Muslim women as social reformers
By Manju Gupta
Though Islam favoured education for both boys and girls and the initial education of a Muslim boy and girl began with the bismillah ceremony at the age of four years, four months and four days, thereafter the child learnt the verses from Quran by rote from an ustad. After a few years of basic learning, the boy is sent to the madrasa or the mosque school for higher education, while the older girls received no education beyond memorisation of a few Quranic passages and stayed at home to help in household chores.
The author of the book Gouri Srivastava says that some Muslim women during the medieval period (Sultanate and the Mughal) broke off from the tradition of acquiring some sort of education to become great rulers, administrators, social reformers, writers and poets. She cites the names of Shah Jahan'sand Aurangzeb'sdaughters, whose examples were emulated by Muslim women of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The educated middle class or intellingentsia in the Indian society began to realise that social customs and traditions were derogatory to women and responsible for their backwardness. Almost all Hindu reformers agreed that women in the Rig Vedic period enjoyed a better social status. It was however during the later Vedic and Brahmanical periods that the status of women gradually deteriorated. The practice of child marriage and purdah kept both Hindu and Muslim women away from the pathshala or maktaba and from tol or madrasa.
While among the Hindus, social reformers like Ishwarchand Vidyasagar, Ranade, Deshmukh, Maharishi Karve and others adopted all kinds of methods to improve the lot of Hindu women, Sheikh Abdullah (of Aligarh) and Maulana Hali tried to do their bit for Muslim women'seducation. These two were responsible for opening formal educational institutions for Muslim girls?Abdullah in Aligarh in 1906 and Hali in Panipat around 1894. It was in the 19th century that literary journals like Tehzib-i-Niswan and Khatoon brought some enlightenment among Muslim women who were somewhat educated.
The author has special words of praise for Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal who established schools for both Hindu and Muslim girls and had once said, ?Education to my mind is the best ornament of a woman. It is perhaps forgotten that women too are half the community and no real progress can be achieved if the educational need of this important sector is neglected.?
Written by a Reader in Education at the Department of Women'sStudies, NCERT, the book gives graphic details about the various Muslim women in the medieval, modern and the contemporary periods. These women belonged to different periods and mainly came from the urban educated and social reformist families. They strove hard to promote the status of women by setting personal examples, opening formal institutions of learning, establishing organisations for chalking out and raising social and educational issues. Some of the prominent Muslim women who have been specifically selected for mention are Razia Sultana, Babur'sdaughter Gulbadan Begum, Chand Bibi, Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal, Jahanara Begum, Roshanara Begum, Qudsia Begum, Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum (whose brief biography is given in greater detail than of anybody else), Ismat Chugtai, Nargis and Mohsina Kidwai. ?These legend makers who belonged to different periods of history have become a source of inspiration and motivation for all women, irrespective of their religion or caste. Perhaps, their achievements have continued to motivate the involvement of Muslim girls in formal institutions of learning,? says the author.
The book seems to be based on a thesis possibly prepared by the author for her further education.
(Concept Publishing Company, A/15-16, Commercial Block, Mohan Garden, New Delhi-110059.)