Writing success stories from behind the veil
Girls studying in the seminary speak fluent English and learn about interior decoration.For a casual visitor they may appear to be orthodox Muslim girls in veil receiving Islamic education at a “madrasa” (Islamic seminary).
But when you talk to them the opinion will quickly change. They tell you their views about the world in fluent English and turn out to be modern in their outlook. They are computer savvy and can give you a tip on interior decoration.
These girls, as a part of their studies at the seminary, learn language and affairs of the world. Besides, they are told to be modern in their outlook. “I want the girls to remain in hijab (veil) but at the same time drive a car and also speak English,” says Begum Shehnaz Sidarat, who runs the seminary, which is located at the historic Firangimahal in the walled city in Lucknow.
The name Firangimahal had been given to the building as it used to house Britishers before Independence, who were then referred to as “firangis”.
“There is a general perception that girls who receive education in madrasas, are not modern and progressive in their outlook. They prefer to remain indoors and are considered to be orthodox. I want to change this perception,” Shehnaz told Deccan Herald.
Shehnaz calls it a kind of “fusion”. “It’s an endeavour to bring the religion closer to society, to make it progressive and make sure that there is no clash between society and the religion,” she says.
She started the madrasa in 2012. “Today, we have 33 girls and all of them are from conservative families. But that doesn’t make any difference,” Shehnaz remarks.
“The syllabus of the madrasa has been designed in such a way that it integrates religious education with modernity,” she points out and adds that it was essential today to teach the girls how to conduct themselves in a fast-changing world and at the same time maintain the traditions. Shehnaz says that all her faculty consisted of voluntary workers. She even has a Canadian national to teach girls English. Canadian Catherine Laur came in contact with Shehnaz while the former was in India in connection with her research work and got impressed with the concept of “religion-society fusion”.
“Besides English, girls are taught computers, interior decoration and given vocational training so that they can become independent,” she says. Girls are also taught about the rights of Muslim women. “There is a popular misconception that Islam has not given rights to Muslim women.
We want to dispel this notion. The rights are there but women do not know about them and thus become vulnerable to exploitation,” she says. “Islam has given rights to women but society has deprived them of their rightful due. It is really an unfortunate scenario,” Shehnaz says.
She said that almost all the girls at the madrasa are from middle class families and are studying 12th standard. “Initially, the response was not good but gradually it picked up,” she adds. Girls are charged a nominal fee at the time of getting admission. “We charge a nominal fee of Rs 50 only,” she says.
Shehnaz feels that there is an urgent need to re-define Islamic laws so that they are not in conflict with society. “When religious beliefs are in clash with the social beliefs, confusion begins,” she points out. “For instance there is a lot of misconception about the fatwas (religious decrees). There is no compulsion on anyone to abide by what the fatwas say.
They are simply advices to the people who seek some guidance on particular issues in the light of the islam,” she says.
She also seems to be annoyed with the media for spreading such misconceptions about the “fatwas”. Shehnaz has been running adult education classes for Muslim women. She recently started adult education classes for Muslim women, who had been displaced after a large-scale communal violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district. “We have opened four centres in Muzaffarnagar for such women,” she says.
Shehnaz says that she was thrilled by the tremendous response she received from Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar. “There were as many as 180 registrations on the first day of the opening of the centres,” she adds. Shehnaz and her group of volunteers also provide counselling to Muslim women who face exploitation of different kinds. “So far, hundreds of Muslim women have received counselling. Some were also provided legal help when it was required,” she adds.
A recipient of several awards, Shehnaz has so far successfully united hundreds of families which were on the verge of split owing to one or the other reason. Shehnaz wants to turn her madrasa into a university some day where Muslim girls could be given every kind of education. Though she herself belonged to a conservative family, Shehnaz wants Muslim girls to break the shackles of orthodoxy and adapt themselves to the changing world.
Shehnaz is also associated with All India Talim Ghar, which is engaged in providing training in teaching. “The Talim Ghar has so far prepared thousands of teachers. The students at Talim Ghar consist of all sections of society,” she says.
She underlines the need for conducting an in depth research in Islam. “Some research has been done in Islam. Ulemas (clerics) have not been able to link the religion with society,” she adds.
source: http://www.deccanherald.com / Deccan Herald / Home> Special Features / by Sanjay Pandey – Lucknow / DHNS / March 30th, 2014