By Prarthana Mitra
After a historic verdict lifted the ban on women’s entry to Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, Muslim women of Sunni denomination demanded validation for their right to pray too. A Kerala-based Muslim women’s outfit has decided to petition the Supreme Court by the end of next week, asking for women to be allowed in Sunni mosques that is currently prohibited under Islamic law.
Making mosques inclusive
Social Activist VP Zuhra, President of Kozhikode-based progressive Muslim women’s forum NISA, told the media that this qualified as “gender discrimination” at mosques, and reversing the status quo could restore “equality” in terms of religious rights. “Women are never allowed inside Sunni mosques to pray and they, too, have the right,” she lamented, “Women were allowed to enter mosques even during the time of the Prophet.”
During the Sabarimala fallout, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had said, “There should be no discrimination against women in any place, this is the stance that [the party] is taking.” He further insisted that such draconian practices were followed in other places of worship as well and needed to be struck down with immediate effect. “There are women going to some mosques, right? There is entry for women at the Beemapally mosque in Thiruvananthapuram. So many mosques allow women to enter. Women are even going on Hajj,” Kodiyeri said on the issue.
The Hajj ruling came in 2016 and was a big win for Muslim women’s right to pray. Yet, discrimination is prevalent in some of India’s most notable mosques, where women are allowed to enter but not permitted to sit in the same congregation along with men to offer prayers.
Why it matters
In light of the September 28 Sabarimala verdict, this could prove to be a massive test for the apex court. Calling the prohibition of menstruating women into the temple “unconstitutional,” the court went on to proclaim it does not stand for gender bias grounded in a physiological taboo. It further added that gender discrimination could not be justified by religious strictures.
The backlash from the Ayappa (resident deity at Sabarimala) sect has seen the extent of resistance to progressive laws within the Hindu community. And with the elections approaching, the pressure on the court to maintain order is likely to overshadow its role to protect equal rights, especially in case of such an entrenched issue that could have implications on the Muslim community nationwide. However, ignoring this issue or adopting a neutral (as opposed to progressive) approach, would call into question the court’s recent progressive stance on gender bias and prejudice.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.