DAWN - Opinion; August 19, 2007

Published August 19, 2007

Taking girls out of school

By Anwar Syed

A REPORT in this newspaper last month tells us that a cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, has issued an edict (fatwa), holding that education of girls is un-Islamic, and urging people in the villages of Swat to withdraw their daughters from public schools. Several thousand parents have acted on his advice, and young girls are now playing on the street instead of attending their classes.

Apparently, there is nothing to stop a man from appropriating the prefix, “maulana,” regardless of his educational attainments.

Fazlullah is evidently ignorant of Islamic history and the scholarly achievements of Muslim women. It may not be his fault that he is essentially uneducated. But it is surely a fault on the part of Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, and their colleagues in the MMA not to go out and remind this man of the Prophet’s (PBUH) saying that the acquisition of knowledge is required of all Muslims, men and women.

I want to call attention to a few women famous for their learning during early and medieval Islam. Let me begin with Ayesha, one of the Prophet’s wives. It is well known that she was a frequently consulted narrator of his sayings and actions. It may not be as well known that she was regarded as an authority on Islamic law (fiqh). She offered interpretations and commentaries on the Quran.

I find a number of women during this period whose accomplishments were of the same order. A quick listing should suffice: Um Adhah al-Adawiyyah (d. 83 AH), reputable scholar and narrator of hadith based on reports of Ali ibn Abu Talib and Ayesha; Amrah bint Abd al-Rahman (d. 98 AH), one of the more prominent students of Ayesha and a known legal scholar in Madina whose opinions overrode those of other jurists of the time; Hafsa bint Sirin al-Ansariyyah (d. approx. 100 AH), also a legal scholar.

The list includes Amah al-Wahid (d. 377 AH), noted jurist of the Shafaii school and a mufti in Baghdad; Karimah bint Ahmad al-Marwaziyyah (d. 463 AH), teacher of hadith (Sahih Bukhari); Zainab bint Abd al-Rahman (d. 615 AH), linguist and teacher of languages in Khorasan.

In addition there were Zainab bint Makki (d. 688 AH), prominent scholar in Damascus, teacher of Ibn Taimiya, the famous jurist of the Hanbali school; Zaynab bint Umar bin Kindi (d. 699 AH), teacher of the famous hadith scholar, al-Mizzi; Fatima bint Abbas (d. 714 AH), legal scholar of the Hanbali school, mufti in Damascus and later in Cairo; Nafisin bint al Hasan taught hadith; Imam Shafaii sat in her teaching circle at the height of his fame in Egypt.

Two Muslim women — Umm Isa bint Ibrahim and Amat al-Wahid — served as muftis in Baghdad. Ayesha al-Banniyyah, a legal scholar in Damascus, wrote several books on Islamic law. Umm al-Banin (d. 848 AH/ 1427 CE) served as a mufti in Morocco. Al Aliyya was a famous teacher whose classes men attended before the noon prayer (Zuhr) and women after the afternoon prayer (Asr).

A Muslim woman of the name of Rusa wrote a textbook on medicine, and another, Ujliyyah bint al-Ijli (d. 944 CE) made instruments to be used by astronomers. During the Mamluk period in Cairo (11th century) women established five universities and 12 schools which women managed.

I should now like to present an account of four Muslim women, each of them illustrious in her own way. The great granddaughter of the Prophet, and daughter of Imam Husain, Sukayna (also “Sakina) was about eight years of age when her father, brothers, and their companions were martyred at Karbala in 680.

These traumatic events left a deep impression on her mind and she grew up to be an outspoken critic of the Umayyads.

She became a political activist, speaking against all kinds of tyranny and personal, social and political iniquities and injustice. She was a fiercely independent woman. She married more than once, and each time she stipulated assurance of her personal autonomy, and the condition of monogamy on the prospective husband’s part, in the marriage contract.

She went about her business freely, attended and addressed meetings, received men of letters, thinkers, and other notables at her home, and debated issues with them. Needless to say that she was an exceedingly well-educated woman who would take no nonsense from anyone howsoever high and mighty he or she might be.

Arwa bint Ahmad bin Mohammad al-Sulayhi (born 1048) was the ruling queen of Yemen for 70 years (1067-1138), briefly, and that only technically, as a co-ruler with her two husbands, but as the sole ruler for most of that time. She is still remembered with a great deal of affection in Yemen as a marvellous queen.

Her father died when she was still a child and she moved to live with her uncle, Ali al-Sullayhi, who was the ruler of Yemen at the time. She was raised in the royal palace under the guardianship and tutorship of her aunt, the formidable Queen Asma, co-ruler of Yemen with her husband.

In 1066, when she was a little over 17, she married her cousin, Ahmad al-Mukarram and received the city of Aden as her dowry. Ahmad succeeded to the throne following his father’s death, but delegated all his authority to Arwa because, having suffered injuries in battle and paralysis, he was confined to bed.

Her name was mentioned in the Friday sermons right after that of the Fatimid caliph in Cairo. She built mosques and schools throughout her realm, improved roads, took interest in agriculture and encouraged her country’s economic growth.

Arwa is said to have been an extremely beautiful woman, learned, and cultured. She had a great memory for poems, stories, and accounts of historical events. She had good knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. She was brave, highly intelligent, devout, with a mind of her own. She was a Shia of the Ismaili persuasion, sent preachers to India, who founded an Ismaili community in Gujarat which still thrives. She was also a competent military strategist.

At one point (1119) the Fatimid caliph sent a general, Najib ad-Dowla, to take over Yemen. Supported by the amirs and her people, she fought back and forced him to go back to Egypt.

She died in 1138 at the ripe old age of 90. A university in Sana’a is named after her, and her mausoleum in Jibla continues to be a place of pilgrimage for Yemenis and others.

Amatal Aziz bint Jafar was nicknamed Zubaida by her grandfather, Al Mansur, because of her “freshness, softness, and white skin.” She grew up to be a lady of stunning beauty, eloquent and charming of speech, and great courage. Perceptive and shrewd, her wisdom and insightfulness inspired immediate admiration and respect.

She married Harun al-Rashid, the legendary Abassid caliph, in 781 and soon became the love of his life. She was his cousin on both sides of their parentage, a first cousin in that her mother, Salsal, had been the sister of Harun’s mother, the indomitable and famous Khaizuran (both of them former slave girls). She came to be an exceedingly wealthy woman, a billionaire so to speak, independently of her husband.

In her middle years she moved out of the royal “harem” and began living in a huge palace of her own, surrounded by acres of gardens that she had got built with her own money. She owned properties all over the empire which dozens of agents in her employ managed for her.

A cultivated woman, pious and well acquainted with the scriptures, Zubaida was also a poetess and a patron of the arts and sciences. She set aside funds to invite hundreds of men of letters, scientists, and thinkers from all over the realm to locate and work in Baghdad.

She spent much of her funds for public purposes. She built roads and bridges, including a 900-mile stretch from Kufa to Makkah, and set up, hostels, eating places, and repair shops along the way, all of which facilitated travel and encouraged enterprise. She built canals for both irrigation and water supply to the people. She spent many millions of dinars on getting a canal built, that went through miles of tunnel through mountains, to increase the water supply in Makkah.

She took a keen interest in the empire’s politics and administration. She employed dozens of secretaries, overseers, and informers to keep her posted of important developments. This was not a covert activity on her part; her interest was known to all concerned. The caliph himself sought her counsel concerning the affairs of state on many occasions and found her advice to be eminently sound and sensible.

After Harun’s death, his successor, Al Mamun, also sought her advice from time to time.

It is said that she was secretly a subscriber to the Ismaili faith but according to some reports her connection with it ceased after the death of the Ismaili imam of her time with whom she used to be in touch. She died in 841 (32 years after Harun’s death).

Before closing this presentation, I want to say a word about Rabi’a al-Adawiyya al-Basri (born about 717), honoured as one of the earliest and greatest sufis in Islam. Orphaned as a child, she was captured and sold into slavery. But later her master let her go. She retreated into the desert and gave herself to a life of worship and contemplation.

She did not marry, and to a man who wanted her hand she said: “I have become naught to self and exist only through Him. I belong wholly to Him. You must ask my hand of Him, not of me.” She preached unselfish love of God, meaning that one must love Him for His own sake and not out of fear or hope of rewards. She had many disciples, both men and women.

This account of five great Muslim women should remove “Maulana” Fazlullah’s ignorance, make him seek God’s forgiveness, and stop him from misleading his congregations.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US.
Email: anwarsyed@cox.net

So much of money, so little work

By Kunwar Idris

EVERY comment on the fairness of the forthcoming elections is necessarily accompanied by “ifs and buts”, but not for Roedad Khan. Questioned on the subject by BBC’s Barbara Plett on Independence Day, the curt and categorical answer of this former bureaucrat, now an environmentalist, was: “anyone who thinks there can be free and fair elections under Musharraf should have his head examined.” That was enough to stop Ms Plett from exploring further.

If Roedad Khan’s opinion were to prevail, surely there would be long queues at the window of every mental hospital of the country and abroad. Concerned citizens, political commentators and leaders keep dishing out ideas on how to make polls to the new assemblies credible, after Musharraf has been elected president by the present assemblies and keeps the army post too. They feel convinced that he cannot be barred either through a challenge in the courts or by the people protesting on the streets howsoever formidable their number.

The Supreme Court’s intervention has to be circumscribed by its previous rulings, and political parties are divided on the issue. Benazir Bhutto is openly negotiating a power-sharing formula with Musharraf, some other less forthright leaders are doing so secretly, while Musharraf is said to have spurned overtures by still others.

Notwithstanding their exertions and America’s coaxings, Roedad Khan’s outright rejection, which seems to arise more from his experience of the past than the frustration of the present, needs to be taken seriously. He is one of the longest serving bureaucrats who witnessed or supervised every election held since independence. He was Sindh’s chief secretary when Z.A. Bhutto rose to power, and interior secretary at the centre when he was hanged.

As Pakistan’s information secretary, he was also called upon to act as news reader at the Dhaka radio station when all the staff there absconded at the high point of the insurgency.

This scribe, after lessons in laws and riding in Lahore and a course in public administration in England, was sent to Peshawar to learn the tribal ways of the borderland. Roedad Khan was the deputy commissioner there. Gen Musharraf in a broadcast soon after he assumed power informed his countrymen that the deputy commissioner considered himself the king of his district. That was an exaggeration, but if ever a deputy commissioner came close to being one it was Roedad Khan.

In the years to follow, we served together in Karachi and Islamabad in times turbulent or depressing and contended with riots or despondency and recalled the days spent in the law-abiding Frontier.

Leaving aside the advice Roedad Khan gave to Ayub, Yahya, Ziaul Haq or Ghulam Ishaq Khan (he was close to them all and closest to GIK) he came to formulate this piece of advice for all military and authoritarian rulers once he was out of the advisory circles: ‘keep going as long as you can — do not ever hold elections.’ Elections indeed had signified the beginning of the end of every one-man rule, whether they were indirect as held by Ayub Khan, free for all as by Yahya or partyless as by Ziaul Haq.

Musharraf could not help but hold elections to comply with the Supreme Court’s direction but used them to create a popular base for himself. The politicians who came defecting to him from every other party let him rule unhindered at the top and tinker with the institutions of the state as he liked to entrench himself in power.

Musharraf reciprocated by giving them a free hand to mess up public affairs so long as they did not question the system he had introduced nor transgressed the limits he had laid down. In this power-sharing transaction, Musharraf staked his reputation and political career on a coterie that had surrounded him for its own selfish reasons. Resultantly, the governments in succession have been extravagant, wasteful and incompetent to boot.

Over seven years, the expenditure on the staff and household of the president has risen from Rs75 million in 1999 to 309 million now, and on the prime minister from Rs98 million to Rs367 million. On the National Assembly it has risen from Rs250 million to Rs1,006 million and on the Senate from Rs111 million to Rs577 million. Finally, and grotesquely, the horde of ministers, advisers and special assistants now cost Rs155 million. The sum was just Rs24 million seven years ago.

The increasing trend in the costs of the provincial administrations is more or less of the same order. A taxpayer would not be amused to hear that a member of the National Assembly costs almost three million rupees a year and a senator twice as much.The spending spree has also claimed some unlikely victims. The Higher Education Commission is reported to have spent Rs180 million on foreign tours — an amount that would have sufficed to provide toilets and water taps for the country’s 70,000 schools which are said to be functioning without them. And thousands of posts of teachers lie vacant, perhaps because no funds were available to pay them.

The other side of the coin is the claim of the regime that in its time the national income has doubled and the National Assembly would be the first to run its full term. Why should Musharraf then be wary of giving the silent masses the right of free choice if they never had it so good — and prove Roedad Khan wrong?

A political empire

POLITICS is a business these days, and, as in the ordinary business world, smart political operatives need to diversify: a few political action committees here, a non-profit there, perhaps a charitable organisation on the side. These businesses, though, aren’t subject to much scrutiny of how effectively they fulfil their proclaimed missions and who benefits along the way.

A Washington Post report offers a glimpse of this under-scrutinised, under-regulated world in examining the various entities associated with Linda Chavez. A former Reagan administration official and once President Bush’s choice for labour secretary, Ms Chavez now sits at the helm of a political empire that includes antiabortion, anti-union, anti-affirmative action and pro-Republican groups. What was fascinating, and disturbing, about The Post’s report was how little of the donations these groups collected were spent on their goals and how much went to various Chavez relatives. Of $24.5 million raised by the political action committees from 2003 to 2006, just $242,000 went to contributions to political candidates, and even less — $151,236 — was spent on political activity. Instead, the money was ploughed back into fundraising and operations — and to pay Chavez family members: Ms Chavez, her husband and her sons received more than $260,000 from the political action committees over the past five years and even more from the non-profit groups. As Ms Chavez told The Post, “I guess you could call it the family business.”

The report underscores the need for closer scrutiny, better disclosure and tighter controls for these sorts of entities — not just for Mrs Chavez’s groups, but for others, particularly those linked to politicians, that make a practice of employing relatives. It also provides a glimpse of the world of political fundraising, in which many telemarketing firms arrange to keep most of what they’ve supposedly collected for political causes.

Would donors to the Pro-Life Campaign Committee have been as willing to write checks if they had known that the Arizona telemarketing firm that solicited their donations held on to as much as 95 percent of the money? Would they have been so willing to give to the Republican Issues Committee if they had known that it spent on political activity less than 1 percent of the $14.6 million it raised? If family members are on the PAC payroll, shouldn’t that be separately reported?

Mrs Chavez says she has used the groups to advance her political agenda, not “to enrich myself or my family,” and that she could be making “far more money” in the private sector. Much of what the groups achieved, she says, doesn’t show up in an expenditure line on a Federal Election Commission report. Perhaps, but the lesson of the Post story is that donors should ask about where, exactly, their money is going, and to whom, before they open their cheque books.

––The Washington Report

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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