The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lady muftis breach male bastion
Time to preach

Hyderabad, Aug. 30: Sania Mirza’s short skirts may have hogged global headlines, but city teenager Amina Batool perhaps better represents the rise of woman power in India’s Muslim society.

The 17-year-old is one of several young women practising as “muftias” — women muftis — in the city, delivering the Friday sermon in all-women mosques, resolving family and marital disputes, confirming divorces and issuing fatwas on current issues such as terrorism.

Amina and nine other women graduated last week from the city’s Jamiat-ul-Mominath, a deemed university of Islamic theology that has been training women as muftias skilled in interpreting the Shariat for men and women in their personal matters.

It was the Jamiat-ul-Mominath, Lucknow, that first began training muftias, but few of its graduates are practising clerics. The Hyderabad Jamiat, too, came out with its first batch in 2003.

The real change came when many of the 100-odd women’s mosques in Hyderabad opened their doors to muftias about a year ago.

Jamiat director Mufti Mohammed Mastan Ali insists that the muftias — the face of a changing Muslim society — are not rebels. “They don’t revolt against established religious practices and beliefs. We just felt that sermons from women muftis would attract more women, and a fatwa from a muftia on a women’s issue would find greater compliance.”

The 10 new graduates gave their first sermon last Friday, with a packed all-woman mosque at Asifnagar listening to Amina in rapt attention.

“Our muftias have been practising for almost a year. They have rendered critical and useful fatwas for youngsters,” Mastan Ali said.

The muftias have come out with edicts against terrorists after the Mumbai train blasts; they have ruled that Sania’s short dresses are unbecoming of a Muslim woman.

As they go on practising, the muftias are expected to continue with their theological studies for another 12 years. “They must live like ascetics in mosques and also travel around, preaching. They need at least five years to understand and recite the Quran. They must also learn Arabic literature,” Mastan Ali said. After completing the course, the muftias can marry.

By the age of 30, the women would be in a position to teach at national institutes and head all-women mosques, the mufti said.

Muftias, however, cannot practise at male congregations. Other than women’s mosques, they can preach at all-women congregations, held at specified times in general mosques.

Not a single verse in the Quran, nor a single Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) forbids women from becoming muftis. Aisha, the Prophet’s favourite wife, became a religious authority after his death and served the community.

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