In Allah’s Home At Last


Nineteen years after P.K.K. Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, the chief imam of the Palayam Jama Masjid, Thiruvananthapuram made history in 1997, opening the Mosque to women worshippers, just twoo days ago, on April 19, 2016, similar strides were made in another part of Kerala.

Starting April 24, the historic Juma Masjid at Thazhathangadi, believed to be among the 11 mosques constructed by Malik bin Dinar, the eighth century religious preacher from Arabia, will, for the first time, be opened for women worshippers.

Special Timings
Women believers can enter the mosque on April 24 and May 8 from 8 a.m. till 12 noon and then from 1 p.m. till 3.30 p.m. and later from 4.30 p.m. till 6 p.m. The timings have been regulated so as not to interfere with the religious rites, a press note said on April 19, The Hindu reported

This historic place of worship, a stunning and unique construction in wood, attracts tourists from far and wide. Women have not been, however, allowed to have a peek into the richly carved interiors, made primarily of wood, so far, said C.M. Yousuf, secretary of the Thazhathangadi Muslim Jamaath, in the press note.

The Juma Masjid, considered one of the most beautiful places of religious worship, reflects the heritage of Kerala temple architectural styles and showcases the rich sculptural styles of Arabic architecture. The mosque also houses the centuries-old sundial, sacred writings from the Quran embossed in wood, the stunning Maalikappuram and the richly carved facades and many more objects of interests.

According to Mr. Yousuf, though researchers and tourists from far and wide reached Thazhathangadi from far and wide, to study and observe the unqiue archirecture and woodwork, so far women have been denied permission.

For the past several years, there have been appeals from local residents to 'allow' women entry.  It was against this background that the Juma Masjid committee decided to allow women to enter the mosque, Yousuf said.

Earlier Story (1997, Communalism Combat):
As readers may be aware, we have been probing areas of gender justice, communal and caste violence since August 1993. In Communalism Combat. In February 1997 we carried this cover story, In Allah’s Home At Last. By conceding to Muslim women the right to pray in mosques, P.K.K. Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, the chief imam of the Palayam Jama Masjid, Thiruvananthapuram, had taken a bold step forward on the road to gender parity. As was to be expected Muslim women were silently vindicated, many among the pallbearers of Indian Islam, distinctly uncomfortable. Communalism Combat had carried a detailed report in its tabloid sized edition, an Interview with the radical Imam and reactions from across the board.

February 1997
Early this month (February 1997) Muslim women in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, won a historic victory over priestly obscurantism. For the first time in their life, they stepped into the  portals of the Palayam Juma Masjid along with men for the Ramzan prayers. 
To many of them it seemed a New Year Gift from Heaven!
The entry of women in the mosque was silent but fireworks followed in the aftermath.  Significantly, the protest came not from men of the Palayam Jamaath but from those outside it. A section of some 283 Jammaths in the district formed an Imam’s Council and issued a “fatwa”  against women’s entry inside the mosque. “It is un-Islamic and unauthorised by the Holy Scriptures”, they cried.
The Sunni Yuvajana Sangham (SYS) marched to the mosque staged a protest dharna before it and urged the chief imam, P.K.K. Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, to rescind  his decision. But the chief  imam was unmoved : “ I cannot deny what the Prophet has sanctioned. Islam allows women to pray in mosques,” he declared.
Coming soon after the Christian women’s successful legal fight in the Kerala high court for their share in ancestral property, the Muslim women’s extraction of a right so far denied to them, marks a significant break for womanhood. Throwing conventional caution to wind, Muslim women are determined to defend their newly – acquired right.
Muslim women from north Kerala, erstwhile Malabar, have since long been praying in mosques on Fridays. But this was not the custom in south Kerala, erstwhile Travancore. Intra-regional social and educational backwardness seem to be the only plausible explanation for this  difference.
“What  was the need for the Palayam Imam to break a tradition?” asks the angry leader of the anti–change brigade, Poonthura Koya Maulavi. According to the protesters, none  of the four  major schools of Islamic jurisprudence – Shafai, Hanafi, Hambili and Maliki – permit women to pray with men in mosques.

P.K.K. Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, chief  imam was unmoved, “ I cannot deny what the Prophet has sanctioned. Islam allows women to pray in mosques,”
I would rather leave the question of propriety of allowing women praying inside mosques to the religious leaders. But I do not think it proper to allow women to pray with men. There should be separate arrangements for women’s prayer. We have, in Poonthura, made such arrangements in different homes”, says the lone People’s Democratic Party corporator, Poonthura Siraj.
The chief imam, Ahmed  Kutty Maulavi, known for his erudition and catholicity, responds: “It is a bitter truth that the leaders are misleading the flock. What about mosques in Mecca and Medina being open to women? Nearer home, have been praying in mosques in Malabar. Where is the justice or reason for denying women here the same right?”
“The decision to let the women in was taken by the Palayam Jamaath after considering all the pros and cons,” the pro-change Maulavi told Combat. “I shall withdraw the permission if the opponents bring me scriptural proof denying women the right to enter mosques. They could not and that is why they are howling outside”.
According to the chief imam, Qurtubi, Vol-I, by Saalim, a Koran exponent and  contemporary of the Prophet, says on page 465, “If women seek your consent to go to the  mosque to pray, you should not prevent them”. Again, Abdulla- Bin Umer quotes Ummusalama, one of the Prophet’s wives, “We women used to go with the Prophet to the mosque to pray five times. After the prayer we would leave first. The Prophet and men would wait for a while till we cleared”.
Other Hadiths, too, say in different contexts that women have equal rights as men to pray in mosques.
“These men”, says the Imam, “are like the proverbial four blind men who felt the elephant first time. They do not try to learn the absolute truth. Gender parity is central to Islam, only misinterpretation has resulted in skewed justice”.

“We can go for shopping , we can run shops and we can see cinema. Why can’t we go inside the mosque?”, Ayisha Babu, wife of a shopkeeper in Thiruvanthapuram.

The Thiruvananthapuram episode is indicative of the changes education can bring out. Among various mosques in this district, Palayam occupies a pride of place and political prominence.
 The members of this Jamaath are more advanced educationally and financially than for example, those in Poonthura, a fishing community hamlet. A progressive streak is discernible among the people who frequent this mosque. The Palayam imam’s political stance is often sought and respected by the local community.
The fracas on the issue has prompted many in the Muslim community to shun public debate. Says Khamarunissa Anwar, President of Muslim League’s women’s wing, “Women have a right  to pray in the mosque, but the issue should be sorted out within the community”. The League President Panakkad Shihab Thangal too suggested an Imams’ conference  rather than discussing it in public.
“There is nothing to discuss”, says Ayisha Babu wife of a shopkeeper in Thiruvanthapuram. “We can go for shopping, we can run shops and we can see cinema. Why can’t we go inside the mosque?” She can not understand the logic of the opposition.
“How can anyone keep some one away from God? It is our natural right to come here”, a middle–aged women who is now a regular at the mosque told Combat. Around 150- 200 women come to the Palayam mosque for prayers every day. Their menfolk bring them on two –wheelers or cars.  Every evening the roads skirting the mosque are lined up with numerous vehicles.
It seems that those who are presently agitating against the dictum of the maulavi saheb from the Palayam mosque will intensity their protest in the coming days. As to how long they can continue to resist the wind of change remains to be seen.

'Gender parity is a cardinal principle of Islam'
EXCLUSIVE interview with the IMAM
An Islamic scholar of repute, P.K.K. Ahmed Kutty Maulavi, chief Imam of the Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram of Kerala, is a benign paternal figure who is ascetic but not fastidious. Catholicity and restraint are his guiding principles when dealing with matters of faith.
In many ways, he is the modern face of Islam. Eighteen years ago when he took over as the imam of this prominent mosque at the age of 38, he began what orthodoxy considers anathema even today: reconciling religion with science.
He was the first Imam in Kerala to use the astronomical observatory for announcing the sighting of the ‘chaand’ (moon) Peeved at the “youngster's prank”, a grand old Imam of the city convened a meeting of the devotees. At the meeting he said how a true Muslim should shun “scientific contrivances”. “We should use only our naked eyes to spot the chaand or else the machine may misguide us, he told the congregation. The gathering promptly chorused its approval.

A young Imam stood up and, removed the spectacles from the eyes of the head priest and then asked him to read. Obviously he could not “Does your inability to read mean there is no book before you? Now, whom do you trust? Your eyes or the eye glass? Red with rage at this "impudence" the senior Imam stood up, and bidding his men to follow he declared, "This man will spoil us. Let us go”.

The young man is now 56-years-old. Imam Ahmed Kutty has not only led Muslims down the road of progress but helped infuse in them a scientific temper and a broad outlook.
Sitting in his modest room in the Palayam mosque, the Imam spoke to Combat on women's entry in mosques and other related issues. Excerpts:
Q.Did you decide on your own to allow women or was it a demand raised by them?
A. Many muslim women, notably, Nefasat Biwi (A Congress – I leader) have been pleading with us make arrangements for women to pray in the mosque during the Holy Ramzan. Earlier, some women used to come for Friday prayers. But that did not attract much attention. When the demand came up before the Jamaath committee, it asked my opinion. I referred to the scriptural edicts permitting women praying in mosque. The committee decided in favour and earmarked the upper storey of the mosque for the exclusive use of women namaazis.
Q. Is it the first time that women are being allowed to enter a mosque?
A. Yes in Thiruvananthapuram and adjacent districts. But women pray in mosques in Mecca and Madina. Nearer home, women pray regularly in masjids in Malabar.
Q. What are the specific objections against women's entry?
A. They have no solid ground. They say the four sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence Shafai, Hanafi, Hambali and Maliki, prohibit women praying, with men in mosque. But the Holi Koran, various Hadiths and Qurtubi written by a companion of the Prophet have all clearly stated in various contexts that women eager to pray in mosque could do so. I asked these people to bring me proof from scriptures and I shall retrace my steps. But they have none.
Q. If they know they are not on firm ground why do they insist for your withdrawal of permission?
A. They should not. It is sheer obstinacy and obscurantism which give Islam a bad name. These are quacks not doctors whose prescription is worse than the disease. They are simply misguiding the faithful and exploiting them. I recall how some of the imams had earlier insisted that I should not deliver the evening discourse in Malayalam. They said it was “un-Islamic”.

(Incidentally. the Palayam mosque is the only one that engages in a regular discourse in Malayalam rather than Arabic. “If I talk in our mother tongue, people will understand. If I use a  foreign language flocks will not realise and will remain ignorant though obedient.
Q. How is that you are not in the imams' council?
A. The so-called council is formed just to rein in me. How can I be included in a fight against me?
Q. You opponents have passed a fatwa restraining women from praying in masques.What do you say to that?

A.May God pardon them. What can I say of those whose intention is not honest. Gender parity is a cardinal principal of Islam. Misusing and misinterpretation have rendered this great faith suspicious in others' eyes. We are not only going to stick to our decision but we are also going to make permanent facility for women to come and pray daily if they want. I am sure others will have to follow us because we are right.

Combat had then sought widespread opinions from a cross-section of people:     


‘Re – entry in mosques will mean true equality for women in Islam’: Zeenat Shaukatali, Professor of Islamic studies 
I think that women should and must be allowed to go and pray inside the mosques. Where is the question of any controversy? AS a matter of fact, during the Prophet's lifetime, women went and prayed inside mosques always. There is one particular hadith (from Bukhari) that recounts how the Prophet himself used to say his own evening prayer a little shorter to enable women to participate and thereafter go home early.
Even today, in every part of the Muslim world this right exists for Muslim women. So why not here? In the Kabaa (which is the first mosque of Islam) women and men pray together, at the Masjid Nabvi (Prophet's Mosque) in Medina, women pray inside mosque with just separate arrangements: not side by side together inside the mosque.
And in every part of Jeddah that I have visited women pray inside mosques. Maybe, they have separate places to enter, they pray separately: behind, side by side or behind a curtain). But the moot point is that they enter mosques and can pray there. The right to entry inside the place of worship is very important. We must gain this right of re-entry. And permanently.
It is particularly important because we need to ask why, when something has been permitted by the Prophet, by Islam, why has a restriction been imposed on this basic right in India? Re-entry inside the place of worship is particularly important because it is one way of establishing equality, between men and women in Islam.
Initially Islam gave women all rights without restriction: on activities of prayers, other social or economic activities. Women participated even in wars.  Yet we are at such a regressive stage, for Muslim women here in India because of restrictions imposed at a much later stage.
It is time for us to make a renaissance and get back to the roots of Islam. On this question of entering, as equals, into the House of Worship, why should the question of controversy arise?

Recently, there was an All India Muslim Women’s Education Conference, 1996 organised by Seethakathi Trust in Madras. At this conference, several of us put forward a proposal of a similar nature about equal participation in prayer. We also suggested that after the khutba (sermon) after namaaz every Friday, an announcement must be made repeatedly exhorting Muslim parents to educate their girl children. This proposal received wide acceptance.
In the words of the Prophet, it is the "duty of every man and women to seek knowledge even if it be in China”. The Prophet also said that "the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr."  Based on these hadiths, we argued that it is the duty of religious leaders and Muslim parents to improve the level of Muslim girl's education.
Whatever the reasons, there is a very low percentage of education generally and for girls in particular among Indian muslims.
‘This could be misused by Hindu communalists’: Saeed Ahmed, Editor, Urdu Times
I would not like to comment on the issue at this moment. It is a controversial issue which could be misused by Hindus communalists:
‘It can lead to evil social practices’: Abdussattar Yusuf Shaikh, Secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board
I will not call the practice of women praying in mosques un- Islamic. But I think it is much better if women stay in purdah and pray in their homes instead of coming to mosques and praying in the company of men. A woman who prays at home is worthy of greater reward from Allah than when she prays in a mosque.
Whether in co-educational institutes or in mosques, when men and women mix together, there is always the possibility of social evils creeping in. This is exactly what happened during the rule of the second Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar. Many companions of the Prophet complained to him that a number of undesirable things had started happening because both men and women used to pray in the mosque.
So, the Caliph declared that it is better for a woman, and for society, if she stayed inside her home and prayed to Allah. In fact, he told them that before Allah there is greater virtue in her praying at home than praying in a mosque. It is not right to argue that because women can pray at the two most sacred mosques of Islam in Mecca and Medina, the same thing should apply in the case of all mosques. An exception has to be made in case of these mosques because one prayer in the Haram Sharif (Mecca mosque) is equal to one lakh prayers and praying at Masjid-e-Nabvi (Medina mosque) is equal to 50,000 prayers in any other mosque anywhere in the world.

‘My gut reaction is that the Palayam Maulavi is right’ : Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, Politician, Islamic scholar
My gut reaction is that the Maulavi Saheb of the Palayam mosque is right. But I would like to find out when and why it happened in Islam that women were stopped praying in mosques.
Many years ago, at the Idd namaaz organised by the Anjuman-e-Islam in Bombay, separate arrangements were made for women to join in the mass prayers. But for some reason, the practice was been discontinued.
Unfortunately, change and reform is a difficult process in which the fundamentalists or the traditionalists often have an upper hand while the vast majority remains indifferent.As poet Iqbal wrote, “Being afraid of the new, sticking to the old, this is the most difficult challenge in the life of any community.
 'Those who raise objections should be ashamed of doing so': Anees Syed, Professor of History, Mumbai
Not only did women pray in mosques during the lifetime of the Prophet, they participated in every department of day-to day life. One should not forget that the first wife of the Prophet was a leading businesswoman of Arabia.
Whatever restrictions were imposed or changes brought about subsequently in Saudi Arabia or other Muslim societies to women's detriment are the result of dominant male opinion. That is very different from what is permissible in the Quran and what was the actual practice during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Anyone who says that if women come to pray in mosques it will jeopardise the moral environment should be ashamed of saying so.  Women come to the mosque to pray just like men and they have every right to do so. Besides, where in the Quran does it say that Muslim women should not be well-dressed, or look presentable?
The real problem is not women but the thinking process of men, be they maulvis or others. In fact, in my view, there is no need for any segregation between men and women in mosque. Segregation is no guarantee against the social ills and problems that so exercise the minds of our men. In so far as any problem is anticipated, it is not women so much as men who need to be taught to behave.
Islam was the first religion to talk about masawat (equality) between the sexes. Anyone who opposes this violates a very basic principle of Islam.
'There is no hard and fast rule in lslam on this issue':  Haroon Rashid, Editor: Inquilab Daily
I support the idea of women praying in mosques if the right social atmosphere exists. There is no hard and fast rule on the subject in Islam.
If, for example, women are teased or harassed by men who come to mosques, then it may not be advisable for women to go there. But it is the responsibility of men to create the right social atmosphere. If a conducive atmosphere does not exist for women to come to mosques, men are to blame.
Historically, in the Indian subcontinent, there has not been the tradition of women praying in mosques but this was not the case everywhere. During the time of the Prophet, women did pray in mosques but this practice was discontinued by the second Caliph due to certain social problems that started cropping up. So, as I said, there is no hard and fast rule in Islam on this issue.
‘A very welcome step, but…’ :  Uzma Naheed, Islamic (woman) theologian,
It is a very good step, an Islamic step. In many countries of the Muslim world this right already exists for Muslim women. In Kashmir, too, I have seem women praying in mosques regularly.
But one thing I must mention while welcoming this step. Many maulvis desist from issuing fatwas on this issue and other Issues related to some key questions in India because the level of education generally and also deeni taleem (religious education and knowledge) within our community is so low. Because there is a this lack of knowledge, if for instance women exercise this right without the true spirit of ibaadat (prayer), it destroys the very purpose of praying.
This has happened in some jamaats in India where this right already exists. Women come to pray decked up with jewelry and full make-up. Often boys and girls decide their future (on whom to or not to marry) here. Surely, that's not the purpose of this right.
Hence, even while welcoming this step. I'd say that separate intezaam (arrangements) should be made for women to pray inside the mosque. For instance, a separate floor, a separate entrance, women praying in the back rows, etc.  Once these precautions are taken, it is crucial that women be permitted to pray in mosques. This will enable women to participate in crucial affairs of the community, to personally witness and hear the khutba (weekly sermon) so that they are not out of touch with the concerns of the community. They can play a very positive role in the life of the community.
If these steps are taken, and some sort of segregation inside the mosque is maintained – maybe a chaddar separating men and women – then there's nothing like it, I'd say. I definitely welcome it.
 'Dawoodi Bohra women were always allowed entry in mosques':  Yusuf Muchhala, Senior advocate
As far as the Fatima (Islmaili Shia sect) are concerned, for example, the Dawoodi Bohras, this right was always permitted to ladies. There are two sections inside a Dawoodi Bohra mosque for women and men to pray. The only restriction is during the menstruation period and that is for hygienic reasons.
I think, therefore, that it is a welcome gesture because Islam does not permit discrimination between men and women.  It is particularly welcome because in Islam praying in the masjid has been accorded greater religious merit. It is thus important or women to enjoy this right. A great psychological barrier could be lifted for the women if this path to the attainment of spirituality is on par for women.Some sects may spell out some prohibitions or restrictions based on either an interpretation of the scriptures or the hadiths but, personally, I don't see any objection. 





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