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Institute of Islamic Studies

(Reg. No. E-8900 (Mumbai)

Muslim Women’s Newsletter - Vol. 1 No. 4. July 2007 E-mail: csss@mtnl.net.in

Address: 602 & 603, Silver Star, Behind BEST Bus Depot, Santacruz (E), Mumbai: - 400 055.

Edited by

Miss. Qutub Jehan Kidwai

Miss. Shirin Huda


One of the richest Asian women in the UK


Perween Warsi: "Food is in my blood"


Perween Warsi, MBE, DBA started her company, S&A Foods - named after her sons Sadiq and Abid - from her kitchen table, enjoys the honour of being richest Asian woman in Britain. She is also named as 29th richest Asian entrepreneur in the list of either sex.

Frame1On finding that the Indian food in her adopted hometown wasn't patch on, Perween started S&A Foods sensing she could do better herself. She began by making samosas, chapatis and other finger foods for a takeaway and soon had to take on two women to help her. S&A Foods has a turnover approaching £90m,employs 1,300 people and makes 1,500,000 meals a week.

It makes Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese and traditional English meals and has contracts with British Airways, Shell garages, pub chains and supermarkets. Wife, mother and managing director of one of Britain's most successful food firms, owns 70 per cent of S&A Foods and it is estimated that her personal wealth is £45m, which is £5m more than Body Shop owner Anita Roddick's.

The factory has "Perween" written on the roof

In 1989, contracts to supply Asda, Safeway and Tesco were signed and S&A Foods grew, and established itself in an industrial unit in Shaftsbury Street South. Success of S&A Foods made her husband, a doctor to quit his profession and join her. He manages the sales and marketing of the company.

According to Warsi the most important thing for a successful business career are "clear vision and determination”. She adds: "You must be disciplined, but make sure you enjoy what you do. Cooking is still my hobby. I find it therapeutic."

She is a perfectionist who has maintained a high quality in her products. With timely innovations and a constant demand for its popular food S&A Foods is assured of continued growth.




ISLAM AND THE INSTITUTION OF FATWA

Extract of article by Dr.Asghar Ali Engineer, published in Islam and Modern Age, May2006

(For the complete article please visit www.csss-isla.com)

In recent times fatwas have created great deal of controversies especially in India. The institution of fatwa is not new and as old as Islam itself though its institutional patterns have varied from time to time. However the institution of fatwa (called dar al-ifta’) has been quite integral to Islam. We would like to throw light on the origin of this institution and also discuss some controversial fatwas issued recently in India.


Islam originated in Arabia where no state institution existed or was there any revealed or institutional religion. It was a tribal society driven with inter-tribal feuds. There were no written laws except oral traditions and established customs. Nothing, if it did not fit into their oral tradition was acceptable. But also due to international trade of which Mecca was an important center, tribal structure was breaking down and new inter-tribal business corporations were developing.


This created certain social needs, which could go beyond oral traditions and established customs. Islam in fact, fulfilled this need. Islam was a religious as well as social movement. It provided written laws in the form of Qur’an. Qur’an of course did not contain laws drafted by human beings but based on revelation through the Prophet (PBUH). It had both moral as well as legal pronouncements. It was first time that Arabs got written law and could go beyond oral traditions, which were hardly adequate for developing socio-economic relations.


Many of the Qur’anic legal pronouncements were a result of questions put to the Prophet and Prophet received revelation in response to those questions. In fact this was beginning of the institution of fatwa. People ask questions and some authority answers it. During the life time of the Holy Prophet there was no authority greater than him and hence as was as he was alive people went to him and asked him only about various problems.


Fatwa literally means legal decision and istifta’ means asking for legal opinion. Thus came the institution of fatwa into existence. As we consult a lawyer when faced with some legal problem, Muslims used to consult mufti (one who issues fatwa) when faced with legal problems of halal or haram (i.e. permissible or prohibited). After the companions of the Prophet (PBUH), their followers used to answer these questions as they had acquired their knowledge from the companions.


When Islam spread outside the Arabia and many non-Arabs began to convert to Islam the need for asking questions became much more as these neo-Muslims hardly knew anything at all. Some of the companions had settled in other lands and many people from Persia had soon acquired expertise in Islamic learning. Many eminent jurists were from Persia. Persia had old tradition of learning, which now was replaced by Islamic learning. The Arabs had no such tradition. Thus we find more scholars and jurists among non-Arabs.


Also the Qur’an was in Arabic and it was easy for Arabs to understand than non-Arab Muslims who spoke different languages and could not understand Qur’an or hadith. Thus these Muslims of non-Arab origin had more questions to ask. The knowledge of fiqh (jurisprudence) evolved by 3rd and 4th century hijra (Islamic calendar) and it was by then that the Shari’ah rules were finally compiled. Many of these rules came into existence as a result of such legal queries.

When such queries began to surface frequently need was felt for evolving systematic institution to answer those queries. This institution was called dar al-ifta (house of answering the legal questions). Thus issuing fatwa was a social and religious need and not a Qur’anic requirement. In fact in Islam there is no concept of priesthood at all. It is the duty of every Muslim to recite and understand Qur’an and hadith and intellectually engage with them and draw their own conclusion. Theoretically each Muslim is entitled to draw his/her own conclusions and not bund down by any school of law.


The Muslim world indeed is passing through grave crisis and our backward looking and intolerant theologians are intensifying this crisis by issuing fatwas based on their knowledge of the medieval world. Unfortunately the knowledge created by medieval Islamic scholars is thought to be divine and our traditional theologians refuse to go beyond it and issue all their fatwas based on that knowledge.


This will certainly not help the Muslims and cause of Islam. New knowledge is being generated and communicated very fast in this era of Internet. We must remember that the Qur’anic values are permanent and everything else is liable to change and a living community would never hesitate to accept knowledge, which does not violate the Qur’anic values like justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom.


The liberal Muslim intelligentsia should come forward and lay foundation for new knowledge in the Islamic world and make it vibrant once more as it was during the first four centuries of Islam when it produced great thinkers, philosophers and scientists which gave so much to the world as a whole. They must push the Islamic world out of the world of medieval fatwas.



Iran rejects ‘temporary marriages’


The Iranian Government is backing away from a plan to promote the tradition of temporary marriage in the country as a way to avoid extramarital sex, an official spokesman said. A temporary marriage, or ”sigheh”, refers to a Shiite tradition under which a man and a woman sign a contract that allows them to be “married” for any length of time, even a few hours. An exchange of money, as a sort of dowry, is often involved.


Iran’s interior minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a cleric, sparked an uproar last week when he told a conference in the holy city of Qom that Iran should promote the obscure practice for youths ho are financially unable to permanently marry. The tradition has become associated with prostitution and female dishonour, and the proposal outraged many Iranians.


Recent statements by the interior minister are based on a clerical position,” Gholam Hossein Elham, the government spokesman and justice minister, was quoted as saying by INRA, the official news agency. “It is not the idea of the administration” Elham, implying that Pourmohammadi raised the issue as a cleric and not a government minister, said: “Discussion and expressing comment in this regard is only within the authority of clerics and experts.”


Some 60% of Iran’s population is under 30. And with the economy burdened by high inflation and unemployment, many lack the money to buy or rent their own home. Pourmohammadi’s call was the first in support of sigheh in over decade. The last such proposal was similarly withdrawn after strong negative reaction. Sexual relations outside marriage are banned and opponents argued that sigheh would give wealthy men religious cover to have affairs.


Prostitution was banned in Iran in 1979 but has increased recently. There are no official statistics available on the number of prostitutes, but unofficial figures put the number in the many thousands.


Azizan – A brave Muslim women fighter for freedom in 1857

Azizan the famous courtesan of Kanpur was another freedom fighter, born in Lucknow in 1832. It is said that she lived with Umrav Jan in Sarangi Mahal. The dancing girl had then put on a heroic garb. On June 4, 1857 when Nana Sahib called Hindus and Muslims to get united for the cause of freedom and join him, she left home and joined the freedom movement. She organized a battalion of women. With her rosy cheeks and smiling lips, she was there on horseback, fully armed. She was skilled in the art of war and taught other women how to use arms. She collected information about the British and passed it on to the freedom fighters. She also actively distributed arms to soldiers. Nanak Chand says, in his diary, " Armed Azizan is flashing everywhere like lightning; often she stands in the streets giving milk and sweetmeats to tired and wounded Sepoys." She was caught and brought in front of General Havelock who offered to forgive her if she confessed all her faults but she rejected the proposal and preferred martyrdom.



Muslim girl toppers shatter education myth


- Mumbai, Mohammed Wajihuddin


The news of Muslim girls topping the SSC exams in two divisions – Asma jabeen Abu Zafar Khan (94.61 %) in Nagpur and Bibi Raza Asif Hussaini (95.69 %) in Pune - has shatterd the myth that Muslim parents don’t encourage their daughters to study, say educationists and community leaders. The Urdu press too is celebrating the impressive performance of girls from the minority community.


While Muslims see these girls’ excellence as exemplary, they have also lauded the efforts of Asma Begum Sameer of Social Group Night High School, Antop Hill, who with 79% marks topped the list in the night high school category of Maharashtra. Malegaon’s Tufail Ahmed, who helped his father at the latter’s teashop, has topped the Nashik division in the night school category. Interestingly, Ahmed finished his ‘almiyat’ (bachelor’s degree) from a Madrassa before he sat for the SSC exam.


The Antop Hill School where Asma studied, has a history of producing toppers. “Our students have always excelled over the years. Even last year one of our students, Shainaz Khan, stood first in the night school category in the state while another topped a few years ago. We are happy at the success of Asma, who comes from a poor family,” said Salim Alware, a committee member of Social Group Night High School.


The overall pass percentage of Muslim students has improved as well. Till a few years ago, the pass percentage of Urdu-medium schools would hover around 50, but this time it’s around 80. “


Mubarak Kapdi, career counselor, says, he has noticed a positive change in the career choice of girls from the community. Traditionally, Muslim girls have chosen to be teachers or doctors. “Yesterday, I met a girl who wants to be a pilot. Many of them also want to pursue engineering and architecture, something not considered popular among Muslim girls,” said Kapdi, whose Educational Awareness Center in Bhendi Bazaar attracts many visitors, these days.


Feroz Ashraf, who runs Uncle classes, from his Jogeshwari home for the underprivileged students living in the slums of Andheri and Jogeshwari, sees the improved performance of Muslim girls in the SSC exams as part of their efforts to break barriers. “Now fewer Muslim girls don the burkha. And, despite opposition from their parents, many girls have resolved to study. But there is also the possibility of many of them dropping out,” said Ashraf.


The problem of high dropout among Muslim students is an issue that Inquilab Mumbai’s leading Urdu daily, has highlighted. In its editorial on June 27, the daily wrote, “The community leaders will have to find ways to arrest the dropout among the Muslim students.











India's first Muslim woman boxer-turned-coach and international referee – Razia Shabnam

Razia Shabnam: Trailblazer for Calcutta's young women

With the entry of women in amateur boxing, the sport has taken on a whole new meaning in the predominantly Muslim areas around the Kolkata dockyards.

Boxing, with all its physical and violent dimensions, is considered a man's sport. Internationally, those like Laila Ali (daughter of Mohammed Ali) have done their bit to break the glass ceiling, but it's no more than a crack yet. But, deep in the heart of the Muslim-dominated boondocks of Kolkata - areas like Ekbalpore, Metiabruz, Khidderpore and Garden Reach - more significant cracks are appearing. A tribe of women, self-confessedly uneducated and largely "backward" in an urban sense, are shedding their burkhas (veils) and coming out in hordes to take up the sport.

Shahnaz Haider, Mehrunnisa, Farida Sultana, Razia Shabnam and Yasmin Haider - even a couple of years ago, they had to don their burkhas the minute they stepped out of their homes.

Razia Shabnam, is more than a female pugilist.

Braving stiff resistance from relatives and neighbours in the desperately poor Muslim ghettos of Calcutta where women have traditionally lived a cloistered life, Shabnam made it to the big ring.

Now she is India's first Muslim woman boxer-turned-coach and international referee.

When Razia Shabnam, of Ekbalpore, took up boxing in 1998, neighbours jeered at her parents, saying they were trying to “make a boy out of her.” Some even accused her parents of going against Islamic tenets and the Islamic way of life.

More importantly, she is like the Pied Piper to poor Muslim girls who are making their journey to the boxing ring and making a statement.

There are over 150 women boxers in India today, but the majority of those hailing from Calcutta are Muslim girls who have come out of the shadows.

Inspiring them to take up what, for Calcutta, is a rather unusual sport, is Laila Ali, the boxer-daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

Ekbalpore women were drawn to boxing after watching local young men in action at the neighbouring Kidderpore School of Physical Culture, where Shannu and Shakila first tasted “the power of boxing” as three-year-olds. Their interest grew after Mohammed Ali Qamar, a local youth, won a gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Asit Banerjee, president of the Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation, and brings out the only boxing magazine in India, says, many of these girls see boxing as a passport to success. “They feel boxing will help them escape poverty at home and break down the stifling social barriers,” says Banerjee, who runs the South Calcutta Physical Culture Association at Deshapran Shasmal Park, where the women boxers practice.

In other words, the girls donning the boxing gloves want a job. Little wonders that many get disillusioned before long. Shabnam says the rookies from Ekbalpore often see boxing as “a kind of computer course.” They drop out when they don’t get a job after, say, six months of training.

It’s increasingly becoming difficult to keep them in the club as there are hardly any job opportunities for women boxers,” she says. Alam Araf, Noor Afroz and Sajida Pervin, the young hopefuls hovering around Shabnam, nod in agreement. To retain his girl students, Banerjee had long fought the boxing federation to recognize women as coaches. His effort paid off in 2001 when the Sports Authority of India admitted a group of young women, including Shabnam, to train them as boxing coaches.

Women’s boxing in India would not have survived without women coaches,” says the 62-year-old boxing official, who has 22 women, most of them Muslim, undergoing training in his club right now. Shabnam says having women coaches has increased women’s participation in boxing, particularly from Muslim families. “It’s now easier to convince the parents, especially from conservative families, to let their daughters box,” she says.

But it’s not just the social restrictions that constrict the women boxers from the minority community. Money, or the lack of it, is often a major limiting factor. Banno Begum, for instance, always resisted the pressure from her community to take her daughters off boxing because she believed in “letting the children pursue what they wanted.”

"Women taking up boxing here is like a jihad [struggle] against established community conventions," says Rahat Hussain, Razia's social worker father.

Mr Hussain, who used to be a wrestler, is not far off the mark.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't easy to get Muslim girls to take up boxing. Shabnam and three other women were the first to come out of their homes and make the difficult trip to the coaching ring five years ago.

But it is still not easy going - Shabnam, who was the first girl in her neighbourhood to go to college and become a graduate - still has no steady job.

She makes do with a paltry 600 rupees ($13) a month, which she earns teaching poor students.

The other girls box on, hoping one day they will shine enough to win medals and get a job.

There is little money in boxing in India, and there still are no places for women boxers in government offices, which hire sportspeople.


"Still they come to the ring, because boxing gives them a strong sense of identity. They are no longer faceless girls spending all their lives at home," says Ashit Banerjee.


Their struggle is far removed from the world of their icon Laila Ali, who endorses cars and hair products, turns up on television shows and is a pin-up model of sorts.

Calcutta's girl-boxers train in a wood-based ring in an unkempt, mosquito-infested park where the homeless sleep rough, and young men shoot heroin.

The girls live in cramped, single-room, homes with common toilets in large families - and need to find a neighbour's empty room in which to change.

Their diets are embarrassingly frugal: some baked bread, lentil soup and occasionally chicken leftovers from the nearby market.

Still, they are very fired up and box three hours a day, six days a week.

Eighteen-year-old Alam Ara is one girl who was inspired by Shabnam's example.

Her father hawks homemade food on a grimy Kidderpore pavement and keeps aside a part of his paltry earnings to buy his daughter her cheap gear.

Ara went to school, learnt computers and then took up boxing.

"I don't believe girls should stay at home and cook. I want to be like Laila Ali," says Ara, who has a picture of her heroine tucked under her pillow.

Twin sisters Shanoo and Shakila Baby, are also seeking a career in the ring.

The girls says boxing wins them respect

Their policeman father died a few years ago. Encouraged by their mother who says she used to slip out of home when she was young to play football with the boys, the twins took up boxing.

"The boys are scared of us. If somebody messes around with us, we give it back to them," says Shakila, who thrashed a man who tried to snatch her handbag at a fair two years ago.

Bright-eyed Sazda Parveen, the daughter of a carpet factory worker, has already sparred in seven tournaments and is noted for the speed of her punches.

"My relatives said I would be disfigured if I boxed, I would no longer be a girl. Now it's the only thing I love," says Parveen.

It is difficult to say how long these girls will continue to flock to the ring in the absence of any incentive. Their only perks are the tournaments when they travel out of the city and are paid a small daily allowance and given modest lodging.

But Shabnam says she and the girls won't give up hope so easily.

"I do get frustrated. After all this I don't have a regular source of income. People ask me: Why are you doing this? For what?

"I tell them boxing has given me some recognition. I am happy for that."

Seven years on, things haven’t changed much for Shabnam, no longer single. Neighbours and friends now taunt her husband, Mohammad Faiyaz, about the fact that he has married a boxer who can barely cook and has little time for household chores. “But my husband supports me all the way,” says Shabnam.





IIS-Muslim Women’s Newsletter – July 2007

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always want to defend peace, justice, peoples' right to love each other and live with dignity,struggles against parochial visions and hatred;instinctively a defender of socialist and democratic values  

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