In pre-Islamic Arabia women enjoyed equal rights

Cultural heights of a people could be measured by perusing the norms it has set to behave to its women folk. Women were honoured in many ancient civilizations and history, especially of the East, bristles with tales of bold women some of whom were even queens. Even Arabia, which tabooed women rule later, had a matriarchal system and abounded in women rulers. It bestowed considerable reverence on mother or grandmother and boasted of several queens during the pre-Islamic era, a feat impossible unless women enjoyed fundamental civil right. The stories of Zabibi, the Queen of Aribi and another Arabian Queen named Shamsiyah are well known. Zenobia, the beautiful, courageous and ambitious wife of the Palmyra king Odaynath was illustrious.  Having appointed herself the regent of her son Wahb Allath, she boldly administered the country, repulsed the recurring Roman attacks on Palmyra and declared herself the Queen of the East. Most famous of all Arabian queens was Bilquis, Queen of Sheba. Far famed for her beauty and accomplishments, she with her feminine charm mesmerized King Solomon who preserved her elegance in his romantic poems. Enamoured of the fabulous tales of Solomon’s wisdom she broke all the feminine confinements, if any, and traveled all the way to Jerusalem with gifts to see him. Even she conceived to celebrate the erotic hilarity of the occasion and gave birth to a son, Menelik II.

Arab women, no veiled captives of their men, lived a happy and joyous life, their freedom being unhampered by males. Khadija whose trusted employee Muhammad was before his having married her, was a caravan trader in her own right. A powerful woman, she did not submit to the dominance urge of her husbands including the last one who did not indulge in polygamy or command women to observe purdah while she was alive. Women were most privileged in Asia.

Interestingly when recently a vertebrate Chief Minister in India came out against the worst of all barbarian practices, Triple talaq which he disparaged as a “curse for a developed society” and exhorted the people to “speak out against this evil because our sisters are suffering” it was shamelessly countered by a Muslim leader of one of Uttar Pradesh’s political parties who asked the former to refrain from meddling with Muslim Personal Law and Triple talaq. “Many changes were made in the Hindu Dharma. Muslim Ulemas never commented on that because it was beyond our jurisdiction. Sati was abolished … it is not our business to comment on those issues” and that the practice of Triple talaq should be left to the wisdom of Muslims and none should interfere in that, this leader is reported to have responded.

It is right that the Ulema never commented on the changes in Hindu society. But the changes Hindu society underwent were only for the better and hence unlikely to invite negative criticism. Besides, culture being universal, its decline irrespective of where it takes place is liable to be criticised by the civilized world which is morally bound to decry the global fall of human values. The civilized world likes to see each society as role model in values, and that which keeps mum at values stooping must either be a paralised one or the one that silently supports barbarity. Remaining callously indifferent to any social change for the better or the worse does not behove the civilized.

But it is a pity that women are nowhere ridden rough-shod so heinously as among some sections in India which otherwise is far famed for its tradition of respecting them. Travelling back in time one comes across the Nambootiri Brahmin of Kerala who practiced the most lecherous sambandha, informal erotic relations with as many women as possible outside though had veli, legally wedded wife. And it was not any other reason, this writer believes, than the tears and psychic agony of the sadhvis, chaste women legally and properly wedded that cursed the Nambootiri families of Kerala to decline. Most woman would tolerate all differences with their men, but no out-door affair. Women suffered in societies with priestly dominance. In Islamic societies the words of the Ulema proved the writ. But hell-bent to enslave women, it would zero in only on laws that went to enslave them even as there are many for their uplift.

Enamoured of the fabulous tales of Solomon’s wisdom Bilquis, Queen of Sheba, broke all the feminine confinements, if any, and traveled all the way to Jerusalem with gifts to see him. Even she conceived to celebrate the erotic hilarity of the occasion and gave birth to a son, Menelik II.

Islam is a universal religion and does not licenses anything special to India. The heinous practice of triple talaq, absent in even hardcore Islamic nations, India too does not want. After all, India’s is the tradition that respects the woman which is a leading unit of cultural progress, and that respect to women would invoke Gods’ blessings was India’s considered opinion down the millennia. Protect, patronize and promote her so that the society would progress. Hell with all that go to degrade and demoralize woman!

(Author is Associate Professor of History, Sanatana Dharma College, Alappuzha, Kerala & Vice-President, Kerala Unit, Higher Education wing, Akhil Bharatiya Rashtriya Saikshik Mahasangh)