The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reform divide in Nobel hush

Oct. 12: The Nobel Peace Prize for Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist who has become the first Muslim woman to win the honour, has yet to capture the imagination of organised voices of the community in India.

Indian Muslim leaders, scholars and the Urdu media are guarded about her achievement, still trying to ascertain what she “believes in” and what she “really stands for”.

A section is searching for a “White House angle”, circulating a theory that the award is more in recognition of the “dissent” that Ebadi has been sowing in an Islamic society than her campaign for reforms.

Others are wondering aloud if Ebadi is “some sort” of Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi author who took on the orthodox clergy there.

Premier Muslim bodies like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Milli Council, the Tabligi Jamat, the Jamiat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-e-Ulema have not reacted to the Nobel prize and they do not intend to.

“The award has little to do with Islam or Muslim faith. So there is no need for us to formally react,” a cleric said. “She is not an Islamic scholar but merely a campaigner of human and women’s rights. We value her contribution in a civil society. That is it.”

Among Shias, who form the majority in Iran, the opinion is divided. Maulana Syed Ali, the Imam of Shia Jama Masjid in Delhi, welcomed the honour. “We are delighted. She has been leading the Islamic way of life and trying to clear some misconceptions towards Islam,” he said.

The fact that the Iranian regime had congratulated her showed that there were no “two opinions” about her contribution, he added.

But a conservative section was not sure, saying it wants to be certain that Ebadi’s drive for reforms is not against the Islamic revolution, which was spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomeini.

The moderates in the Indian Muslim personal law board are more supportive of Ebadi. Kamal Farooqui, who represents the liberal section in the board, said: “I do not know much about her work. But it brings us pleasure to know that a Muslim woman has bagged the coveted prize.”

The board, Farooqui and Khalid said, has been trying to engineer “reforms from within”. But the pace has been tardy as the old order is refusing to give up. The subdued applause for Ebadi, some feel, reflects the ongoing tussle between forces of change and continuity within the Islamic society in India.

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