Easier For Women

There are personal questions that Muslim women may find awkard or embarrassing to ask of their imams or religious scholars.  But now Indian Muslim women have been offered a way out – ask via emails or over the telephone.

Embarrassing Questions

What are some of these questions that Muslim women find it so embarrassing or so awkard to ask of their imams or religious scholars who are all males?

Mohammed Zabeeullah Baig, Secretary of the Ibnul Qayyim Islamic Research and Guidance Center (IRGC) gave the answer in a recent press interview, saying: “Their queries are largely about what is permitted by Islam during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and lactation.”

Mohammed Zabeeullah Baig gave an example of the type of question which would be awkward and embarrassing for a Muslim woman to ask a male imam or religious scholar, saying: “Some women call up to ask if one is permitted to read the Quran during the monthly cycle. They ask if one is exempt from Ramadan fasting during their periods.”

The Answer

Mohammed Zabeeullah Baig said: “Telephone queries are easier for women who find it awkward to approach scholars, most of whom are male, in person.”

Indeed speaking over a faceless telephone provides some comfort to Muslim women in asking embarrassing or awkard questions.  As one Muslim woman puts it: “Sometimes, I call up the publisher or the imam of our mosque to clarify certain passages. It is helpful as approaching them in person is awkward.” But even then, some are uncomfortable doing so.  So for such, the alternative is to seek advice, counseling and fatwas from Muslim scholars via emails.

 Reactions

Muslim woman Asma Mohammed says that phone advice helps her to better understand the sayings of Prophet Mohammed.  Asma Mohammed explains: “Someday I hope to read the original Arabic version. But my Arabic is poor and I must contend with English and Tamil translations.”

But couldn’t Asma Mohammed get help from her parents?  Asma Mohammed explains: “My mother helps me sometimes but there are many queries that she cannot clear.”

However some see emails and telephone advice or fatwas as simply getting someone else interpretation of what the Quran says. A Faizur Rahman, general secretary for Forum for Promotion of Moderate Thought puts it this way: “These are shortcut methods and what one gets is somebody else’s interpretation of what the Quran says. Islam is not about conforming to a list of do’s and don’ts. It is about perceiving the purpose of life by pondering over the Quran. This cannot be outsourced from a theologian sitting in a telephone exchange answering “queries” on Islam. Real scholars are too busy to telephonically answer queries on a daily basis.”

Defending

Maulana Shamshuddin Qasimi, chief imam of Mecca Masjid on Anna Salai defends the use of emails and telephones by Muslim women, saying: “I get calls and emails from Tamil Muslims living in US, UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, France, Qatar, UAE, Saudi and African countries.   I get about 300 calls a month. Most of them relate to prayer procedures since Islam is a practice-oriented religion.”

Then Maulaa Shamshuddin Qasimi added: “I also get several calls related to family matters, sexual intercourse and parenting. Many callers want a solution within the parameters of Islam.”

There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India, the world’s third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.

Think About It

Is A Faizur Rahman right in saying that Islam is about perceiving the purpose of life by pondering over the Quran, something that cannot be outsourced? Is seeking counsel, advice and fatwas via the telephone or email tantamount to getting someone’s else interpretation of the Quran? If so, why is this practise gaining popuarity in India, as confirmed by Maulana Shamshuddin Qasimi? Is this popularity confined to Muslim women or to both sexes?