s agency and this kind of Islam immediately starts talking about hurt feelings.
On the other hand, this is also a clever way to stop any movement within the Muslim community which imagines a different relationship with God or a more equitable relationship between men and women. It is a serious affront to think that God will take offence because a child decides to question her father. What kind of Islam does the SDPI wants to project: one in which even the innocent questions of a child will be treated like a crime?
The argument of the SDPI, that the play was an insult to the Muslim way of life is equally unconvincing, to say the least. Like most organizations who have become the spokesman for Muslim culture, the SDPI is also ignorant about Muslim culture.
There is no one Muslim culture in India. What we call Muslim culture is contextualised by regions, languages and different historical trajectories. A Muslim considers it as part of his culture when he touches the feet of his mother in law in Bengal. A Muslim woman considers it part of her culture to wear the Sindoor post marriage in parts of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. This would be simply an anathema in a different part of the country.
The point is that amidst this plethora of diverse Muslim cultures, which one should we believe is the standard towards which an average Muslim should look. The answer is that there is no standard and throughout centuries Muslims have believed that all cultures are equally valid.
But then, perhaps for the Islamist SDPI, Muslims must necessarily look towards the Arabian culture in order to become true Muslims. And that precisely is the problem. In trying to de-legitimize indigenous Muslim cultures of India, the SDPI wants to ingratiate Arabian Islam on the psyche of Indian Muslims. This trend is dangerous and it must be resisted by one and all, most importantly by the Muslims of Kerala themselves.
Gender Equality in Islam
Is A Woman’s Testimony Worth Half That of A Man?
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
author Arshad Alam in his urge to create a new monster of ‘diversity hating
Islamists’ in Kerala, ‘the Muslim counterpart for Sangh Pariwar’, employs many clichés,
half-truths and sometimes outright lies while exaggerating some of the
responses from people to the high school play ‘Kithab’, performed by Memunda
Higher Secondary School students, Calicut and later withdrawn by the school
authorities due to peaceful protests. The conclusions he draws are based on his own
bias and ignorance rather that the truth of the incident.
casually concludes that it was ‘an innocent play’ and that it was only ‘a
section of Muslims’ who are opposed to it. The truth is it was not an innocent
play at all, nor was it merely ‘a section of Muslims who opposed it’. One of the prominent people to come against
the play was writer and movie artist is Unni R, the very author of the original
short story Vank (Muslim call to
prayer) on which Rafeek Mangalasheri, the director of Kithab clams his play to be based. Rejecting any connection with
the play, Unni R said that the play makers had taken his story without his
permission and distorted it to the point of demonizing Islamic faith. He adds
that that such plays help reinforce the anti-Muslim sentiment or Islamophobia
that has been simmering across the world in recent times. Academic writer and
social critique J Devika was another prominent figure to come publicly against
the play. She is of the view that the play is utterly anti-Muslim and it
invisiblises the struggles of Muslim women and the remarkable socio-economic
and cultural progress they have made lately against all odds. Poet
Sachidanandan and State Academy Award winner novelist N S Madhavan too have
criticised the content of the play. The list may get even longer.
is safe to say that the play was shamelessly Islamophobic. Muslim women in the
play do not even remotely represent today’s Muslim women in Kerala or discuss their
real problems. It simply denies them their true representation and agency and reduces
them to mere ‘damsels in distresses. When Arshad Alam hopes that the play would
have lent itself to the demand of Muslim women for entry to mosques’, it becomes
all the clearer that his ignorance is laughable. Kerala Muslim women have been
going to the mosques since more than half a century.
is utterly untrue that the SDPI, or for that matter any other Muslim
organization formally lodged a complaint against it. The complaint against it was made by writer
Unni R to Kerala Education Department, that too on copy right grounds. School
authorities themselves have made it clear that the decision was not because of
any pressure. Notably, the appeal against the withdrawal of the play was
rejected by Kerala High Court. It is true that many prominent Muslim
organizations in the state representing various streams of Islam like SKSSF and
SSF too registered their protest in peaceful and democratic ways. Campus Front
activists responded with another play and it was widely applauded by people as
a creative and meaningful exposition of the anti-Muslim politics behind ‘Kithab’.
But half-blind author only sees ‘Islamist’ SDPI behind every ‘evil’.
though the responses were completely peaceful and democratic, for the author,
they are a dangerous trend to be resisted. In other words, he does not even
allow the space for Muslims to be offended or to feel hurt by a play that makes
mockery of their faith. He ignores the playwright is well known as an Islamophob
mostly spending his time in attacking Islam and Muslims. Ironically, the
liberal tolerant author finds it hard to view Muslim responses as part of their
freedom of expression. While he lectures Islamists about diversity and tolerance,
he forgets the fact that in democratic and plural India people can respond to a
work of art in diverse ways. Any work of art can be subjected to aesthetical,
political and moral criticism. Denying space for it is sheer intolerance.
the latter part of the article, author singles out SDPI from among those who
protested and hurls serious accusations against the party without bothering to
substantiate it, proving himself driven more by ideology rather than evidence.
Nothing is more absurd than the accusation that SDPI wants to impose only one
single version of Islam and that the party clamed itself to be sole
representative of this. In fact as a political party SDPI not only does not
promote any version of any religion, but the party’s support base cuts across
almost all major religions and sub sects. Party doesn’t concern itself with how
its members practice their religion. The accusations that follows do not even
any qualify for serious a response. (courtesty
Islam does not want its followers to go the extremes
of hardship. Allah Almighty says in the Quran,
"Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to
make things difficult for you" [2:185]; and "Allah does not want to
place you in difficulty" [5:6].
A number of ahadith explain such easiness; one of them
is reported by Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet
(peace be upon him) said, “Religion [Islam] is easy…” (Bukhari). It is also
reported that he said “The best of Your Religion is the easiest” (Ahmad)
Such easiness is well explained in the hadeeth
reported by Abu Hurairah, radiya Allahu 'anhu, that the Prophet, salla Allaahu
'alaihe wasallam, said, "Religion is easy..." [Bukhari], he also
said; "The best of your religion, is the easiest." [Ahmad]