[Reader-list] Wahhabism, feminism and AMU

Shivam Vij zest_india at yahoo.co.in
Tue Jun 15 20:40:27 IST 2004

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  The Muslim Experience at Aligarh Muslim University 

  By Nazia Y.Izuddin
  Tribune International / June 9, 2004

Aligarh Muslim University is a romantic dream for
Muslims all over 
the world. True that in the late 80's, the university,
then, the 
Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College, revolutionized
education for the 
backward Muslim community. The founder Sir Syed Ahmad
Khan envisioned 
that this institution would educate men and women who
would lead 
Muslim community to modern thought, liberation and
progress. A vision 
that progressive Muslims globally are still trying to

Whenever I talk about Aligarh Muslim University to its
alumni, many 
have been offended by what they think is criticism by
a westernized 
wannabe-feminist Muslim girl who has forgotten her
roots and culture. 
It has been difficult for me to not express concerns
not just as a 
present student of the institution but also as a
member of the Muslim 
community wanting to uphold the sanctity of an
institution as great 
as AMU. After enough contemplation I have decided to
share my 
experiences even if it may raise discontempt from any

When I joined Aligarh Muslim University, I had in mind
a grand 
central university fulfilling international standards
in adult 
learning. An institution that would expose young men
and women to 
radical thinking and action. Where, the community
would find a vent 
to overcome the backwardness it has been crippled with
and socially. Unfortunately my four years has revealed
the reasons 
why we cannot break through the great cultural divide
education and progress. One of the reasons being my
gender that pre 
dominates categories for judgment in the still biased

It was only after a month in the university that I
discovered that 
classes in bachelors degrees and courses till twelfth
grade were 
separate for men and women. Well the question might be
"is this a 
genuine issue that needs deliberation"? My answer
being, yes, it is. 

The reasons that women still are restricted in
Abdullah Hall, an 
exclusive hall for women, including all facilities
from classes to 
shopping to play grounds is succumbing to the so
called Islamic view 
that women need to be protected. And since the
authority, every one 
from the watchman to the Proctor claim that Aligarh
Muslim University 
upholds Islamic values, they have to cater to women's
within these so-called values.

These values made it very difficult for the men to
accept my presence 
in the arts center, in the debating societies that
were exclusive to 
men, the drama club that hadn't cast female roles in
years and even 
the university roads and playgrounds. Women were
expected to take 
rickshaws and not walk. And all the while, you are a
subject of 
scrutiny to male eyes examining righteousness and
piety in your 
clothes, actions and speech. 

Power has always been a male phenomenon here. They
make the rules, to 
their convenience and enforce it in the guise of Islam
and the need 
for protecting women. Isn't education about equipping
individuals to 
protect and defend themselves. If the system endorses
your cripple 
status, who will liberate you? Here begins the concern
to take 
Aligarh Muslim University for the values that it truly
upheld at one 
point in history.

Aligarh Muslim University has never had a female
member in the 
students union. It has never had women representation
in intervarsity 
sports and games competitions, for thirteen long
years, women did not 
represent the university in the national youth
festival. It was in 
2000, the year I joined college, the secretary of the
literary club 
convinced the Coordinator that the girls could be part
of the team. 
After severe deliberation, finally the university took
its first 
mixed group of men and women. Though it was historical
and might 
sound primitive for an age old institution, the
opposition and the 
criticism and scrutiny the girls had to go through
can't be stated in 
words. We are not talking about a team of students
here. But a team 
of men who have renounced the student status and taken
themselves to guard women in their university from the
clutches of 
modernity and liberal influences. They would watch
whom you talk to, 
the way you talk and tell you when to move, when to
sit and when to 

When I am at Aligarh Muslim University, I am quite
often reminded 
that I am a girl and how indecent it is for me to be
moving with men, 
even if there is an educational cause. Scared of these
judgments, girl students restrict themselves to their
hostels. Which 
means a life of only lectures and classes in a
residential university 
where a student spends on an average at least three
years. I see a 
few of my class mates, girls who had come with
ambition and talent 
who are now silent residents in their respective
halls. There is no 
life beyond tutors and classes in the university
campus for women 
while on the other hand men play football and
basketball in the 
playgrounds, learn sitar and tabla in the music club
and spend their 
night hours in the university's 24 hour Maulana Azad

Who will take up our cause? Is it that Muslim girls
don't deserve 
quality education?

Or is that they are second to men and should only live
in the shadow 
of their male members always? Or is it that Aligarh
Muslim University 
for women is only an elitist qualification for a good

Whatever it has been, I don't think I would be one of
those to 
silently accept the majority endorsed status of
segregated education. 
Our identities can't be crushed within the walls of
the university 
campus. For all I know, as the students gain more
exposure, they will 
stand up for themselves. And if the university does
not shed its 
feudal and dictatorial qualities, it is going to go
down on quality, 
both in terms of education and students. We need
professors and 
lecturers who can give us the strength to attend to
our minds and the 
needs of higher education. We need guardians who will
come out of the 
50's mindset and adapt to the changing scenario. We
want support from 
students, academicians, scholars and most importantly
from the alumni 
who share with us the love for and spirit of our alma
mater. From 
this short piece, I surely hope that I can draw
attention and support 
to revive a great institution which otherwise might
kill its own self 
because of an identity crisis or an imposed identity.
I hope the 
coming years spell change and action for this
inevitable cause.

(The writer is a Student of Law at Aligarh Muslim

o o o o o 

  The Wahhabi Threat To Islam

  By Mona Eltahawy
  The Washington Post / 4 June 2004

Egyptian born Mona Eltahawy is managing editor of
Arabic Women's eNews and a columnist for the
London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

When gunmen killed 22 people in the city of Khobar in
Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province last weekend,
they set off alarm bells in international oil markets.
But louder bells should be ringing throughout the
Muslim world over the cost to Islam of this conflict
between the Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi zealots
it helped create and who now vow to overthrow it.

Islam was born in what is now Saudi Arabia. King Fahd
calls himself "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" in
Mecca and Medina, which millions of Muslim pilgrims
visit every year. If oil has been Saudi Arabia's trump
card on the international stage, then Islam has given
it plenty of cachet on the Muslim one.

So when those gunmen in Khobar tell terrified foreign
oil workers they are looking for "infidels" during an
hours-long shooting spree that leaves 22 dead,
including a 10-year-old Egyptian schoolboy, and claim
that it is in the name of Islam that they drag the
corpse of a 62-year-old Briton through the streets and
slit the throats of nine hostages, the Muslim world
cannot be silent. It is long past time for Muslims to
question the Wahhabi ideology that is pulling the rug
out from under Saudi life, for it is that same
ideology that has been involved in militant movements
throughout the Muslim world for years.

I lived in Saudi Arabia for six years in the 1980s and
know how all-pervasive Wahhabism is. It was there in
posters that lined the corridors of my women-only
university showing how a "good Muslim woman" should
dress -- in black from head to toe -- and it made sure
that gender apartheid kept those same good Muslim
women in the back two rows of the bus.

It was there in shopping malls patrolled by morality
police ready to arrest shopkeepers who didn't close
their stores for prayer time and it was there in the
grim Friday evening news tally of the day's public

And it is there today, clearly, in the issues that
occupy the time of Saudi clerics. Two weeks before the
Khobar rampage, a young Saudi friend forwarded me a
copy of a fatwa, or religious ruling, issued by Saudi
Arabia's senior clerics. It was a fatwa banning the
giving of flowers when visiting the sick in the
hospital. "It is not the habit of Muslims to offer
flowers to the sick in hospital. This is a custom
imported from the land of the infidels by those whose
faith is weak. Therefore it is not permitted to deal
with flowers in this way, neither to sell, to buy nor
to offer them as gifts," the fatwa said.

Wahhabi militants operate in that chasm between the
mind-set that bans flowers for the sick and life as we
know it in 2004. Osama bin Laden may be Wahhabism's
most recognizable face but it does not lack for
followers or hatred, and not just for the "infidels"
-- women and non-Wahhabis are equally derided.

While there is little doubt that the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and now the U.S.
occupation of Iraq fuel many a militant's fire in the
Middle East, Wahhabi Islam can be found in most of the

The Saudi royal family has its own reckoning to do
with Wahhabism. By giving Wahhabis a free hand over
Saudi Arabia's religious and educational sectors, the
royal family guaranteed the showdown. Instead of
fostering a liberal and intellectual class that
despises the Wahhabis and could have been an important
ally against them, the Saudi government instead
imprisons those calling for liberal reform.

Last year, Crown Prince Abdullah brought together
Saudi intellectuals, including women and members of
the country's Shiite minority, to debate much-needed
reform as an antidote to Wahhabism run amok, but every
discussion of reform is tempered with the caveat: "It
cannot be too fast."

What is "too fast" when militants carry out two
audacious attacks within a month against expatriates
in the oil sector? What is too fast when their car
bombings kill Saudis and non-Saudis, Muslims and
non-Muslims alike?

"I am scared," a Saudi man told me after the Khobar
attacks. "There is no clear vision to where my country
is heading. We want to progress, but we also want to
live like the good Muslims did 1,400 years ago. We
want to change, but we believe that change is the road
to hell. We want the people to have a role in leading
the country, but we don't want democracy. We want to
have dialogue with the West, but our preachers are
preaching every Friday that all westerners, or
non-Muslims, go to hell."

The Muslim world must speak up not only for its
religion but for Saudis caught between the rock of the
royal family and its absolute rule and the hard place
of the Wahhabis and their unforgiving Islam.

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