Bringing Up Muslim Sons

| Updated: 23 November, 2022 5:08 pm IST

I heard Dr Rizwan Ahmed, a lawyer and TV debater as his Twitter bio says, suggesting on a talk show that Hindu girls/women need to be told to keep away from Muslim boys because Muslim boys are dangerous. I disagree with this statement because I don’t think this is a piece of realistic or practical advice bordering on apartheid. Boys/men of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and other denominations, and girls/women will interact in India; that has been the pluralistic image and ethos of this country since I know from the 70s. Having spent decades as an educationist, I am an advocate of co-education because my experience showed how healthy it was as compared to all-girls or all-boys schools.

Instead, Dr Rizwan could have focused on Muslim women and how the onus is on Muslim mothers to bring up sons who respect women and are aware of the misogyny prevailing among the Muslim community across the world. Of course, it is not just Muslim mothers but Indian mothers who should have the parenting skills to bring up healthy, reasonable, humanitarian, balanced, and sane sons. India does have a serious misogynistic problem which came to the fore when the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder, commonly known as the Nirbhaya case, involving a rape and fatal assault occurred on December 16, 2012 in Munirka, a neighbourhood in Southwest Delhi; and for which Indians came out on the streets to protest this heinous crime in large numbers across communities, creeds, and sects. Since then, lawyers, activists, NGOs, journalists, writers, intellectuals, academicians, media persons and social influencers have advocated for stringent rape laws, capital punishment or against it, gender sensitisation programmes in the workplace, amidst the police force and in academic institutions through media campaigns, workshops, and seminars.

Hearing Dr Rizwan’s ferocious argument on TV which brought about this piece, I recalled Nazia Erum’s 2017 book ‘Mothering a Muslim: The Dark Secret in Our Schools and Playgrounds’. Nazia talked to over a hundred children and their parents across twelve cities in India and saw a pattern of rampant bullying of Muslim children in many of the country’s top schools. She described instances of 6-year-olds being hit by their classmates because of their faiths, of religious segregation in classrooms and of anxious Muslim parents monitoring the dress, speech, and actions of their children to protect them. I understood and empathised with where she came from. But I was also disappointed that she chose to restrict the parameters of the book to families of practising Muslims.

Indian Muslims, as we know are not a monolith. You will find agnostic Muslims, sceptic Muslims lapsed Muslims, cultural Muslims, as well as extremist, radical Muslims among the moderate and progressive believers too. As a mother of a son and that too hailing from the conflict zone of an Islamised Kashmir, I knew how back-breaking it was to rear a secular, rational and scientifically-oriented child and so I expressed my disappointment in a blog ‘Mothering a Rationalist’.

I had to negotiate each superstition, subcontinental attitude, and opposition to bring him up respectful of women and objectively aware of the misogyny embedded in our community. But I was a privileged, educated and financially-independent Indian woman, who garnered the respect and love of her late husband because I was self-made.  I am an exception, and exceptions do not make the norm. Muslim women need support to bring up their sons. Even if the family tends to be liberal, she will still have to contend with moderate views which are still xenophobic or racist or casteist by modern standards.

The case that was being discussed in the TV debate was of course one that shook the nation – the murder and dismemberment of Shraddha Walkar by Mumbai-based Aftab Amin Poonawalla in May this year. The murderer’s case shows all the traits of a psychopath and, of course, they can develop in any community. It is not like India has not had cases of men killing women from the Hindu, Sikh, or Christian communities. But the increasing number of cases coming to light of Hindu women killed at the hands of their Muslim spouses, friends, and lovers, mostly due to the diligent work of journalist Swati Goel Sharma is what primarily lets people focus on the communal angle of it.

I agree that Muslim boys have this penchant for dominating the Hindu female. Having been privy to the locker room talks of male cousins and friends while growing up as a tomboy, I know that Hindu femininity is a conquest, made realistic to deluded minds brought up on the glory of the Mughal rule. But we ought not to forget mothers are the primary caretakers, nurturers, teachers of the sons and the male’s first influence as to how he will see the world.

If females in his family are not treated well or are the victims of unfairness or injustice, he is likely to grow up demented and perverted or with an unhealthy attitude towards other women. Judging by the struggle Indian Muslim women went through in getting the instant triple talaq banned, it is easy to see what Muslim women must go through at the hands of their men – so-called protectors – in day-to-day life, in the public space, in the legal space, and in the political space. Even the academic space is not fair to them. They’ve had to struggle with misogynistic Muslim men themselves while they keep struggling to reconcile with Muslim Personal Laws which discriminate against them and give an undue advantage to Muslim males.

Add to this predicament that Muslim women do not have exposure to an English medium education or a work environment, being confined to home due to the regressive mentality of their patriarchal guardians. The agenda groups that want to break India or the usual suspects add to this complexity by exploiting the ‘siege mentality’ of Indian Muslims developed over decades due to Wahhabi Islam aired to their living rooms through satellite TV and an ‘Oppression Olympic’ narrative enforced by these agenda groups through the Internet; which makes them double down on their Muslim identity and fight for Islamic symbols of the hijab, niqab or the burqa further isolating themselves from the world.

Those trying to look for solutions for the protection of Hindu women should focus on Muslim mothers or future mothers. They need a scientific-education, financial independence, and empowerment to bring up rational sons who respect women and have progressive attitudes towards them. One way is to check the curriculum in the madrasas, the other is to understand the male Muslim mindset and see through the rhetoric of respect for mothers and sisters which still takes moral justification from religious texts for their cruel behaviour towards first their own spouses, daughters, sisters and then extend it to non-Muslim women. The imams and community leaders will have to step up and take moral responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of their “preferred sons” and make space for female qazis as well as female imams leading prayers in mosques. Muslim women need to reclaim their faith from their male counterparts, do feminist interpretations of the texts which gave them Sharia laws and understand the ulema-State alliance that made them second-class citizens when the Hadith were being compiled, a good two centuries after the Prophet’s last sermon.

This ties up with daughters made aware of the pitfalls of leaving the support and safety of their family structure and not being dazzled by the glitz of modern lifestyle aping the West. A lot of rational Hindus have been admonishing society to not be judgemental when their daughters make bad life choices and to keep a safety net in case they want to make amendments. I happen to agree.

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