Nasira Khanam, who hails from Hyderabad, is a senior member of Jamaat e Islami Hind. She has led the Women’s Wing at the state and national levels for many decades. On the occasion of Jamaat e Islami Hind’s 75th anniversary, Aura spoke to her about the participation of women in the organisation and broader Islamic movements, as well as Indian society.
Interview: Rahila Salam
Translation: Musfirah Ruman
1) It is 75 years since Jamaat-e-Islami Hind was established and you have been associated with this movement for a long time. An important question for you is that in many Muslim organisations, it is not common for women to participate and engage in socio-cultural activities, social service, and organisational activities. So, what difference did you notice within Jamaat-e-Islami in this regard? Why did you choose the platform of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind to carry out your activities?
I have studied many Muslim organisations very closely. Women were ignored in every field. In comparison to this, if we study Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in depth, a great difference is felt between these Muslim organisations and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is an organisation of Muslims that is very active, well-organised, and principled, and whose ideology is purely religious. The motto is very high and noble – Iqamat e Deen (Establishment of Deen) and this provision encompasses individual and collective aspects of life. No corner of life is excluded from this sphere. This religion should be followed consistently from all angles, and it should be continued and implemented in such a way that the evolution of the individual along with the construction of the society and formation of the state are all as per it. The special feature of this organisation is that it has not forgotten women, right from day one. It is determined to walk along with women. It has realised the vital role of women in the struggle for Iqamat e Deen. It has presented a comprehensive, correct and broader concept of religion. And providing an opportunity and platform for women to work in every field is a significant difference. As a result, I made this decision according to the decree of Allah Ta’ala:
“والمؤمنون والمؤمنات بعضہم اولیا بعض یامرون بالمعروف وینھون عن المنکر” Believers, men and women, are helpers of each other, enjoining good and forbidding evil.
Therefore, I thought I should join this movement and fulfil its collective demands with God-fearing. This work should be done only for the sake of Allah, and success in the Hereafter. I realised that a woman’s platform is what I want and aim for. I considered it safe to surrender myself to the collectivity of the same movement. I considered that my betterment lies in surrendering to this organisation and movement. Other Muslim organisations have a lesser understanding of the fact that women have the same amount of responsibilities as men in the activities related to the spreading of the message of Islam. For some organisations, even the woman’s voice is to be concealed (part of ‘pardah’). This type of mindset has distanced women from these activities. This has also had a broader negative impact on the spread of Islam. Alhamdullilah, Jamaat e Islami Hind has inculcated the spirit of spreading the message of Islam among women while following the Sharai’i boundaries and made them realise that they have an equal responsibility in the spread of Islam as their men.
2) As a whole, how inspiring and helpful was the Constitution of Jamaat-e-Islami, its policy and programme, its leadership, and its organisational structure for you and other women? Especially when women were not even allowed to learn the Qur’an or read its translation. What was the support system in the movement that allowed you to step out and engage in other activities?
The Quran and Sunnah are the base for the activities of Jamaat. This encouraged us to spread the message of Islam while remaining within the boundaries of Shariah. The constitution, policy program, and organisational structure and leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind proved to be very encouraging for other women and me. The discipline of this organisation was helpful to understand its organisational structure and policy programs. The effective leadership of the organisation has guided us at every turn. It was very helpful in explaining how to proceed with the task. It has established a collective system of training women at a higher level. Highlighting our abilities created a spark among us. It has provided opportunities for teaching and learning. Some people had the idea that reading the Holy Qur’an is not for ordinary people. Some said that if you can read the Qur’an, then read the Arabic text only, do not read translations and exegesis.
They were misleading women in different ways. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind organised Qur’an comprehension sessions. Qur’anic study and Tajweed classes were conducted. This work accelerated in this manner and women became more and more interested. Huge conferences were held. Educational institutions were established. In this context, two branches of Jamiat-ul-Salihat along with Jamiat-ul-Falah in Azamgarh, and two branches of Jamia-Riyaz-ul-Salihat in Hyderabad were established. Teaching services are being provided to women and students on a large scale. And women and students were also showing interest. It is this system that has facilitated women to go out and participate in other activities.
3) It has been 75 years since the establishment of Jamaat-e-Islami. There was a time when women generally did not work in the social arena. All kinds of collective work were considered the responsibility of men. In such times, what were the challenges you faced while working among women and inviting them to the organisational activities?
In the beginning, there was opposition when we started the work. We were restricted from going out of the home. There were efforts to subdue our work. But when we cited the Quran and Sunnah to prove that our work was necessary, the opposers themselves were subdued. Even our families and society supported us finally.
Actually, during those times it was considered that doing collective work in the social sphere was the responsibility of men and it had nothing to do with women. There is no awareness among people about being the best of people (Khair e Ummat). There is a distance from Quranic teachings. Others were narrow-minded. In this regard, a lot of effort had been made to educate women and to awaken the consciousness of being the best of people (Khair e Ummat). With the help of various examples and Quranic arguments, efforts were made to make this clear to them. A sense of accountability to God was created. People were reminded of the fate of those who escape from this work or are negligent. Individual and group meetings were conducted. The mindset of these women was developed.
We came across such women as well who were not at all ready to listen to us. And some women didn’t want to attend our meetings. Because of great wisdom and expediency, efforts were made to convince them. it takes a long time, The work takes a long time.. We tried to make our program effective in this regard. Some people even said that one should not accept the Tafseer and copies of the Qur’an we provide but we tolerated every objection with a smile on our faces and adopted the attitude of persistence and perseverance.
4) What major problems or challenges did you face while working among women for this movement and how did you overcome those issues?
There were hurdles in making people aware of the true understanding of the Deen. But Allah’s help and assistance were always present. So eventually, the opposition weakened and vanished. To make this possible, we spent a great deal of time seeking guidance from the Quran and Sunnah. The internal and external atmosphere was not favourable. We consistently tried to make this favourable. We countered the opposition with such rational and logical arguments, that the path ahead became easy to traverse.
We have tried to respond to every harsh conversation with humility. This path has been filled with lots of trials. I will give just one example. We tried to approach the higher-class people belonging to the Nawabi families of the city of Hyderabad. Allah helped us. In the beginning, there were lots of difficulties. After a lot of effort, we put together a program in which 45 women participated. It was a household where women gathered to enjoy parties and play rummy every week. Immediately after the dua at the end of the first program, these women said that from today onwards playing rummy will end and every week the Quran will be taught. These female participants expressed their desire to understand the Qur’an. We took 15 sets of Tafseer when we went there for the second time, and they bought it with great enthusiasm. Today, Alhamdulillah, the system of these programs has been established and we made one of them responsible for this series. This series is being continued consistently.
While doing the work of this movement, women faced great difficulties and challenges. First of all, the difficulties began at home and with family members. There were many obstacles. The leading women of other organisations also created obstacles in our journey. Because when women’s work began to accelerate, women from every corner, from cities as well as villages started to join us in droves. Sometimes, some women working with us also turned out to be hypocritical. They were condemning our programs, opposing Jamaat among the people, and spreading baseless and incorrect things about Maulana Maududi and Tafheem ul Quran.
But, we never took a step back in our journey. We have been answering their objections with a very calm attitude, and a lot of patience. Efforts were made to satisfy them by reaching every house. We continued to give a detailed introduction of JIH with proofs of our methodology, which is in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah. We never behaved aggressively with these people. The help of Allah would have been such that if three women were against us who tried creating difficulties, then there would have been two women among them who would understand us and would join us. Different challenges kept on coming our way, but with the help of Allah, we bravely faced these challenges. And we were convinced that these difficulties and these challenges were creating new avenues for us. The best solution to these difficulties was present in the words of Allah and Seerat-e-Rasool (SAW).
5) There is a big difference between the present time, the time when the Jamaat was founded, and the period in between. In society, in thought processes, in behaviours, in the case of women, there is a great difference in all such things. How do you compare all of that? What changes do you wish to point out while comparing all of that? How did the work progress in each era?
The formative years of Jamaat were when the knowledge about Deen was scarce. Understanding the Deen was not only less, but the correct source of understanding was also not available. Traditions and long-held cultural beliefs based on inherited practices were abundant in social life. These were considered good deeds. Things started to change after the formation of Jamaat e Islami Hind. Religious education became common. A desire to understand the Deen also spread. Understanding of Islam was achieved, along with the ability to distinguish between good and bad. The condition of seeking a connection with Allah SWT grew. Women’s belief systems were corrected. Subsequently, the belief systems of families and communities were also corrected, and this had a good impact on society. This did not happen overnight but was a product of years of effort. The habit of consistent reading, good companionship, a collective system of life, change in thought process, refinement in character and humanitarian social service – attraction towards these qualities breathed new life into what existed.
At the time of the establishment of JIH, people considered Jamaat a sect. There was an atmosphere of superstitions and dargah worship. People followed non-Sharai’i rituals, and polytheism (shirk) and innovations (bid’at) were practised. There was a lot of confusion in the belief system. People were distant from religion. Ignorance was at its peak, and the practice of murshids was common. There was extravagance and wasteful spending, and the Qur’an and the Seerah were kept aside. There was a great contradiction in the thought process. Then, by comparing the middle period and present times, we realised that the right religious education has to be generalised in this environment. A clear concept of religion has to be provided. . There has to be a change in the thought process of these women. We had to understand them very wisely, with a gentle attitude. Every time, we were concerned about the advancement of our work. That is why Islamic morals were demonstrated by presenting righteous characters in front of them through behaviours, actions and relationships. Abstaining from strictness, the attitude of acceptance, love, and sincerity was adopted. An attempt was made to change the thought process of women by making religion easier instead of strictness and rigidity. Though belatedly, women were extremism to our work by developing an understanding of religion within themselves. The spirit of learning and knowledge sparked in them, as a result of the message of Allah’s religion was spread far and wide by women, not only in Hyderabad but also in AP, Telangana, and various parts of India.
Weak arguments were resorted to, make us stay at home. They tried to tell us that stepping out of the house was against the Quran and Sunnah. On the positive front, we got every type of help from all kinds of people. Our work was eventually treated respectfully. The message of the Quran and Sunnah became commonplace in Muslim society. There was success in introducing the Islamic message to non-Muslim women and giving a general introduction of Islam to them.
6) Today, you can see different types of collective work and a kind of influence among women, so, what do you think are the positive and negative aspects of this?
Today, women are performing various types of collective work. They also influence women who are responsible for different organisations of different classes, far and wide. Alhamdulillah, the positive aspect of this is that the young women from the educated class who have a desire and concern for religion are also participating in the activities of Jamaat. Interest in reading (muta’la) has increased. They are actively participating in the campaigns carried out by women. There is also a change in their thought process. The consciousness of being the best of people (Khair e Ummat) is being developed. Whenever we initiate campaigns against social evils and obscenity, about strong families, etc. women work very hard for it. The campaign, “Islam ki beti jaag zara” (Awake, daughter of Islam) for which the women worked tirelessly was quite successful. It can be said that this conference made history by marking the presence of 60,000 women.
The positive aspects due to women being engaged in social life are the opportunity to connect with other women of society to remove the evils, to live a social life within the limits of Allah, to abide by the rules of Shariah, and to live a life as per Allah’s will so that one may present a live and ideal picture of Islamic life in the society. If one goes beyond the commands and limits of the Shari’ah and Allah, this displeases Allah. Such a way of living will make life miserable rather than peaceful.
If women are being negligent, staying away from religion, following the trends of western civilization mindlessly, and if all their acts are devoid of sincerity, this is a negative trend. The positive aspect is that the spirit of becoming a scholar is developing. Religious consciousness is also being created. Women are doing their work sincerely. Whereas, the negative aspect that can be observed is the intermixing of men and women.
7) Nowadays, it is especially seen that women, particularly girls, are seeking higher education, and becoming professionals. In such cases, after completing their studies, these girls opt for a job. We can see that this is a significant difference as compared to previous times. As the number of these educated people has increased in society, we also need to work amongst them. So how shall we proceed?
In the present era, women and girls are increasingly interested in pursuing higher education. They are trying to be proficient in different languages. After obtaining a professional degree, they tend to opt for employment. We must work among these women as well. Initially, we must meet them at the individual level, try to change their mindset, create a correct understanding of religion amongst them, develop an understanding with them, and organise a short yet effective program for them according to their ability by respecting their time. We must allow them to participate in the program according to academic ability and aptitude. We can organise study circles for them. The program should be organised in such a way that the audience doesn’t get bored. Our programs should be interesting and innovative. Sometimes, try to plan fun-filled programs with them. Invite them for a tea party as well. Try to develop close relations with them. Alhamdulillah, our efforts in this regard turned out to be quite fruitful. Sometimes, organise symposiums and seminars on current affairs for them. Always keep in view their choices. For some women who are interested in literature, organising a literary meeting is also useful. We should invite them to the meetings to discuss Sirat al-Nabi or Ibrahimi also. Allow them to speak as well. Choose books according to their taste.
It is important to chalk out a plan to work among working women. To fulfil their economic needs, women take up employment. When there was not much of a culture of education among women, they used to mostly be engaged in household work. But highly educated women do not wish to stay at home. We must benefit from the talents of such women. Keeping their personalities in mind, we can plan to train them through the HRD Department of Jamaat. Education which doesn’t help you connect with Allah SWT can hardly be called education.
8) One of the changes that have taken place in the present time is that the trend of social media has arisen among people. There has been a lot of growth in the use of mobile phones. A negative aspect is that family life has been affected. And there have been a lot of challenges in raising children as well. There are so many problems that the entire society is facing. In particular, the Tehreek families and the Muslim Ummah as a whole are not exempted from this issue. In such a situation, what is your advice to our society, especially women?
The use of mobiles is entirely dependent on the intention. It is akin to a sword – useful in the hands of a trained soldier, and dangerous if handled by an untrained person. They can be used to obtain benefits or cause harm. As you know, the mobile phone is quite a modern and important technology. And it is the need of the hour. This innovation is a blessing too. Through it, many tasks can be done sitting at home and a lot of information can be obtained. Rather, all our needs can be fulfilled by sitting at home using mobile phones. This is the important technology through which work can be done at home. If the mobile phone is used correctly, it will be made effective and useful as well as the message of truth is spread through it, then this will be a positive aspect of mobile phones. If the same is used for wrong, inappropriate, and useless purposes, then this will be its negative side. Rather, many evils are being made public through it. Through this, many women and students are being misrepresented. Its misuse is leading to the deterioration of families, homes, and society. Education is being affected. Innocent minds are being diseased by it. Therefore, save yourself from all its wrong aspects and make it useful for yourself by using it correctly. Make this mobile an efficient tool to fulfil your duties. Don’t waste your precious moments by watching unnecessary videos that are immodest, immoral, and uncivilised. Instead, make it a useful and effective way to deliver the right message. Generalise the message,
“امر بالمعروف نھی عن المنکر (Enjoining the good, and forbidding the evil).
9) In Islamic society and among the fellow citizens, how can women carry out the task of social service actively? How did women participate before and what should be their attitude now?
There should be love and sympathy between the people of the Islamic community and other communities. Widen your relations with the brothers and sisters of the country as much as possible. Solve the misunderstandings between them wisely. Cleanse their minds and build close relationships with them. Be gentle in your behaviour and talk to them sweetly and gently. Cultivate this spirit of service without discrimination in religion and community with great excellence. At times of global epidemics or natural calamities or destruction due to floods and storms, step forward, support them and comfort their sad hearts by showing selflessness and sacrifice.
Earlier, women did not participate so much in social work. But today our women are supporting the needy in a disciplined manner and their children are being given educational assistance. Efforts are made to provide treatment to sick people. Efforts are being made to make them self-reliant through small jobs like stalls etc. Further, various means are used to approach them and to work among them. We surveyed the institutions opened for their old age homes and their temples. We also visit orphanages and exchange thoughts with them. Their requirements are being fulfilled. Further efforts are underway.
There should be no religious differentiation in social service. All of humanity should be included in the scope of service.
10) Striking a balance between personal, family, organisational, and social life is the requirement of social engagements. Some domains of life are affected if this balance is disrupted. We can see multiple issues such as not getting enough time to educate and train children, etc. How to maintain this balance?
Time management has to be done to maintain the balance of personal, family, and social life while doing this work. Make a timetable and do all the work according to it, only then the balance can be established. If time is taken into account, if the schedule is prepared, time will not be wasted and women can do all their work with excellence. Today, our entire system is disrupted due to a lack of consideration of time. And the balance is not being maintained. I always keep in mind the saying of the Holy Prophet that is, “Children are the flowers of heaven”. Appreciate this lovely blessing, have special attention to these kids. Worry about saving them from hellfire. Train them in such a way that they become the flowers of heaven in the truest sense. And let them become a continuous source of reward (Sawab e Jaariya) for us. Alhamdulillah, I adhere to the schedule and practise the fruitful habit of time management that I developed right from the beginning.
Women often struggle to maintain a healthy balance between household work and movement work. Either one cannot be ignored. If the balance is askew, feelings can be hurt. Misunderstandings about Jamaat will grow. For that, there is no fixed parameter. Instead, it is inherent in human nature. The situation will reveal what should be prioritized at that moment. There cannot be a general Line of Control.