March 2010

This is what more and more ‘Moderate Islamists’ ought to do.


Brave Saudi housewife set to win Arabic X Factor after blistering attack on hardline Muslim clerics on live TV


A brave Saudi housewife has reached the final of the Arabic version of the X Factor after lashing out at hardline Muslim clerics on live TV.

Wearing a black burkha, mother-of-four Hissa Hilal delivered a blistering poem against Muslim preachers ‘who sit in the position of power’ but are ‘frightening’ people with their fatwas, or religious edicts, and ‘preying like a wolf’ on those seeking peace.

Her poem got loud cheers from the audience last week and won her a place in the competition’s final on April 7.

It also brought her death threats, posted on several Islamic militant websites.

The programme, ‘The Million’s Poet’, is a chance for poets to show off their original work and is broadcast live every week on satellite television across the Arab world from Abu Dhabi.

Contestants are graded on voice and style of recitation, but also on their subject matter, said Sultan al-Amimi, one of the three judges on the show and a manager of Abu Dhabi’s Poetry Academy.

Over the past episodes, poets sitting on an elaborate stage before a live audience have recited odes to the beauty of Bedouin life and the glories of their rulers or mourning the gap between rich and poor.

Hilal is the first to launch a political attack – a brave move by a Saudi woman.

‘My poetry has always been provocative,’ she said. ‘It’s a way to express myself and give voice to Arab women, silenced by those who have hijacked our culture and our religion.’

Her poem was seen as a response to Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, a prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia who recently issued a fatwa saying those who call for the mingling of men and women should be considered infidels, punishable by death.

But, more broadly, it was seen as addressing any of many hard-line clerics in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region who hold a wide influence through TV programmes, university positions or websites.

‘Killing a human being is so easy for them, it is always an option,’ she told AP.

Poetry holds a prominent place in Arab culture, and some poets in the Middle East have a fan base akin to those of rock stars.

Hilal’s 15-verse poem was in a form known as Nabati, native to nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. She criticised extremism that she told AP is ‘creeping into our society’ through fatwas.

‘I have seen evil in the eyes of fatwas, at a time when the permitted is being twisted into the forbidden,’ she said in the poem.

She called such edicts ‘a monster that emerged from its hiding place’ whenever ‘the veil is lifted from the face of truth’.

She described hard-line clerics as ‘vicious in voice, barbaric, angry and blind, wearing death as a robe cinched with a belt,’ in an apparent reference to suicide bombers’ explosives belts.

The three judges gave her the highest marks for her performance, praising her for addressing a controversial topic. That, plus voting from the 2,000 people in the audience and text messages from viewers, put her through to the final round.

‘Hissa Hilal is a courageous poet,’ said al-Amimi. ‘She expressed her opinion against the kind of fatwas that affect people’s lives and raised an alarm against these ad hoc fatwas coming from certain scholars who are inciting extremism.’

Fatwas are not legally binding – it is up to individual Muslims to follow them.

Clerics of all ideological stripes pronounced fatwas on nearly every aspect of people’s lives, from how they should deal with members of other religions to what they can watch on television.

Hilal said she had heard about the death threats posted on Islamic extremist websites and was concerned, but ‘not enough to send me into hiding’.

What’s more on her mind is how sudden fame will change her quiet family life at home in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

‘I worry how I will be perceived after the show is over, when judgment is passed and people begin to talk about my performance and ideas,’ said Hilal, a mother of four who has published poetry and previously was a poetry editor at the Arab daily Al-Hayat.

‘I worry the lights of fame will affect my simple and quiet existence.’

The Million’s Poet was launched in 2006 by the government’s Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage to encourage poetry.

In this, the fourth season, 48 contestants from 12 Arab countries competed, including several women along with Hilal.

On Wednesday, Hilal will be joined by five other poets in the final round. The winner of the $1.3million grand prize will be declared a week later on March 31.

Their topics are already known. One of Hilal’s rivals will address terrorism. Another woman in the finals, Jaza al-Baqmi, will reflect on the role of women.

Hilal says her poem will tackle the media, but wouldn’t elaborate so as not to spoil the surprise.

‘My message to those who hear me is love, compassion and peace,’ Hilal said. ‘We all have to share a small planet and we need to learn how to live together.’


Historian deSouza on the Goa Inquisition

Posted May 29, 2005
Dr. T. R. de Souza

“At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material was in most cases utilized to erect new Christian Churches and chapels. Various viceregal and Church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories; the public practices of Hindu rites including marriage rites, were banned; the state took upon itself the task of bringing up Hindu orphan children; the Hindus were denied certain employments, while the Christians were preferred; it was ensured that the Hindus would not harass those who became Christians, and on the contrary, the Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in Churches to listen to preaching or to the refutation of their religion.”

“A particularly grave abuse was practiced in Goa in the form of ‘mass baptism’ and what went before it. The practice was begun by the Jesuits and was alter initiated by the Franciscans also. The Jesuits staged an annual mass baptism on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25), and in order to secure as many neophytes as possible, a few days before the ceremony the Jesuits would go through the streets of the Hindu quarter in pairs, accompanied by their Negro slaves, whom they would urge to seize the Hindus. When the blacks caught up a fugitive, they would smear his lips with a piece of beef, making him an ‘untouchable’ among his people. Conversion to Christianity was then his only option.”

The Goan inquisition is regarded by all contemporary portrayals as the most violent inquisition ever executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. It lasted from 1560 to 1812. The inquisition was set as a tribunal, headed by a judge, sent to Goa from Portugal and was assisted by two judicial henchmen. The judge was answerable to no one except to Lisbon and handed down punishments as he saw fit. The Inquisition Laws filled 230 pages and the palace where the Inquisition was conducted was known as the Big House and the Inquisition proceedings were always conducted behind closed shutters and closed doors. The screams of agony of the culprits (men, women, and children) could be heard in the streets, in the stillness of the night, as they were brutally interrogated, flogged, and slowly dismembered in front of their relatives. Eyelids were sliced off and extremities were amputated carefully, a person could remain conscious even though the only thing that remained was his torso and a head.

Diago de Boarda, a priest and his advisor Vicar General, Miguel Vazz had made a 41 point plan for torturing Hindus. Under this plan Viceroy Antano de Noronha issued in 1566, an order applicable to the entire area under Portuguese rule :

“I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be, destroyed and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression.”

In 1567 the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with success. At the end of it 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from December 4, 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished.

A religious fatva was issued on the basis of the findings of Goa Inquiry Commission. It stated,”…Hereby we declare the decision that the conventions mentioned in the preamble of the fatva as stated below are permanently declared as useless, and therefore prohibited”.

Prohibitions Regarding Marriages

* The instruments for Hindu songs shall not be played.

* While giving dowry the relatives of the bride and groom must not be invited.

* At the time of marriage, betel leaf packages (pan) must not be distributed either publicly or in private to the persons present.

* Flowers, or fried puris, betel nuts and leaves must not be sent to the heads of the houses of the bride or groom.

* Gotraj ceremony of family God must not be performed.

* On the day prior to a wedding, rice must not be husked, spices must not be pounded, grains must not be ground and other recipes for marriage feast must not be cooked.

* Pandals and festoons must not be used.

* Pithi should not be applied.

* The bride must not be accorded ceremonial welcome. The bride and groom must not be made to sit under pandal to convey blessings and best wishes to them.

Prohibitions Regarding Fasts, Post-death Rituals

* The poor must not be fed or ceremonial meals must not be served for the peace of the souls of the dead.

* There should be no fasting on ekadashi day.

* Fasting can be done according to the Christian principles.

* No rituals should be performed on the twelfth day after death, on moonless and full moon dates.

No fasting should be done during lunar eclipse.


* Hindu men should not wear dhoti either in public or in their houses. Women should not wear cholis .

* They should not plant Tulsi in their houses, compounds, gardens or any other place.

Following the law of 1567, orphans were kidnapped for converting them to Christianity.

On September 22, 1570 an order was issued that :

* The Hindus embracing Christianity will be exempted from land taxes for a period of 15 years.

* Nobody shall bear Hindu names or surnames.

In 1583 Hindu temples at Esolna and Kankolim were destroyed through army action.

“The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers.” wrote Sasetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588.

An order was issued in June 1684 eliminating Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing toughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the symbols of non-Christian sects were destroyed and the books written in local languages were burnt.

The Archbishop living on the banks of the Ethora had said during one of his lecture series, “The post of Inquiry Commission in Goa is regarded as holy.” The women who opposed the assistants of the commission were put behind the bars and were used by them to satisfy their animal instincts. Then they were burnt alive as opponents of the established tenets of the Catholic church.

The victims of such inhuman laws of the Inquiry Commission included a French traveller named Delone. He was an eye witness to the atrocities, cruelty and reign of terror unleashed by priests. He published a book in 1687 describing the lot of helpless victims. While he was in jail he had heard the cries of tortured people beaten with instruments having sharp teeth. All these details are noted in Delone’s book.

So harsh and notorious was the inquisition in Goa, that word of its brutality and horrors reached Lisbon but nothing was done to stop this notoriety and escalating barbarity and it continued for two hundred more years. No body knows the exact number of Goans subjected to these diabolical tortures, but perhaps it runs into hundreds of thousands, may be even more. The abominations of inquisitions continued until a brief respite was given in 1774 but four years later, the inquisition was introduced again and it continued un-interruptedly until 1812. At that point in time, in the year of 1812, the British put pressure on the Portuguese to put an end to the terror of Inquisition and the presence of British troops in Goa enforced the British desire. Also the Portuguese power at this time was declining and they could not fight the British. The palace of the Grand Inquisitor, the Big House, was demolished and no trace of it remains today, which might remind someone of inquisitions and the horrors inside this Big House that their great saint Francis Xavier had commenced.

Dr. Trasta Breganka Kunha, a Catholic citizen of Goa writes, “Inspite of all the mutilations and concealment of history, it remains an undoubted fact that religious conversion of Goans is due to methods of force adopted by the Portuguese to establish their rule. As a result of this violence the character of our people was destroyed. The propagation of Christian sect in Goa came about not by religious preaching but through the methods of violence and pressure. If any evidence is needed for this fact, we can obtain it through law books, orders and reports of the local rulers of that time and also from the most dependable documents of the Christian sect.”

Those who have only read about but did not ever see the ‘controversial painting’ please see

Hussain must not get away

A Surya Prakash

Maqbool Fida Hussain has always been a hero for the pseudo-secular crowd in India. That is why sections of the English media are aghast at his decision to migrate to Qatar and have been blaming Hindus for “hounding him”. Since some television anchors have been screaming their heads off over Hussain’s decision to give up his Indian nationality but are unwilling to tell the people the truth about his artistic licence, the time has come to place some cold — or shall we call it ‘hot’ — facts on the table.

What has prompted Hussain to flee India? Mr Prafull Goradia and Mr KR Phanda, the authors of Anti-Hindus, published in 2003, provide us some valuable clues and answer this question substantially. This book not only reproduces a Press release issued by Mr DP Sinha of Sanskar Bharati but also photographs of some of the most repulsive paintings of Hussain. The Press release is indeed a comprehensive charge-sheet against the painter, because it provides a graphic description of eight of Hussain’s paintings — each more vulgar and reprehensible than the other.

Here is the list of the eight objectionable paintings and the accusations made by the organisation. ‘Durga’, in which the goddess is shown in sexual union with a tiger. ‘Rescuing Sita’, in which the artist shows a naked Sita astride a naked Hanuman’s tail — “Hanuman’s tail as a phallic symbol crosses all limits of decency.” Lord Vishnu is generally painted with four hands holding a shankh, a padma, a gada and a chakra, but the hands of Vishnu are shown as amputated and his legs have been cut off — a maimed, mutilated and exhausted Vishnu reclines on his spouse Lakshmi and his vahan Garuda. “Should the cutting of hands and legs of Vishnu be regarded as creative freedom or deliberate affront to Hindu sensibility?” Saraswati, whom Hindus regard as a goddess draped in a white and pure garment (ya shubhra vastravruta) is also shown naked. Goddess Lakshmi is shown naked and perched on the head of Ganesh, “a posture highlighting unmasked sexuality”.

Hussain’s ‘Hanuman-V’ shows a three-faced Hanuman and a nude couple — “The identity of the woman is not in doubt. The erect genital of Hanuman is bent in the direction of the female. The obscenity is too obvious.” Another painting, ‘Hanuman -13’, shows a stark naked ‘Sita’ sitting on the thigh of an equally naked ‘Ravan’, while a naked Hanuman is shown attacking the latter. In ‘George Washington and Arjun on the Chariot’ Washington replaces Lord Krishna in the famous chariot scene from the Mahabharat! Hussain replaces Lord Krishna with Washington because “in his eyes Lord Krishna is no god and stands denigrated and reduced to the level of a mere human being — George Washington”.

But, is Hussain’s iconoclasm uniform? Far from it. Hussain is the very epitome of reverence when it comes to non-Hindu subjects. He paints Fatima, Prophet Mohammed’s daughter, as “the embodiment of serenity and grace” and fully clothed. The artist takes no liberties here. He takes no liberties also while painting his daughter and mother. His painting of Mother Teresa is “an outstanding piece of art” which brings out the compassion of the Mother, says Mr Sinha. If this be so, why does he depict Hindu gods and goddesses in such a repulsive manner? The answer lies in yet another painting — a panel depicting Einstein, Gandhi, Mao Tse Tung and Hitler, in which only Hitler is naked. Can we then conclude that characters about whom Hussain feels repugnant are depicted in the nude by him?

While reproducing these obnoxious “works of art” and the detailed Press release by Sanskar Bharati, Mr Goradia and Mr Phanda describe Hussain as a “sexually perverse person”. The photographs of these paintings originally appeared in a book that was designed by Hussain himself. The authors add three more to the eight accusations made by Mr Sinha. These relate to paintings which show a bull copulating with Parvati while Shankar looks on; a naked Hanuman with his genitals pointing towards a woman; and a naked Krishna with his feet and hands cut-off. The authors draw the distinction between nudity, pornography and perversity: “When pornography or perversity embroils deities, it is sacrilegious.”

As Mr Goradia and Mr Phanda point out, it is simply not possible to give him the benefit of doubt. The panel portraying Einstein, Gandhi, Mao Tse Tung and Hitler is the clincher, they say. The first three have clothes on but Hitler is naked. “Does that mean that he painted in the nude all those he hated? … Can any self-respecting Hindu forgive Maqbool Fida Hussain?” they ask.

The answer is obviously a big ‘No’. So, what do Hindu citizens who feel offended by Hussain’s art do? Barring a few vandals who took the law in their hands and disrupted a couple of the artist’s exhibitions, the reaction of the large mass of Hindus was what it ought to be in a democracy. They moved courts and lodged criminal complaints against the artist. They drew on the Indian Penal Code that prohibits citizens from offending the religious sensibilities of other citizens.

There were no death threats or absurd pronouncements like the Muslim politician in Uttar Pradesh who, not very long ago, offered a prize of Rs 51 crore for the head of the Danish cartoonist accused of lampooning Prophet Mohammed. Yet, if you go by the shrill posturing of some television anchors, the Hindus deserve no marks for this lawful, democratic response to the worst form of blasphemy. If this pseudo-secular fringe is to be believed, Hindus deserve to be condemned for “hounding” Hussain with court cases.

Whatever Hussain’s friends and admirers may say, the truth is that after taking such obnoxious liberties with Hindu sentiments, he became a fugitive from the law. He has been on the run ever since the cases were filed. Many Hindus who are aware of Hussain’s vile art rightly see him as a ‘Qatarnak’ painter. So, one supposes that Qatar was the logical destination for him!

But, if we value our secular traditions, we must not let him go. The long arm of the law must reach Qatar. We should seek his extradition and prosecute him for hurting the religious sentiments of 800 million citizens.

Also read

Koenraad Elst on M. F. Hussain – bigotry vs artistic freedom

Looks like things are not going right for the harvestors of souls.


Vatican officials defend pope on abuse

The Associated Press

Saturday, March 13,VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Saturday denounced what it called aggressive attempts to drag Pope Benedict XVI into the spreading scandals of pedophile priests in his German homeland. It also insisted that church confidentiality doesn’t prevent bishops from reporting abuse to police.

The Vatican’s campaign to defend the pope’s reputation and resolve in combatting clergy abuse of minors followed acknowledgment by the Munich archdiocese that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there.

Benedict is also under fire for a 2001 church directive he wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential.

Germany’s justice minister has blamed the directive for what she called a “wall of silence” preventing prosecution.

Skeptical about the Vatican’s handling of abuse, a U.S.-based advocacy group for abuse victims, Survivors Network of those Abused for Priests, urged faithful to bring candles and childhood photos to vigils outside churches, cathedrals and German consulates across the U.S. this weekend to remind people to “call police, not bishops” in cases of suspected abuse.

But the Holy See’s so-called prosecutor for clergy sex abuse cases, providing some of the first statistics about his office’s handling of allegations, decried what he called “false and defamatory” contentions that Benedict had promoted a “policy of cover up.”

At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were “never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities,” Monsignor Charles Scicluna told Italian bishops conference daily Avvenire.

But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean they shouldn’t go to police. And victims’ lawyers in the U.S. say the document shows the church tried to obstruct justice.

Scicluna contended that in countries that do not oblige bishops to go to authorities with allegations of abuse, “we encourage them to invite the victims to report these priests.”

The Maltese prelate said the pope had taken on the “painful responsibility” of personally deciding to remove those priests involved in “particularly grave cases with heavy proof.”

Those cases amounted to about 10 percent of some 3,000 cases handled by the Vatican in the last decade, what Scicluna described as a small fraction of the 400,000 priests worldwide, and cover crimes committed over the last 50 years.

Clergy in another 10 percent of the cases were defrocked upon their own request, said Scicluna, adding that among them were priests in possession of pedophilia-pornography or with criminal convictions.

Meanwhile, the scandal swirling around Benedict’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, escalated with the first public allegations of abuse of choirboys during some of the 30 years he ran the boys’ choir in Regensburg. Thomas Mayer told Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly that he had been sexually and physically abused while a member of the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir through 1992.

The pontiff’s brother led the group from 1964 to 1994. Previously reported cases of sexual abuse date back to the late 1950s.

Mayer charged in Spiegel that he had been raped by older pupils. Spiegel quoted him as saying that pupils were forced to have anal sex with one another in the apartment of a prefect at the church-run boarding school attached to the choir. The Regensburg diocese has refused to comment on the report.

The Vatican spokesman, speaking to Vatican Radio and Associated Press Television News, defended Benedict.

“It’s rather clear that in the last days, there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

“For any objective observer, it’s clear that these efforts have failed,” Lombardi said, reiterating his statement a day earlier noting the Munich diocese has insisted that Benedict wasn’t involved in the decision while archbishop there to transfer the suspected child abuser.

Lombardi told The AP that “there hasn’t been in the least bit any policy of silence.”

“The pope is a person whose stand on clarity, on transparency and whose decision to face these problems is above discussion,” Lombardi said, citing the comments by Scicluna, who works in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which was long headed by Benedict before his election as pontiff.

“To accuse the current pope of hiding (cases) is false and defamatory,” Scicluna said.

As Vatican cardinal in charge of the policy on sex abuse, the future pope “showed wisdom and firmness in handling these cases,” Scicluna said.

He said in the first years after the 2001 directive, most of the 3,000 cases came from the U.S., where dioceses across the nation were rocked by allegations by priests and systematic cover-ups by hierarchy and drained by hefty lawsuits by victims.

Only about 10 percent of the case dealt with “acts of true pedophilia,” Scicluna said, while 60 percent of the cases involved priests who were sexually attracted to male adolescents. Some 30 percent of cases dealt with heterosexual abuse, he said.

How the Vatican has handled the cases since the 2001 directive provides “a very important signal to all the bishops of the church to face these problems with the required seriousness, clarity, rapidity and efficiency,” Lombardi said.

The Catholic church in Switzerland has become swept up in the scandals. Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung quoted a Benedictine abbot, Martin Werlen, as saying that the Swiss bishops conference and various dioceses are investigating allegations after 60 people came forward to say they were victims of abuse by priests.

Shortly before becoming pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger denounced what he called “filth” in the priesthood, but so far hasn’t directly commented on the cases in his homeland.

He has promised to write a letter soon to faithful in Ireland about decades of systematic abuse in church-run schools, orphanages and other institutions in that predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where Benedict served as archbishop from 1977 to 1982, says that a working group, established last month after allegations of abuse in a church-run school, would be expanded to include an external, independent legal office.

Associated Press writers Melissa Eddy in Berlin and Eliane Engeler in Geneva contributed to this report.

Also read

Catholic Church, Witchcraft and Child Abuse.

This is the so called controversial article (published first in Outlook India, 3 years ago) that Tasleema allegedly wrote for a Karnataka newspaper (though she claimed that she had never written any article for a newspaper in Karnataka). 


This made the followers of the religion of peace, assemble in thousands and start a riot where two persons were killed and over two dozen injured after violence broke out in three districts of Karnataka…….. Shimoga Deputy Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey told Hindustan Times that situation worsened when a mob, protesting the translation of Taslima Nasreen’s views on Burkha system published in a vernacular daily, gathered at Waqf Board office and started pelting stones. They also clashed with members of other community, most of whom were planning to celebrate the festival of Holi. Police resorted to mild lathicharge to disperse the angry mob, which set afire 27 vehicles, including jeeps, auto-rickshaws, trucks, buses and motorcycles “.  The gutless, opportunist, secular media that continues to rue over ‘lack of freedom of expression, of the self-exiled, selectively pervert, artist M F Hussain, is leaving no stone unturned to insinuate the blame on Tasleema herself.  No case for  freedom of expression exists for her.  The followers of the religion of peace cannot be wrong – the fault is still hers even if she denies.  

 And, Janardhan Poojary, a ‘secular’ Congress leader, went one step further to even urge the government, to revoke the asylum given to Tasleema, saying “there’s a limit to freedom of speech and expression and should in no hurt the sentiments of the public at large”.              

The offices of two newspapers were attacked by masked men and vandalized.  One is reminded of the riots and attack on Statesman office in Kolkata,  forcing apologies and arrest of editor and publisher for publishing an article by Johann Hari. True to their characters, the other newspapers had also forgotten to fight for their journalistic freedom of expression at that time.           


Let’s Burn the Burqa


Taslima Nasreem   


Originally published in Outlook India, 17 January 2007               

Women wear burqas to conceal their faces and bodies from public view. Writer Taslima Nasrin reviews the history and many theories offered about the personal and social motives behind the concealment: The burqa may constrain sexual reactions from other people, or women may simply want privacy, refusing to endure any stares. Some opponents argue that the burqa reduces women to the status of sexual objects, while others contend that it reduces men to creatures lacking in self-control. Even the writings of the Prophet Mohammed from the seventh century suggest a range of reasons, including the separation of elite women from servants. The reasons all entail discrimination, and more than thirteen centuries of economic, political and philosophical thought reveal that any form of discrimination only weakens a society. – YaleGlobal                 


Let’s Burn the Burqa

The Koran does prescribe purdah; that doesn’t mean women should obey it               

Taslima Nasrin               


Outlook India , 17 January 2007               

My mother used purdah. She wore a burqa with a net cover in front of the face. It reminded me of the meatsafes in my grandmother’s house. One had a net door made of cloth, the other of metal. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her conservative family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah. And if you obey Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her own father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she didn’t wear the burqa.               

She was also afraid of the men in the neighbourhood, who could have shamed her. Even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him.               

As a young girl, I used to nag her: Ma, don’t you suffocate in this veil? Don’t you feel all dark inside? Don’t you feel breathless? Don’t you feel angry? Don’t you ever feel like throwing it off? My mother kept mum. She couldn’t do anything about it. But I did. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it away.               

The custom of purdah is not new. It dates back to 300 BC. The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used purdah. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed purdah. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a cloth or similar object. This purdah system was obviously not religious. The religious purdah is used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious purdah is not limited to specific rituals but mandatory for their daily life outside the purview of religion.               

A couple of months ago, at the height of the purdah controversy, Shabana Azmi asserted that the Quran doesn’t say anything about wearing the burqa. She’s mistaken. This is what the Quran says:               

 “Tell the faithful women that they must keep their gaze focused below/on the ground and cover their sexual organs. They must not put their beauty and their jewellery on display. They must hide their breasts behind a purdah. They must not exhibit their beauty to anybody except their husbands, brothers, nephews, womenfolk, servants, eunuch employees and children. They must not move their legs briskly while walking because then much of their bodies can get exposed.” (Sura Al Noor 24:31)               

 “Oh nabi, please tell your wives and daughters and faithful women to wear a covering dress on their bodies. That would be good. Then nobody can recognise them and harrass them. Allah is merciful and kind.” (Sura Al Hijaab 33: 59)               

Even the Hadis –a collection of the words of Prophet Mohammed, his opinion on various subjects and also about his work, written by those close to him– talks extensively of the purdah for women. Women must cover their whole body before going out, they should not go before unknown men, they should not go to the mosque to read the namaaz, they should not go for any funeral.               

 There are many views on why and how the Islamic purdah started. One view has it that Prophet Mohammed became very poor after spending all the wealth of his first wife. At that time, in Arabia, the poor had to go to the open desert and plains for relieving themselves and even their sexual needs. The Prophet’s wives too had to do the same. He had told his wives that “I give yu permission to go out and carry out your natural work”. (Bukhari Hadis first volume book 4 No. 149). And this is what his wives started doing accordingly. One day, Prophet Mohammed’s disciple Uman complained to him that these women were very uncomfortable because they were instantly recognisable while relieving themselves.               

Umar proposed a cover but Prophet Mohammed ignored it. Then the Prophet asked Allah for advice and he laid down the Ayat (33:59) (Bukhari Hadis Book 026 No. 5397).               

This is the history of the purdah, according to the Hadis. But the question is: since Arab men too relieved themselves in the open, why didn’t Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, Allah doesn’t treat men and women as equals, else there would be purdah for both! Men are higher than women. So women have to be made walking prisons and men can remain free birds.               

Another view is that the purdah was introduced to separate women from servants. This originates from stories in the Hadis. One story in the Bukhari Hadis goes thus: After winning the Khyber War, Prophet Mohammed took over all the properties of the enemy, including their women. One of these women was called Safia. One of the Prophet’s disciples sought to know her status. He replied: “If tomorrow you see that Safia is going around covered, under purdah, then she is going to be a wife. If you see her uncovered, that means I’ve decided to make her my servant.”               

The third view comes from this story. Prophet Mohammed’s wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with fascination. This clearly upset the Prophet. So the Quran has an Ayat that says, “Oh friends of the prophet or holy men, never go to your friend’s house without an invitation. And if you do go, don’t go and ask anything of their wives”. It is to resist the greedy eyes of friends, disciples or male guests that the purdah system came into being. First it was applicable to only the wives of the holy men, and later it was extended to all Muslim women. Purdah means covering the entire body except for the eyes, wrist and feet. Nowadays, some women practise the purdah by only covering their hair. That is not what is written in the Hadis Quran. Frankly, covering just the hair is not Islamic purdah in the strict sense.               

In the early Islamic period, Prophet Mohammed started the practice of covering the feet of women. Within 100 years of his death, purdah spread across the entire Middle East. Women were covered by an extra layer of clothing. They were forbidden to go out of the house, or in front of unknown men. Their lives were hemmed into a tight regime: stay at home, cook, clean the house, bear children and bring them up. In this way, one section of the people was separated by purdah, quarantined and covered.               

Why are women covered? Because they are sex objects. Because when men see them, they are roused. Why should women have to be penalised for men’s sexual problems? Even women have sexual urges. But men are not covered for that. In no religion formulated by men are women considered to have a separate existence, or as human beings having desires and opinions separate from men’s. The purdah rules humiliate not only women but men too. If women walk about without purdah, it’s as if men will look at them with lustful eyes, or pounce on them, or rape them. Do they lose all their senses when they see any woman without burqa?               

My question to Shabana and her supporters, who argue that the Quran says nothing about purdah is: If the Quran advises women to use purdah, should they do so? My answer is, No. Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises, whoever commands, women should not have purdah. No veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf. Women should not use any of these things because all these are instruments of disrespect. These are symbols of women’s oppression. Through them, women are told that they are but the property of men, objects for their use. These coverings are used to keep women passive and submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their self-respect, honour, confidence, separate identity, own opinion and ideals intact.So that they cannot stand on their own two feet and live with their head held high and their spine strong and erect.               

Some 1,500 years ago, it was decided for an individual’s personal reasons that women should have purdah and since then millions of Muslim women all over the world have had to suffer it. So many old customs have died a natural death, but not purdah. Instead, of late, there has been a mad craze to revive it. Covering a woman’s head means covering her brain and ensuring that it doesn’t work. If women’s brains worked properly, they’d have long ago thrown off these veils and burqas imposed on them by a religious and patriarchal regime.               

What should women do? They should protest against this discrimination. They should proclaim a war against the wrongs and ill-treatment meted out to them for hundreds of years. They should snatch from the men their freedom and their rights. They should throw away this apparel of discrimination and burn their burqas.               

Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi writer, currently lives in Calcutta.