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HVK Archives: Right to Pray

Right to Pray - The Observer

T K Devasia ()
15 February 1997

Title : Right to Pray
Author : T K Devasia
Publication : The Observer
Date : February 15, 1997

The raging debate over the entry of women in mosques has sharpened
the divisions in the Muslim community in Kerala. Palayam Imam P K
Ahmedkutty Moulavi who stired the debate by allowing women for the
first time inside a south Kerala mosque for Ramazan prayers, is not
only sticking to his ground, but has also given a call for opening
the doors of other mosques for women.

His detractors have started training guns against him. The Samastha
Kerala Sunni Xuvajana Sangham which held a protest march against
the Imam's action, has circulated an open letter challenging the
Imam and his supporters to prove their point and is awaiting their

Manakkad mosque Imam and Kerala State Waqf Board Chairman Abdul
Gafoor Moulavi, who is considered a strong critic of the Palayam
Imam has started a series of discourses from Friday February 14 on
the Islamic perspective of the issue.

Abdul Gafoor Moulavi, who claimed that he has got authentic datas
on the issue, plans to print his discourses and circulate them
throughout the state for further debate. Scholars elsewhere in the
state are also caught up with the issue and the days ahead will
certainly witness interesting and lively debates.

Curiously, cracks have started appearing in the very committee
which endorsed the Imam's decision. At least six members of the
25-member committee have called for an urgent meeting to discuss
the issue in the wake of mounting protests.

The interesting point that will come up for discussion in the
coming days is whether permitting women inside the mosques is
Islamic or not. Opinion is sharply divided on the question, and
there are evidences that both the sides will present to support
their respective stands. However, all evidences offer different

The main crux of Ahmedkutty Moulavi's argument is that both the
Quran and the prophesies of Mohammad Nabi are against any gender
discrimination. To support his claim, he points out that women are
traditionally permitted inside the mosques for prayers. He says,
"Women have entry inside even historic mosques like Mecca and
Madina, and this practice had begun in the days of the Prophet
himself. Even now women continue to offer their prayers not only
in these holy mosques, but also in mosques in all the Gulf
countries, where the Islamic practices are more stringent. "

The Imam said that the Prophet himself had warned against any
obstruction against women entering the mosques. Ahmedkutty said
that even in Kerala, women in the northern parts have been
traditionally offering prayers in mosques. In south Kerala it was
not in practice for various reasons. According to him the major
reasons were the absence of religious leader and lack of facilities
in the mosques in southern Kerala compared to those in the northern

However, with the arrival of some powerful religious leaders from
north to south after independence Muslim women became increasingly
aware of their religious rights and they started raising the demand
for entry in the mosques. In Thiruvananthapuram, where Muslims
from all parts are settled, the demand was more strong. "As the
first floor of the Palayam mosque was found adequate for women to
offer their prayers without any outside hindrance, I decided to
concede their demand. The Jamaat Committee also endorsed my
decision," Ahmedkutty Said.

He said that more than 250 women offered their prayers on every day
during Ramazan. Their number was as high as 1000 during Fridays.
Ahmedkutty said that hundreds of women and their organisations came
to support him. The organisations that came out openly in support
of the Imam were Girls' Islamic Organisation and Ityahadu Subanan
Mujahiddin (ISM).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire controversy is
that for the first time, Keralite Muslim women have come forward to
assert their rights. Many consider this as an indication of the
changing attitudes of the Muslim women.

Dr T Shiraz Khan says, "Those opposing the entry of women in the
mosques were those who were against progress itself." "The
conservative sections opposing the actions are those who want to
keep the. community under the clutches of the superstitions," says
Ahmedkutty. He recalled that these sections were also against the
discourses being conducted in Malayalam in mosques.

Ahmedkutty laments that his critics have failed to point out what
is un-Islamic in his action. "How a certain action can be Islamic
in one area and un-Islamic in others?", he asks pointing out that
everywhere except in south Kerala, women had the rights to enter
the mosques. On the other hand, the Manakkad Imam said he will
convincingly and authentically prove how un-Islamic was his
counterpart's action in the discourses he plans to conduct in the
coming days. Making an attempt to explain the issue from a
layman's point of view, Thiruvananthapuram district secretary of
the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham, Saifuddin Haji, who led last month's
march against the entry of women, relies on the Quran itself to
show how un-Islamic the action was. He points out that Section 33
of Chapter Ahzab of the Quran, which deals with the code of conduct
of women, clearly states that women should pray at the private
rooms of their homes. He says, "The purity of the place of worship
is paramount in Islam and women by nature cannot ensure this." He
says that the Sunni section in the community have been attaching
lot of importance to this aspect, and therefore they have not
allowed women in the mosques under their control anywhere in the

He also said that the Palayam mosque was a common one meant for all
the sections and therefore the Imam had the responsibility to
respect the sentiments of all.

Saifuddin alleged that the action of the Palayam Imam was
politically motivated. "There are many grounds to believe that the
attempt of the Imam was to unite the Muslim women of south Kerala
religiously and take them to the Muslim League's camp," he added.
Saifuddin said that the Imam had held several positions with the
support of Muslim League leaders and added that he was a spokesman
of the Muslim League. Interestingly, the Muslim League, which
jumps at every issue that affects the community, has been steering
clear of the present controversy. The party's women's wing
chairperson Khamarunnisa Anwar who initially came out openly in
support of the Imam later backed out saying the opinions the
expressed in the public were her personal views and not that of the

The Muslim League's compulsions are understandable as they enjoy
the support of both the Sunni and Mujahiddin sections on all
political issues. The party leaders have left the matter to the
scholars. However, the ongoing controversy will certainly widen
the chasm between the conservative Sunnis and the reformist
Mujahiddin, who have been at loggerheads on various issues in the

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