A Jihad for gender equality

By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net

Nasiruddin Haider Khan is in Hindi journalism since 1992 and currently work as Deputy Resident Editor of Dainik Hindustan in Agra. He has been working on gender issues especially Muslim women issues for the last 16 years. Mr. Khan has a diploma in Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass communication and MA in Womens studies from Lucknow University.

In 2005 he got the opportunity to look closely into Muslim women and reproductive rights issues under Health and Population Innovation Fellowship (HPIF). He has traveled to various parts of India, Egypt, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan for an in-depth study. As a result of his research he has launched a website called GenderJihad.in. He talked to TwoCircles.net about his work.

Why Gender Jihad? The word "jihad" has got violent images attached to it these days; why did you choose this word?

Gender Jihad!!! Yes, Gender Jihad! Jihad for gender equality. Precisely, a struggle to end gender discrimination.

Jihad is one of the most used and abused words in 21st century world. As I understand Islam, there are two broad categories of Jihad- greater and lesser one. Greater is one which is not against anyone means not to attack others or killing innocent persons. On the other hand, fighting with own prejudices/ vices/ shortcomings/ ill will i.e. war within is greater Jihad. But we choose to focus on lesser one and make it greater and real one. Muslims are also responsible for this.

Likewise Gender does not mean sex of a person. Sex is a biological category whereas gender has social meaning. Sex is natural difference between men and women. Whereas, gender describes social inequality between the sexes. Patriarchal social structure is based on gender inequalities or differences. For example, to see women as inferior to men, sex selective abortions for the sake of a male child, difference in providing education to a boy and girl child, putting women in lower social order in public sphere, to treat women badly just on the basis of sex. Gender gives insight to understand these inequalities. Until gender sensitiveness does not become a norm, it is very difficult to achieve progress in a society.

So, if combine the words Gender and Jihad, meaning emerges struggle for gender justice. Struggle within to let go of gender biases. Outside, it is a struggle to end discriminations.
This website www.genderjihad.in is an effort towards creating gender sensitiveness. Struggle for eliminating social inequality between sexes. To make such a world where nobody will be discriminated on the basis of caste, class and sex. Since social inequality or patriarchy has strong ideological base, to fight them, we have to also create a strong ideological tool. Gender Jihad is a tool to challenge the patriarchal norms. Its aim is to challenge all forms of terror. Be it the terror of Patriarchy.

What is it that you are trying to achieve with this site?

We have lot of writings in English on gender issues on Internet. But it is very difficult to find out focused and researched articles or writings in Hindi on web. Even what you get in English, is generally very academic and researched paper, which again demands a very academic reading. It also failed to touch Hindi heartland from the ground. I am writing on gender issues in Hindi for last one and half decades. I was not trained as gender writer. Even when I started writing in 1993, I was not using the term gender but women. Being a male, it was difficult to understand the agony of girls/women. I did try. So, I learnt myself, from the field, from the experiences of lives of girls and women. Gradually I enriched my own understanding of women issue, which led to me to understand gender. That is why I did masters in Women’s Studies. I got some fellowships to work on gender issues. I wrote on diverse aspects of women’ lives. I wrote pieces on sex selection and sex selective abortions, attitudes towards girl child, child prostitution in red light area, reproductive health and rights, domestic violence, forced sex, marital rape, issues related to Muslim women etc. These reports or articles are based on field studies of Uttar Pardesh and Bihar. These are the voices from the ground. But whenever, I tried to search Internet to get something in Hindi, I failed.

During the HPIF fellowship, I felt the need to develop gender based web resource center in Hindi. Since I was working on lives of Muslim women, I thought “Gender Jihad,” is appropriate name for my web resource. Basically It has four main purpose- first, to develop a good resource center for general surfer/ activists/ NGOs; second, digitalize all my writings on gender issues; third, make it one of the best resource on Muslim women; fourth, to make it as web news and views site on gender issues. First three things have been already started. However, due to my laxity, site has been not updated on regular basis. Fourth one is little difficult. It needs resource, time and some sort of network. Presently it is all voluntarily done. I am using my personal resources. One of my generous friends has provided the web space for the site.

In nutshell I would like to make it as one of the best site on gender issues especially on Muslim women in Hindi.

Tell us why you got interested in research on Muslim women?

As I said earlier, I learnt from my experiences. When I started to write on women’s issues, I have different understanding of the issues. It was not only me but a large section of women’s movement had understanding that all women have same suffering. So do not divide them among the caste and religious line. But the things have changed very rapidly. Shah Bano case and frequent communal riots have impacted women’s movement. Then gradually understanding developed that Muslim women has same issues but they have something more. Being Muslim they have to face challenges within community and outside the community. One hand they are subjugated in the name of religion and on the other hand they are facing attack of communal forces. Their lives and agony are less discussed. In Hindi what was discussed is purely on the basis of stereotype.

Four years ago, we witnessed two major cases related to Muslim women. One is Imrana rape case another one is famous and tragic Gudiya episode. Media took both the issues and media had raised all types of stereotypical discussion. During the debate Muslim male chauvinistic approach surfaced in its ugliest form. Especially the orthodox clerics painted Islam as a religion which does not consider women as human being. Every media, especially electronic media painted Islam as anti women and women as prisoner of orthodox clerics. They do not have space.

But for the first time a different debate within the community emerged. Intellectuals and progressive people of the community were able to speak up. Muslim women activists also came forward. I also wrote several pieces on Imrana issue.

Similarly the controversy surrounding Gudiya ultimately took her life. It had raised several questions in me. On the other hand, a politics of numbers also started, which raised another very pertinent question. Is Isalm against the planning of family? Both the issues linked with women but they do not have voice. I decided to wok on these interlinked issues. I got the opportunity in the form of a fellowship.

Tell us about your research?

I got Health and Population Innovation Fellowship in 2005. My research topic was, “Challenging Myths and Misconceptions: Communicating Women’s rights in Islam”. This fellowship is a continuation of the MacArthur Foundation’s Fund for Leadership Development (FLD) fellowship programme. I got the opportunity to travel Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Bangladesh to understand the issue besides several parts of India. I did a short course on Reproductive Rights in Islam at International Islamic Center For Population Studies and Research of Al- Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. I visited and had good exposure on women rights in Islam at Sisters in Islam, Malaysia.

What are some important points of your research?

Islam gives certain rights to women which can be basis for further rights according to today’s circumstances and human values. But Muslims (male) do not give those basic rights to their women.

Women are also not aware what rights Islam has given them. That is the basis of patriarchal thinking.

In the case of Muslim women, there are many misconceptions and myths about Islam and women’s rights, notably reproductive rights. These misconceptions exist both within and outside the Muslim community. Misconceptions within the community are clearly different from those held outside the community and have a different motivation. For example, misconceptions outside the community are at times used to fuel the politics of hatred. In contrast, within the community, they have been used as a tool to control poor Muslims and especially Muslim women. Hence, there is an urgent need to dispel these misconceptions and myths and to appraise both Muslims and non-Muslims alike about the interpretations of Islam and the meaning of these within the context of women’s reproductive rights in particular.

In fact, both the views described above are misconceptions and misinterpretations and many have acknowledged the rights of women in Islam. Although I am not a religious scholar, my reading of the Islamic texts and interpretations suggests that today, Muslim women are not able to exercise even the rights given to them in the true tradition of Islam. They have not been allowed to experience the dynamism of Islam.

I did a focused report on “Reproductive Rights in Islam.” To my surprise, Indian Ulema have done lot of ground work to understand this issue. They studied and dealt the issue of planning of the family at length. But their contribution is still to be recognized. I hope my study will throw some light on their contribution. If I succeed doing that, I will think my study is useful.

One of the posters that Mr. Khan has designed, he is looking for sponsors to exhibit in different cities.

What are your future plans?
To communicate with the masses about the rights of Muslim women, I have designed a poster series in Hindi “Musalmaan Aurat: Haq aur Haqeeqat” (Muslim Women: Rights and Reality). Fourteen hundred years ago Islam has given the rights to women in a patriarchal feudal society. It recognized women as an equal to men. They are equal before Allah. But the paradox is that though Islam has given the right but Muslim continued to practice the patriarchal feudal norms, which subjugates and control women.

This is a humble initiative through, pictures, words and commands of Quran and prophet to dispel myths and misconception about women’s rights in Islam. I hope this poster will raise question among the people and make them aware about the rights of Muslim women.

I want to make copies of these posters to reach as many people as possible. I am looking for resources to disseminate these messages to larger audience. I am also planning to make these posters in Urdu and English.

I am also working on a compilation of my articles on Muslim women. At present, I am writing a long piece on rights of Muslim girls to choose her partner.

I did all these work with the support of my family specially my better half Kahkashan and daughter Sana. They allowed me to take valuable time away from them to complete this research.

Nasiruddin Haider Khan can be reached at nasiruddinhk@gmail.com or www.GenderJihad.in



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