It was evening by then. I was sitting on the footpath sipping tea. And with me sat this kid all of 9-10 year old. A Muslim boy from that small town in UP.
- "What do you want to do when you grow up?"
- I want to study.
- You mean in Deoband?
- NO! In a college! I want to go to a NORMAL college!
- So I can come back and start a normal school.
I still remember the resolve in that kid’s voice. It was around a week since I had been going from village to village and small towns in UP to understand the socio-economic issues of the Muslims. The state of education in the youth was pathetic! Our visits to the large Madaris like Deoband had not offered us any hope either!
I repeatedly asked myself… How can an entire population be turned ILLITERATE in worldly sense? But, that is how the youth in Islam had been tampered with in UP. They wanted jobs but couldn’t get them because all they had was a "Hafiz" certificate! The mullahs barred boys and specifically girls to study outside the Madarasa system.
Here, now, after all those treks in the villages, I saw a flicker of hope. Maybe the AFFECTED will change the system! Maybe.
I had asked a young guy in a Madaris – who professed that we should start computer training in Madrasas – to voice his suggestion to be taken up. He said "if they know I think like this.. they will throw me out!".
So, these kids – in my view – were the ONLY hope that Muslim society had!
Today, I was reading this article which made me sit up. That kid on the pavement was not one-off thing, but a precursor to a movement in the minds of the youth in the Muslim society.
Baquiyar, Shagufta, Aliza, Zakia have put their foot down on where they stand on education and that education is THEIR decision. Mullahs will have nothing to do with that!
Baquiyar who wants to go to IIT is very forth-right:
A devout Muslim, she respects the ulema "as seniors and more experienced holy men". And that is where she would like to draw the line. The latest Deoband edict banning co-education makes the girl bristle. "I am not going to allow anyone else to run my life," she says. "Let them rule my parents… they can’t rule me…" she adds as an afterthought.
The sight of these girls is squarely on the international scene and they evaluate themselves against their peers. Such comparisons are bound to be at odds with the traditional roles they are believed to play and respond to the Ulemas and the Mullahs. Shagufta for example questions the need for hijab and the issues of Ulemas with co-educational institutions.
Those Muslim run institutions that "dare" to be co-ed, the pressure is very high. The Unity Missionary School, for example has pressure from Parents and Ulemas. They have, however, stuck with it!
Set up in 1988 by Twheedul Muslimeen Trust it’s founder, noted Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, faced stiff resistance from fundamentalists then. Situation is not much different even 25 years down the line. "There are pressures from a lobby of parents and ‘ulema’ who still frown upon co-ed in Unity," said vice-principal T Z Naqvi. But Maulana Sadiq has refused to give in to the demand.
And its not that these girls are oblivious of the historic context. Aliza, very strongly questions the practices of purdah and hijab, specifically at Aligarh Muslim University, when Sir Syed Ahmed was against the practice of purdah.
It is not going to be easy for these kids. But it is not going to be very very difficult for the Mullahs and Ulemas! Generally, very few powers have been able to resist the collective voice of a youth that wants freedom.
I just wish that celebrities like Shabana Azmi or Rahul Bose could spend sometime helping these girls out to stand up.. by just standing by their side. They do not need a whole lot. They just need some help. Then maybe one day, the wish of that little kid on the pavement will come alive.
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