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India’s first women kazis overcome resistance, to fight social evils

In 2015 as many as 30 women enrolled for the course conducted by Mumbai-based Darul Uloom Niswan, a centre for Islamic learning and theology for women. Only 15 passed out in April 2017.

kolkata Updated: Jun 25, 2017 11:45 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Women kazis,Kazis,Islam
Hakima Khatun (left) and Jamila Laskar are two of the 15 successful candidates. Both live in Howrah district of West Bengal. (HT Photo)

Even as the triple-talaq controversy rages on, the Muslim community in India is all set to see its first batch of women kazis – or Islamic judges – make inroads into a domain hitherto considered exclusively for men.

Besides being trained to solemnise the nikah (marriage) and validate the talaq (divorce), they are also qualified to oversee the khula (legal separation initiated by the wife) and assess the mehr (money given to the bride by her in-laws).

“I’ve placed an order for my very own seal, complete with a registration number. People in my neighbourhood have reacted positively to my decision to become a kazi. Even the imam of the local jama masjid wished me well,” said 28-year-old Jamila Laskar, a resident of Howrah.

Hakima Khatun, a mother of two, says she enjoys the “full support” of her husband and family. “Absolute male dominance among kazis is one of the major reasons for males allowing arbitrary talaqs. A woman kazi would ensure that wives benefit from the equal rights accorded to them by the Quran,” the 40-year-old woman added.

Both Laskar and Khatun were among the 15 women who graduated from the Mumbai-based Darul Uloom Niswan (DUN), an Islamic centre of learning, in April. Thirty women from various states had enrolled in the first-of-its-kind course in 2015.

The road ahead, however, may not be smooth. Two of their batchmates from Rajasthan – Jahan Ara and Afroz Begum – ran into trouble in February 2016, when several conservative clerics dubbed the appointment of women kazis as un-Islamic. “But I completed my training despite all the opposition. I am eligible to solemnise the nikah now,” Ara told HT over the phone.

Hakima Khatun (left) thinks absolute male dominance among kazis is one of the major reasons why men get arbitrary talaq sanctions in their favour. (HT Photo)

Suraiah Sheikh (45), who grew up in a Bandra slum, overcame resistance from relatives by convincing them that the Quran does not disapprove of women kazis. “Once we begin practising, we will act against social evils like underage marriages and polygamy. We will also ensure that the groom provides residential and income proof before signing the marriage contract,” she said.

Suraiah, along with Khatun Sheikh and Hena Siddiqi, are the first women kazis from Maharashtra.

“We know that not many will approach us in the initial days. But then, let’s not forget that this is just the start of a new trend,” said 61-year-old Khatun Sheikh, also from Bandra.

The concept of women kazis has been the cause of widespread controversy in recent times. In 2008, rights activist Naish Hasan got a noted woman scholar – Syeda Hamid – to solemnise her marriage. The ethical debates that followed virtually split the Muslim community.

While some Muslim religious leaders – including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board – vehemently opposed the idea, scholars such as former Law Commission member Tahir Mahmood insisted that the Quran doesn’t bar women from becoming kazis. Institutions like the Darul Uloom Deoband also supported the cause of women kazis.

Last year, the All India Muslim Women Board appointed Hena Zaheer and Maria Fazal as shahar kazis of Kanpur for the Shia and Sunni sects respectively. Their roles, however, were restricted to arbitration and counselling for fear of annoying conservative clerics.

First Published: Jun 25, 2017 07:23 IST