The Bitter Lament of a Muslim Woman
By Jahanara Begum
"Allah Amader Kandte Dao!" Allah, Please let us weep in peace! —Jahanara Begum
Please, Allah, leave us alone to cry and weep in peace. From behind the veil, beyond public gaze we want to cry till we cannot cry any more. This is the only right you have left to us Muslim women, throughout the Islamic world, where your laws are meticulously followed. The world beyond is undergoing so many changes, so many evolutions over the ages; year after year, new discoveries are being made both in the sciences and philosophies, in the rest of the world, improving upon old ideas and beliefs. But we are tied forever to the rigid and immutable shackles of your laws, Allah. No one ever came forward for our emancipation. Unique is our society! Men like Raja Ram Mohun Roy or Swami Vivekananda are not born in this society. No Sharat Chandra comes forward in this society to write an account of the volumes of tears that flow from our eyes. Educated Muslim men like Badruddin Tyebji, Hamid Dalwai and others like them have written on measures to stop the killing of cows but have failed to utter a single word of sympathy for us, Muslim women. Abdut Jabbar can write a big fat volume on the eunuchs—and on the castrated in different Muslim societies—but he has nothing to say in our behalf. Syed Mustafa Siraj was at least honest when he said that the Hindus can fearlessly write on the injustices and other inadequacies of their social system, but we, the Muslims, are afraid to criticize the defects of the Islamic society. Nargis Sattar has started to write a few articles on the subject of Islamic marriage laws and we were so hopeful. But that hope too, once again, has been taken away from us. More than a hundred female lawyers had demanded women’s emancipation in the streets of Lahore in Islamic Pakistan. The ‘heroic’ Pakistani policemen attacked the female lawyers with sticks and batons. A Muslim female member of the ADMK party of India had raised the subject of the emancipation of India’s Muslim women in the nation’s parliament—but then, all the progressive members of parliament remained silent on the issue, for no one wanted to offend the fundamentalist mullahs and lose the Muslim votes.
Oh Allah! the political leaders and their supporters in this land are very peculiar. They are just like the eunuchs who used to live among the innumerable young and beautiful women of the harems. All the lust, passion and sexual desires that overtook them, were of no avail for after all, they were eunuchs and so quite helpless. Our political leaders are exactly like those eunuchs. These leaders talk in high-sounding, noble words such as ‘freedom’, ‘non-discrimination’, ‘secularism’ and many other beautiful words. But alas, they do not have the means to apply a single such word to the day-to-day life of our Muslim society. And so, the crying and weeping of the Muslim women go on unchecked; from one age to another. Their tears are symbolized by the waters that cover three quarters of this planet. What a horrible, inhuman and illogical existence we have! Leaving his hundreds of concubines behind, the octogenarian Sheikh from Arabia comes to India to ‘marry’ a Muslim teenager. The news is flashed in all papers but behold, not a single political leader even registers a protest. Not a single mullah or maulvi declares ‘jihad’ or holy war on such goings-on. On the other hand, the mullah presides over these "Muta Marriages" that last for only a short fixed time.
What an unbearable existence for us to live and survive among co-wives! Innumerable children, unhealthy surroundings, poverty and lack of education have made a mockery of our social lives. Even goats and cows live better than us. The frequent fights among the co-wives, the pulling at one another’s hair are so degrading! And then, God forbicl, if the miyan or husband gets into the fray, then we get beaten like a beast until we cannot take it anymore. And after the beating, to make it even more degrading, the miyan takes his other wife into the bedroom and shuts the door into our face.
If there is the slightest shortcoming in the wife’s attention to the physical needs of the miyan or husband, then woe be to her. She goes on suffering forever from an acute uncertainty, and intense anxiety. The sword of ‘Talaq’ or divorce could come down on her any moment. The slightest inattention eoulo provoke a divorce. All is in the hands of the Muslim husband. Just the pronouncement of the word ‘Talaq’ three times can move the earth from under the feet of the Muslim wife. The consequence? Cheap labour or prostitution. The little children suffer from lack of mother’s love, a sense of awesome insecurity and an unhealthy environment. If the children manage to survive then the society is burdened with more beggars and criminals. Admittedly such occurrences do take place in other societies as well, but then they are much fewer in number and, what is more important, in other societies such a state of affairs is not allowed to persist in the name of their ‘religion’, while in our society the mullahs preach such treatment to us women in the name of ‘Islam’. The motto among us is: ‘Breed and profit’—take over the land by increased birth rate. And we, the married Muslim women, have to bear all the burden of the entire operation. That is why no one ever finds a married Muslim woman who is not nursing her own baby or is not pregnant. They are with a child all the time. They die young.
We observe the lives of Hindu women who live near or around us. What a sense of purity, security and trust surrounds their family lives! Where is the hope of chastity, of purity in our lives? If the Muslim husband comes to regret divorcing his wife, if it happens at all, he still can do nothing to redress the situation. Allah, your laws of the ‘shariat’ prevent re-marriage with the ex-husband. The mullah will get into the act, get the woman ‘married’ to someone else and she has to consummate the ‘marriage’ for three days and three nights, and then, and then only, she can re-become ‘pure and virgin’. If the new husband ‘divorces’ the woman obligingly, then only the previous and now repentant husband can ‘re-marry’ her. On the other hand, if the bride happens to be a good woman, the new husband may not wish to divorce her and then trouble starts between the two men. Fighting breaks out culminating in murders in many cases. Such is our life, Allah! Who should we go to with our sorrows and complaints? If we rebel, then we are physically beaten and punished in accordance with the laws laid down by you. If we complain, then we are accused of being hypocrites or ‘munafiq’. In every other religion, respect is accorded to chastity, self-control and purity. But not so, in your religion. Oh Allah, the only privilege that we have is to cry our hearts out.
There are many ‘educated’ Muslims who are not unaware of all this. But they do not protest for they too are out to have fun at our expense. Those Muslims who are truly liberated, abandon us and do not want to concern themselves with our problems. It was with us in mind that Kazi Abdul Oclud once said that in the last 1400 years, Islam has not been able to light even a small candle eradicating darkness from human civilization. Abu Syed Ayub spent his entire active life singing Tagore songs. He married the Hindu woman Gouri Dutta and lived a free and healthy life like any other Hindu. Mohamnled Ali Karim Chagla did the same. Vice President Hidayetullah, political leaders like Sikandar Bakht, Dr. Jeelany, Syed Mujtaba Ali too, did the same; in fact any one from our society that has gone up in civilized life away from our miseries, pains and problems moved closer to the society of the Hindus. (We are not sure about Ghagla, but Humayun Kabir and Sadiqu Ali married Hindu ladies. –Publisher). Only we the abandoned ones are left behind in the dark prison controlled by the mullahs and the maulvis. We just cry here in an endless pain. No writer or reporter writes a story on us or makes an attempt to fathom the depth of our sorrow. The Government of India gave us the right to vote but denied us a healthy and peaceful married life by perpetuating the ‘Muslim Personal Marriage Code’. The ‘Hindu Code Bill’ liberated the Hindu women but we still remain the victims of polygamous practices. No remedy has been provided to prevent frivolous divorces in our Islamic society.
Once upon a time we used to trust the Marxists on this score. The Muslim women of Tazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan have found their freedom in Soviet Russia. No Sheikh from Arabia can buy them. These women do not spend their lives among innumerable children, unending pregnancies and degrading fights among co-wives. They have meaningful lives to lead. The mullahs do not have control over them. But here in our land, even the Marxists are under the thumb of the mullahs. A Marxist like Mansur Habibullah went to Mecca, became a ‘Haji’ just to please the mullahs. And everyone knows that in his personal life, Habibullah does not care about this religion. His life is like that of a logical Hindu. And so we were saying Allah, you have not given us the slightest opportunity to have a little peace, a little happiness. Your lack of concern for us is eternal. In the middle ages, nawabs and sultans used to keep thousands of women in their harems. Most of our days and nights then were spent in weeping. Some spent their time in laying plots and some in profligacy and unnatural practices. We were the fuel for the lusts of these sultans. Interminable fights have taken place among brothers, between father and son and among the nawabs themselves for us women. The chariot of civilization, slowly but surely, has crossed many paths. Radical changes have taken place in other societies and other lands. Even the burning of the ‘suttee’, a terrible Hindu practice, has been eradicated by social progress. The marriage of very old men with very young brides that used to take place among some Hindus, following the ‘Kaulinya’ system—has also been abandoned in time. Many bad social customs and practices have disappeared in other societies. Even in our Islamic society some good changes have taken place—but then these changes have always been to the advantage of Muslim males only.
There is a villaye near Basra in Iraq. That village was well-known for supplying eunuchs for the nawabs’ harems. Nearly 60% of the young lads who were castrated there used to die. This butchery has ceased today. There are many Muslims like Idi Amin who have numerous wives but the eunuchs are no more there to watch over the women. But for us, nothing has changed. The men of our society are completely without concern for their women. By granting a few property rights they seem to think that a lot has been done for us Muslim women. What good are these property rights when our marriages are scarred with an unending chain of divorces and re-marriages? The Muslim law has, on the other hand, given rise to a lot more persecution of Muslim women. If a divorced Muslim woman files a suit for her property and alimony rights, then the Muslim court moves very slowly indeed. In the meantime, the husband can get remarried without any hindrance from our Islamic laws. The law of the land that helps women of all other communities under similar circumstances is of no use to us Muslim women because we are supposed to go by the laws of Islam only and nothing else. It was Abdul Rauf who wrote in the Bengali newspaper ‘Jugaantar’ describing the sorrows of Muslim women all over the country but, alas, there was no reaction. A few letters appeared in the press supporting the article and that was all.
But our Muslim leaders are very sensitive when it is a question of their own vested interest. Muzaffar Hussain wrote from north India that the Hindi movie ‘Talaq, talaq, talaq’ was renamed ‘Nikaah’ on the advice of the mullahs. The mullahs said that to mention the name of the film to their wives, the Muslim husbands would have to pronounce the magic word three times which would automatically end their marriages. These are funny men who are afraid to pronounce the word ‘Talaq’ but would do nothing to eradicate the dreadful practice of frivolous divorces. Such a great number of Muslim women lead a helpless and miserable life due to this abominable practice of ‘Talaq’. But then none of the ‘pious’ Muslims worry about it.
The Islamic soldiers of Pakistan’s Yahya Khan gang-raped hundreds of thousands of women in Bangladesh. More than two hundred thousand women became pregnant. A great number of these women later became insane. Only Mujibur Rahman tried to help a little, but the rest of the Islamic world maintained a complete silence. Khomeini’s Iran is currently killing hundreds of women. Their fault is that they do not support his rule. So, in the name of Islam, these women are being butchered. Vishnu Upadhyay has written about the incidents in the newspaper ‘Aaj Kal’ but then no one says a word—the Muslin world is still silent. In any other society, if a woman is raped, the papers cry out in her support, raising a storm of protest in the community. Islam means peace. To watch silently the persecution of women is perhaps this peace. Such lack of concern for women has prevented all improvement in our condition. No blessing or show of kindness from our angels has been bestowed upon us and so, Allah, we are telling you once again about our sadness. You are the master of this world and universe. You are the one we are addressing our complaints to. You have denied us a happy life. If we happen to be one of many wives of a rich Muslim then we spend our lives in jealousy, rivalry and unending pregnancies. If on the other hand, we belong to a poor husband then there is back-breaking hard work for all day and one pregnancy after another as well. Wherever we go, the sword of ‘Talaq’ or divorce always hangs over our heads. The uncertainty and insecurity of our lives affect not only ourselves but our children as well. They have no better choice and get into begging and street crimes. You have seen the crowds of Muslim women and their numerous children roaming around the Howrah station of Calcutta. That they are Muslims can be guessed by the presence of the bearded mullahs that hang around these women. The only concern of the mullahs is to ensure that these women remain Muslims. They are not concerned with their health, well-being, safety and simple humanness. And so, there is nothing for a Muslim woman to look forward to. There is a lot of tears to shed though. A lot of weeping that has no remedy. And so we are crying out to you, Oh Allah, you have given us one and only one privilege and that is to weep. Please therefore let us weep in peace and leave us alone.