Inequality at the pulpit and its ramifications

In his Sunday Guardian column, Guardians of the pulpit, MJ Akbar highlights gender inequality in yet another crucial area – priests.

This recent judgement by a Delhi sessions court was the trigger for his column.

Kamini Lau, an additional sessions judge, denied anticipatory bail to a certain Maulvi Mustafa Raja, who abetted in the abduction of a young girl by the accused, Nadeem Khan, by performing a nikaah between the two although Khan was already married. The ceremony did not have the girl’s consent, and was conducted in the absence of her parents. The Maulvi argued that Muslims were permitted four wives. Judge Kamini Lau noted, forcefully, that Islam permits polygamy under certain conditions but does not encourage it; and no nikaah can be legitimate without the woman’s consent. She added that Muslim countries such as Turkey and Tunisia had made polygamy illegal. She could have also said that the present Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, widely described as “Islamist”, had also made rape within marriage a criminal offence, and awarded life sentence for “honour killings”.

Kamini Lau did not mince her words. Nadeem Khan had raped the girl, and Maulvi Raja was accessory to the crime.

Akbar puts his finger on the issue pulse with the following:

Perhaps the court order was as clear as it was because the judge was a woman.

On a common thread running through all religious…

It is axiomatic that religions have differences, or they would not be different. But every faith has one thing in common. All priests are men. Religious law and practice is determined by men, whether a faith believes in monotheism or polytheism, whether it worships the divine as an image or as a spirit. Only a man becomes a Pope, Shankaracharya, Dalai Lama or Shaikh ul Islam; and only men are in their robe-clad armies. There has been some reform in patches; but the Church of England was unable last year to permit women priests to rise to Bishop. A faith may split into sects. Sunni and Shia may quarrel till eternity over the successor to the Prophet, but it is the men who do the quarrelling.

There is nothing exclusively Islamic about male prejudice. Listen to some Hindu savants rise from their pseudo-yogic perch to preach that women must share the blame for rape. They are joined by a politician like the Samajwadi Party’s Abu Azmi; what unites them is not shared faith but shared prejudice. When they blame the West, they are not fearful of geography; they are terrified of modernity. Modernity is not singing English songs and wearing jeans. That is a cartoon view. Modernity is equality, political and social.

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