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23 November 2011

First joint namaz in Assam

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Mixed reactions to prayers at Ajan Peer Dargah

By Wasim Rahman

Xaraguri Chapori (Sivasagar): Assam witnessed history being scripted when women offered asor (late afternoon namaz) along with men under a single imam at the mosque of Ajan Peer Dargah in Sivasagar district today.

Ten women and 40 men offered namaz at the dargah, which is located at the confluence of the Brahmaputra and the Dikhow, 35km southwest of Sivasagar town. The women offered namaz inside the mosque while the men stood under a shamiana outside the mosque.

The development assumes significance as this is the first time in the state that men and women have offered namaz together at the dargah of a saint who tried to infuse communal harmony about 400 years ago.

Ajan Peer, born Shah Miran but popularly known as Ajan Fakir, had come to Assam from Baghdad.

He had composed jikir and zari songs in folk form in Assamese to teach indigenous Muslims the tenets of Islam and create harmony among people.

Ajan Peer Dargah
Imam Maulana Kari Abdul Hamid, the imam of Station Chariali, Sivasagar, was especially invited to conduct the first joint namaz organised by the management committee of the dargah following a request by Governor J.B. Patnaik.

Wahida Islam, an associate professor of Amguri College, Sivasagar, who offered namaz at the dargah, told The Telegraph that it was a memorable experience. She thanked the governor for taking the initiative and hoped the other mosques would follow suit.

“In Islam there is no prohibition on women offering namaz at mosques with men but it has to be segregated like it is done during Haj in Mecca,” she said, adding that the step was positive but might take some time to be fully accepted.

Fazal Ali Hazarika, a lawyer of Sivasagar Bar, who was among the men who offered namaz, said it was a positive step but the matter should be discussed among the community leaders and then started at other mosques according to Shariat guidelines. He said under special circumstances, women were allowed to offer namaz jointly with men under the Shariat.

The governor said offering namaz at the dargah of the great saint was a wonderful experience for him. “I will always remember this,” Patnaik said.

He said he had consulted Islamic scholars and as religion does not bar women from offering namaz in mosques, he took the lead. His wife, Jayanti Patnaik, said she was glad to be part of the historic moment.

The prayers evoked a mixed response among leaders of the faith. Some said this was prevalent in the time of the Prophet, others said hijab was needed to maintain decency in such prayers while a few labelled such an arrangement a tamasha (gimmick).

Salman Khurshid, the Union minister for minority affairs, said, “This (joint namaz) happens in Mecca, too, during Haj. In certain mosques in Kerala, women offer namaz, separated from the men only by a screen. It is for the local communities to decide and no one can dictate terms to them. We should respect the local decision. In Islam, men and women are equal. We have to keep in mind the hijab (protection of decency) even when in prayer together.”

Alhaz Syed Maulana Ahmed Kabir, a sadar qazi (Islamic scholar) of Sivasagar, said women were neither prohibited nor discouraged from offering namaz jointly with men under the religion.

He said the development was positive and could be allowed in other mosques if all the procedures were followed with abru (proper dress code in accordance with Islam) and if a partition was arranged inside the campus of a mosque.

Nekibuddin Ahmed, a young radio jikir singer, said such practices should be followed if religious scholars allowed it after discussion.

However, the khadim (religious caretaker) of the dargah, Sheikh Jakir Rahman, said according to his knowledge, women should not offer namaz jointly with men under the leadership of one imam.

The president of the management committee of the dargah, Zakirul Hussain, said going by today’s historic namaz, the committee would consider constructing a room adjacent to the mosque for women devotees to offer prayers simultaneously with men.

Parveen Abidi, who heads the All-India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, said, “Islam allows no discrimination between men and women. The cultural reason women don’t offer namaz in mosques is that they work at home. During Haj and even during Id, in some mosques women offer namaz in the same courtyard as men with a separation.”

Hazrat Maulana Syed Nizamuddin, secretary general of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, said, “According to the Quran, it is not obligatory for a Muslim woman to offer namaz in a mosque. Women have to do many household chores and raise children, which makes it impractical for them to attend namaz in mosques. They can offer namaz there only if there is a special arrangement for them to stand behind the rest of the jamaat. It is impractical to make such special arrangements in every mosque. Those who do it usually do it for tamasha (show).”

Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichowchhwi, general secretary of All-India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (a confederation of Sufi sects), said, “Common worship is allowed only in Mecca, with a separation for women and men. Even if common namaz happens anywhere, it can only be allowed with a separation.”

Mufti Abul Qasim Nomani, vice-chancellor, Darul Uloom Deoband, said, “I cannot comment on this case as I do not know about it. It is the intent of the worshipper that matters. Anyhow, it is not a matter for the Press to debate.”

Anoowar Hussain, imam of Burah Jame Masjid, Guwahati, said, “Joint prayers were prevalent during the time of the Prophet as well. This finds mention in the Hadith (A holy book in Islam). With the passage of time, women were asked to offer namaz at home keeping in mind their safety. However, I would not like to comment on the prayer at Sivasagar today.”

[With additional reporting by Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi and Daulat Rahman in Guwahati]

(Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata)

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