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Muslim Women in Indian Society

Muslim Women in Indian Society

Akhtar Kamal

    Here an effort made to know Muslim women in Indian context. It will help to get a clear prospective not on the basis of the religion but in Indian context.


Muslim Women in Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Era

     History of Muslim women particularly Mughal regime. The practice of purdah combined with women & they were generally considered culture & civilized. Mughal education of Muslim women limited to religious knowledge & early education of boys and girls began from Makatab/primary school and then Madrasas for more education but there was not adequate management for girls. Discrimination was because of being son’s preference in Indian male dominated society not of following the religious Islamic ritual. Early marriage was to be encouraged retaining the right to unilateral divorce. Oral divorce was more common than written without considering witness. Polygamy was also known & women in polygamous marriage live with the co-wives.

Iltutmish, the sultan of Delhi in 1211 CE. He went on appoint his daughter Raziya Sultan of Delhi, instead of his son. Raziya was the only one woman to ascend to the throne of Delhi by popular consent. Her reason and ascension is significant considering it took place in a society with rigid caste & gender hierarchies. She discarded the veil & appeared in public wearing, male dress. Such as several women in the Mughal royal family received private education: Babar's daughter Gulbadan Begum. Author of Humayun Namah was the first Mughal women to document the social realities of Mughal women. Zeb-un-nissa, Emperor Aurangzeb's eldest daughter was an eminent theologian and poet. Such as the ladies of Mughal's palace were proficient in both horsemanship and social etiquette and were also often astute politician and artists.


Status of Muslim women in British

     In this period many customs were practiced by both Hindu and Muslim community. But some customs were same in the both community. Like (Sati) the ritual of dying on the funeral pyre of the husband is known as (sati) or "sahangman”. According to some of the Hindu scripture women dying on the funeral pyre of her husband go straight to heaven, so it's good to practice this ritual, sati was considered to be the better option than living as a widow as the plight of widow in Hindu society, but many Muslim with several daughters were full of a praise for sati.

     Purdah system is the veil(Purdah) was widely prevalent in the Indian Muslim society; it was used to protect the women. After the loss of imperial power, a general decline for Muslim, Muslim officials were replaced by a British, like this was the removal of Persian and the instruction of English in 1835 left Muslim reluctant to Learn what they consider an infidel language, thus depriving them of access to public office, the demise of Persian also affected women's education due to educate them, because usually taught by family member who did not speak English. Such as much custom like idolatry, polygamy and seclusion of widows.

     In the 19th century the women question how can they be modernized and educated. The social reform debate elicited differing response from Muslim, modernist views on women were influenced by western critiques of Islam particularly, the practice of purdah, the lack of women’s education, and their discrimination within Islamic law, modernist argued for the abolition of traditional gender roles, reform in Muslim. Law and a greater public role for Muslim women based on the principle of equal right concern for women education were also reflected in the newly available print medium. Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hail’s 1905 novel “chup Ki dad” (voices of the silent) vividly captured the reality of women oppression. Hail argued for female education Mumtaz Ali and his wife Muhamamdi Begum founded a newspaper (Tazib-un-niswan, which took up the issue of female education, the age of marriage, the importance of a girl’s consent to marriage, polygamy, a women's role in marriage and purdah.   

     Despite pressure of religious orthodox, social prejudice and class gender bias, Muslim women at the start of 20th century success fully emerged from the isolation of traditional role as self 'aware individual determined to claim a greater role in public affairs the theme of women' s education was taken up by all communities including Muslim. The topic was first raised at all the male Muslim educational congress in 1896, and in subsequent years there were vigorous attempt by Muslim women to lobby for women, education and entry in politics. In 1906, Sheikh Abdullah and his wife Wahid Jahan Begum established a separate school for girls at Aligarh, and the begum of Bhopal also founded a girl's school in 1914. Muslim Women began entering educational institutions for the first time. The study found that Muslim population of British India 1922-27 was 59.5million, or 24 percent of the total population, and the whole Muslim pupils under instruction were also 24percent of the total population, the 1931census figures of illiterate rate were 91.6 percent for Hindu and 93.6percent for Muslim. By 1937, the average rate of Muslim girl’s education through India had surpassed the nation average.


Legislative changes: The social reform debate at the turn of the 20th century generated an awareness of women's issues, and a call for legal changes in the status of women. A nascent women's movement in collaboration with the nationalist leadership sought to introduce legislation favoring women. In 1937, the sharia act was passed by the center legislature. The objective of this act was to secure uniformity of laws for all Muslim in British rule and to clarify them. Questions regarding succession, special property of female, betrothal, adaption, marriage, divorce, maintenance of dowry system, family relationship, and the rule of decision in case of the parties of Muslim shall be Muslim personal law. The bill aims at uniformity of law among Muslim throughout British India in all their social and personal relation.


Gender inequality: As we know well, Indian society is a male dominated society. Gender discrimination issues are not of the present consideration but it had a great influence in the past too. One of the best evidence was Sati a bad habit to be practiced in past on the basis of gender. Apart from it, it has been in various forms such as dowry, preference of boys over girls, segregation from inherited property, marriage in early age etc. As being a part of Indian society, Muslim women faced all of them.

    As the world was fighting, Indian society engaged also in another fight to ensure equal rights for every one without considering caste, religion, race and specially gender. One of the best examples is Sati against women. Indian reformers played a great role towards an evil practiced with widow after death of her husband even it was ensured as law in 1830.

    In short, gender stereotypes have its deep route in Indian society and it could not be completely removed until the entire society rise against it and do their constant efforts.   


Indian Muslim culture towards women at wedding ceremony in Indian society

Choice partner

      Like most Islamic societies and community in India, for young people who seek a partner for themselves by following modern and western rituals that is not in common practice, such as dating. Young Muslim Men and women are strongly encouraging to marry soon as soon possible, according to traditional, women and men are not free to date or intermingle with each other before marriage, which result are in a more drown out and deliberative process.

A long majority of Islamic marriage are arranged marriage, in which the parents or guardian select appropriate matrimonial mates for their offspring, the amount of choice and acceptance involved in choosing marriage partners often depends on the class and educational status of family. Some important characteristic in choosing worthy mate are faith and chastity.          


Process of marriage

  1.     Engagement: Marks the official engagement ceremony between the bride and groom and their respective families, close friends and relatives from both the families gather on a pre-determined day to witness the bride and groom exchange rings. Each family shows the other with gift of sweets, fruits, dry fruits, clothes and sometime cash. This ceremony officially seals the intention of marriage between the two families and the bride and groom are considered betrothed to each other in the easy of the society.

  2. Manjha: This is certainly an adopted ritual within the Muslim wedding practice in India. A day or two days before the actual nikah ceremony, the bride is dressed up in yellow finery, a paste made of turmeric, sandalwood and rose _water is applied to the bride’s face hands and feet. The women of the family gather for the occasion to participate in a fun and full of mischief event. They take their turn in applying the paste to the bride and to each other. After her Manjha, the bride is not supposed to leave the house till her wedding day. The same event is also observed at the groom’s house as well.

  3. Mehendi: Middle-eastern and Indo-Pakistani Muslim brides observe an elaborate ritual involving henna paste known as Mehendi. It is again a women-centric event, where the women of the family gather around the bride the evening before the wedding. The most artistic lady in the family is entrusted with the task of applying henna paste in unique, elaborate designs on the bride’s hands and feet. Nowadays, professional mehendi artists are also hired to do the job. It is customary to include the groom’s initials within the bride’s henna designs which he has to discern on their first night together. Other female members of the family also get their hands painted with henna.


  5. Sanchaq: During this pre-wedding ritual, members of the groom’s family visit the bride’s place bearing gifts for her from her future in-laws. Along with these gifts of sweets, fruits etc., the bridal outfit to be worn at the time of the Nikah are also sent. Accompanying the outfit, matching jewelry and other accessories are also sent. Some families even send over perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries for the bride.

  6. Wedding Attires: Generally, Muslim grooms wear Kurta Pajama or Kurta with churidaar. There is no color restriction except for black, which is considered the color of mourning among Muslims. Some form of embroidery work is preferred on the kurtas to have that Wedding kind of feel. Nowadays, Muslim grooms are more and more drawn towards wearing a Sherwani or some other form of Indo-Western Attires combined with churidaar pajama. The Sherwanis are generally intricately embroidered and smartly cut. The groom wears certain pieces of jewelries with his attire like neck chains in gold, finger rings and may be men’s bracelets. He sometimes may also wear formal shoes.With Sherwani or kurtas the groom wears sandals or Nagrai shoes.

        The wedding attire for Muslim bride is pretty strictly outlined in the Holy Quran. Only her face and hands are to be remaining visible to the public and she has to be decently covered up. Salwar Kameez is hence the top choice for Muslim brides when it comes to wedding attires. Saree or Sharara are also quite popular choices. Salwar Kameez has to have modest necklines and a dupatta to cover the bride’s head at all times. Green is the most auspicious color in Islam and bridal outfits in green color are most popular. The outfit also includes intricate zari embroidery designs. She wears a host of ornaments made of gold and precious stones. Necklaces, earrings and bangles are some of the most common ornaments. The Muslim bride has to wear a nose ring that needs to be replaced by a nose pin after she is married. The nose pin in the left side of the nose is compulsory for married Muslim women. One key piece of jewelry that is identified with Muslim brides is a Jhoomar or Pasa. A Triangular or fan-shaped ornament which is sort of the modified version of the Mang Tika, is attached to the hair but on one side of the hairstyle, preferably the left side.


Wedding day Rituals

  1.      The groom sets out from his home with great pomp and show accompanied by a host of his close friends and relatives. A beautifully decorated car is generally sent by the bride’s family to bring the groom. A member of the bride’s family goes to the groom’s place and sort of escorts him on the way to the wedding venue. The relatives of the groom follow this car and the whole wedding party heading towards the wedding venue is known as the Baraat.< >As the groom arrives at the wedding venue he is met at the entrance by the bride’s family members. He is warmly welcomed into the venue and is offered a drink of sweet Sherbet by his brother-in-law who gives him company for the drink. The relatives of the groom also receive grand welcome and are sprayed with ittar-scented or rose-water as they enter the wedding venue.< >: The Wedding or Nikah ceremony is officiated by a religious priest or Maulvi. The men and the women are seated in separate groups for the ceremony. The women generally take their place around the bride and the men with the groom. The father of the bride is appointed Wali or guardian to look after the bride’s interest in the Nikah by the Maulvi. The groom’s family presents the bride with Mehr which is a generally pre-decided amount of cash to seek her consent for marrying the groom. The Maulvi starts the Nikah proceeding by first saying a prayer from the Quraan. Next, he asks the bride if she is consenting to marry the groom by accepting the Mehr. This is where he asks the bride the phrase ‘Qubool Hain?’ (Do you give your consent) three times in a row. The bride has to reply by saying “Qubool Hain” in assertive and affirmative tone all three times. Then the Maulvi moves on to the groom and repeats the procedure. This ritual is known as Ijab-e-Qubool. The bride and groom are to remain separated from each other so that they are not able to see each other. The Ijab-e-Qubool is followed by signing of the Nikahnama or marriage contract. The Nikahnama outlines all possible duties and rites of both the bride and the groom as decreed by the Quran. At least two observers from each side need to bear witness to signing by both the groom and the bride. This is followed by the recital of Khutba, a religious discourse. The Maulvi then recites paragraphs from the Holy Quran which are equivalent to marriage vows. The bride and groom need not repeat these vows but listen to them. The recital of vows is followed by duruds wherein the elders of the family shower their blessings on the newlywed couple.

    Arsi Mushraf: During this ritual the couple get the chance to lay eyes on each other for the first time after the marriage has been solemnized. A mirror is kept between the bride and the groom and the Holy Quran is placed on top of it. The couple is to look in the mirror where they can see the reflection of their spouses.


Post-wedding Rituals

  1.      Soon after the wedding is concluded, the bride bids tearful goodbye to her family and sets off for her husband’s house. When she arrives at her husband’s house, she is extended a warm welcome by her mother-in-law. As a gesture of welcome as well as reminder of her duties, the Holy Quran is placed on her head.< >: The ceremony of Walimah marks the public declaration of the marriage. It is generally done by holding a grand reception party. For the reception, the bride and groom are generally seated on a throne atop a stage, where they meet and greet all members from both families. The event includes a grand feast of traditional Muslim delicacies like Biryani, Meat Korma etc.< >This ceremony involves the bride visiting her parent’s home on the fourth day of the wedding accompanied by her new husband. Her parents treat the newlywed couple with a lavish lunch and give them various gifts. The Chauthi concludes all the events of a typical Muslim Wedding.

    The husband is required to treat all wives equally. If a man fears that he will not be able to meet these conditions, then he is not allowed more than one wife. According to Holy Quran

        “If he fears that he shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if he fear that he shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or that which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice." (Qur'an 4:3) Yusuf Ali translation.

  2. A bride-to-be may include terms in her marriage contract that require monogamy for her husband or require her consent before he marries another wife.

  3. Polyandry is forbidden. A woman cannot have more than one husband at a time.



     In another way, we may say concluding about a society consisting of diversities enshrined in the Indian fabric, Muslim society could never to be separated from that perspective albeit having their own identities. It is noteworthy now to be discussed in a broad perspective which provides us a balanced chance of handling issues faced by Muslim society exclusively its half population -Muslim women. If modern society wants a sustainable development in any Democratic context then it would not be easy to see a light at the end of the tunnel without maintaining a whole development approach by furnishing its culture, education, and avoiding any kind of biases or prejudices etc. against any single sect of society especially gender in a way of going forward.



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Last Modified : 2019/02/13