Muslim women should not work with men or go shopping in areas where they could mix with strangers of the opposite sex, according to an edict issued by the influential All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which claims to represent the nation’s 140 million Muslims.
Maulana Syed Nizamuddin, the board’s general secretary, said the decision to ask Muslim women not to work in call centres and avoid any kind of job which involves interacting with men was part of a package of “social reforms we advocate”.
He said that women were also dressing in western clothes, especially in the country’s new shopping malls, and these often were “too revealing”. “Men will gaze on them if they visit the market. It is extremely essential to cover their entire body. Better such errands are left to the men in the family,” said Mr Nizamuddin.
The comments provoked anger among Muslim liberals, who say such pronouncements are an anachronism and will undermine the authority of the clergy.
Syeda Hameed, of the Muslim Women’s Forum, said that the board needed to reflect a more “sane, moderate, realistic” view of the world. “There is nothing in the Qur’an or the Sharia law about these things. In fact one of the wives of the prophet was a businesswoman. Saying these things just makes Islam end up looking anti-women, which it is not.”
The board, which is made up of leading Muslim clerics from all over India, carries considerable weight. Almost every mosque in the country takes its advice.
However opinion polls have shown that Indian Muslims, who have benefited less from the country’s wealth and development in recent years, have become increasingly preoccupied with material matters rather than spiritual ones.
According to a poll commissioned by CNN-IBN, a news network, 69% of Indian Muslim respondents chose “livelihood issues” as the most important issue facing the community. Only 4% said religion.
Academics say that although India has many prominent Muslims in Bollywood and in sports, this has masked the community’s relative decline in the country. Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, of Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said that for “all the visibility of Muslim film stars and cricketers, there is considerable evidence to suggest that independent India has done a bad job of integrating Muslims into the mainstream of politics”.
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