Millennium Post

Beyond the veil

While finishing a hectic day’s work, the pleasant thought of her dream being fulfilled brings a smile on Qaiser bibi’s face. Her dream – of seeing her children (especially her daughters) get a job is all she looks forward to now. The quaint Qaiser Bibi works as a house-help in many well to do families in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar. She manages to maintain a decent living aided by her husband who works as a tailor. In all these years the 37 year old woman has managed to build a one bedroom house for herself.

Asked about her most prized asset till now, she promptly replied, “It is  nothing but my children’s education.” She has two daughters and a son, while many in her heavily inhabited Muslim neighbourhood had laughed at her decision to send her daughters to school, instead of sending them to do household work like her, Qaiser remained determined about her decision. “I could have made them work and that would have added to the family’s income, but I have set certain dreams for my girls. I want them to work in offices and travel in cars. I don’t want them to end up like me.”
Qaiser’s girls maybe an anomaly in their neighbourhood but they are two of many hundreds of Muslim girls whose parents are saving every penny of their earning to send their daughters to school, instead of just marrying them off.

Education amongst women in Muslims isn’t something new, it has been in existence since a long time. “Muslims have come a long way from what they were 20 years back. At least in urban areas, gender is no more an issue as far as education goes. In places like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra a lot of private educational institutes have come into existence that work for female
education,” explained Navaid Hamid, an activist and the secretary of South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) and general secretary of Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians (MOEMIN).

“The situation in rural areas, especially in Bihar and Western Uttar Pradesh, is still not good but that stands true for all communities,” he added. Young and vivacious Sehar Siddiqui is a freelance writer in Delhi. The 24-year-old hails from Allahabad and came to Delhi to complete her post graduation in Mass communication from Jamia Millia Islamia. She reminisced, “When I  think of my childhood, I still remember the day when my maternal grandmother accompanied me to a bookstore where Ruskin Bond was signing copies of his books for children. I was nine years old then and today I am a confident and well educated 24 years old.” Sehar had seen education percolating in her family and was similarly encouraged by women in her family to do so.

“I owe every bit of my personality to what I received as a legacy. In our family, education has always been a top most priority. Ninety five per cent of women in my family are holders of professional degrees. Education and Islam are both extremely important aspects of our life,” she said.

Muslim women and their right to education has been media’s favourite topic for debate that keeps cropping up after every other day, and since 10.9 per cent of all Muslims in the world live in India (the third after Indonesia and Pakistan), Indian Muslim women find themselves at the centre of this debate. Here we must understand that unlike the popular perception, Muslim families have been progressive and keen on having the female members acquiring education in their families.

“Muslim women make for sensational news all over the world and popular media loves to harness on this,” said Naazish Hussaini, Director of Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC), Jamia Millia Islamia, “I have seen a number of young ambitious Muslim girls coming to MCRC all these years and doing exceptionally good. They compete with everyone, they go for shoots, travel, even go abroad for scholarships and many of them even maintain the hijaab (head covering). If women are lesser represented in education, it is true for every community, not just Muslims.”

Agreeable on this point, Sehar said, “Education in Islam has not been a new thing; our Prophet had always encouraged his Ummah (followers) for education by saying – if anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of paradise.” The Holy Prophet has said, Atta libul ilm faridhatol kuli Muslim. This Hadith (prophet’s saying) means, attainment of knowledge is a must for every Muslim.

Dr Nakhat Nasreen, Associate Professor, Department of Education, Aligarh Muslim university in a report Education of Muslim women - A journey from past to present published by International  Journal of Management and Social Sciences Research (IJMSSR) wrote that at the start of the 19th century Muslim families preferred the indigenous way of education (madarsa, maktabs, etc) but women education was hardly considered. In upper class families, girls used to be educated at home to read the Quran in Arabic and to read and write in Urdu and Persian. The struggle towards formal women education in the Muslim community started at the end of 19th century by Sir Maulana Hali and Sheikh Abdullah. Sutan Jahan, Begum of Bhopal was the first woman in Indian history to believe in the need of women education and thus emancipation. She started the first school for Muslim girls in 1903, the Sultania schools.

Sheikh Abdullah started bringing out a monthly magazine, Khatoon, to popularise the idea of a school for Muslim girls in Aligarh. A resolution was passed in the annual Muslim Education conference session at Lucknow to establish a girl’s school in Aligarh and the school was opened in 1906.

Muslim women have come a long way since then. According to one survey done by Shervani in Uttar Pradesh the percentage of Muslim girls appearing for School Service Commission Examination (SSC) has increased. Not only that the success rate of Muslim girls has jumped by 19 times since 1990.

Many Muslim girls are also making it to the merit lists. More and more women are going into professional courses, and higher studies. Many are going for the civil services as well. Muslim parents too have decided to take a break from the idea of getting their daughters married off as early as possible, and this is not just true for the upper class Muslims. As Naazish Hussaini said, “I remember, as far as our house helps are concerned, before it used to be about calling us to attend their daughter’s wedding, but today it is about getting their daughters a job. A change, however, minuscule you might think it is, has come and is here to stay.”

So, education isn’t something new for Muslim women, rather it is a fact known and being acknowledged by all now.
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