1. Prelimary Remark
I would like to throw some light on the question of women's
position in the East as compared to their condition in the West.
I see now so many things on the streets of London of which the
Londoners are unaware; but a minute observer, particularly who has
visited this place after years2,
is struck by hard facts and realities of things.3
2. Change in Women's Position
I wonder at the change for the worse in the position of the
fair sex in the West. Now men seldom leave their seats in trains
for ladies; they neither allow precedence to women while getting
down a car. I would not blame men for this. It is the result of
women's own conduct: they are mad after Liberty, and Equality with
men. And therefore whatever we observe is the result of prevailing
conditions, for which there is no remedy.
3. Eastern Women Occupy the Same High Position
Now I deem it necessary to remove some misunderstanding
regarding the Eastern women, particularly among the Muslims and
their relationship and treatment by males. European women have of
their own free will got down from that high pedestal which they
used to occupy long with all glory and grandeur. On the other
hand, women in the East still occupy the same position with all
respect and honour.
Europe is still worried over the fact that Turkish women have
no distinctive role to play in society. This is all due to their
ignorance of our domestic life. They have yet to understand wisdom
behind the veil. Our women's veiled segregation is not due to the
fact that men are immoral. Woman, in fact, is the Lord's holiest
creature. And her sex relationship necessitates that she must live
immune from undesirable eyes. In Arabic, Harem means "holy
and sacred land" which should not be polluted by the interference
4. Purda Further Explained
There are other reasons also for the observance of Purda
but they are more or less biological and therefore they may not be
discussed here. Here I wish to point out what was the basic idea
behind the custom.
In this world woman is the most sacred means of procreation;
and it is a fact that creative functionaries lie always hidden and
concealed in life.
Respect and honour of an Eastern woman lie behind Purda
in which there has been no departure within the last so many
In fact women have all along been enjoined to keep themselves
aloof from strangers.
In the Qur'an numerous rules have been mentioned with regard to
the segregation of women, and Purda is one of them. It is
also laid down that when on any occasion men and women face each
other they should never look through. If the entire world follows
this rule there shall be no necessity for the customary Purda.
In India and other Muslim countries many women never use Burqa.
In fact the Burqa is expressive of a particular mental
attitude of the woman.
Some overt act is necessary to strengthen that attitude. This
may differ according to the individual and national conditions of
Numerous are the objections raised against the institution
called Harem, but let me make it clear that it was nothing
common but related only to the kings and the sultans.
When I speak of Eastern women that must necessarily lead you to
think of polygamy. There is no doubt that Islam permits polygamy
which is, indeed, the only effective remedy for unrestrained
Monogamy must be our ideal. But what remedy have we for the
evil where women outnumber men?
In the medieval ages Europe had started the institutions of
nunneries and temples to absorb their super-abundance; but today
it is impossible to resuscitate those institutions.
The so-called Industrial Revolution has created a sense of
revolt against polygamy among men and women but I am afraid the
social miseries continue as they were before.
I do not mean to say that polygamy is the panacea for all our
ills, but, I must confess, the very idea makes me nervy that
henceforth women should work for their own livelihood.
This shall tend to despoil the feminine essence for ever.
6. Women in Islam
Islam, however, has no obligatory and permanent rule of
polygamy. According to Muslim jurisprudence, the reigning
government can alone annul this permissive law if it tends to
destroy social life.
According to Muslim law, a woman, even after divorce, is
entitled to manage her property with a view to safeguard her
rights; she can carry on business, and may seek legal remedies in
a court of law. The very same jurists have held that she can even
be elected a Caliph.
A husband is duty bound to provide for his wife's maintenance,
in addition to the payment of dowry. In order to enforce her above
rights she can take full possession of her husband's property.
The Muslim law of divorce is not without some lessons and
Muslim women have similar right of divorce as their husbands
have. In order to enforce that right on occasion, she may, at the
time of marriage contract, nominate her brother, father or even a
stranger, to work as her agent in the matter. This is technically
known as Tafwidh (delegation of power). I leave it to the
sense of the European jurists to find out why this indirect method
was considered necessary to safeguard woman's rights.