Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Huququn Niswan: A revolutionary book on rights of women

The poetry of Ghalib and Iqbal, the satire of Akbar Allahabadi and the genius of Saadat Hasan Manto are well known. Urdu lovers treasure the masterpieces of Deputy Nazir Ahmed and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. They have all tried to convey their messages in their own way. However, recently I was surprised to read in the Times of India about a book on rights of women published in Urdu way back in 1898. Titled Huququn Niswan, it was authored by Maulvi Syed Mumtaz Ali Khan who was based in Lahore.

The book was considered way ahead of its time so much so that the great reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advised the Maulvi not to go ahead with the publication of the book fearing a backlash from the traditionalists. The book dwelt on the rights of women as enjoined in Islam and sought to shatter the conventional role of women in a Muslim household. According to the Times of India report by Mohammed Wajihuddin the book is being re-discovered by a section of Muslim intelligentsia and activists to make a case for education among Muslim girls and press for their rights.

Maulvi Syed Mumtaz Ali Khan sought to establish that women are in no way inferior to men. The book dwells on the question of 'women Prophet' and citing the Holy Quran and Hadith seeks to challenge the dominance of men over women in the society. Even today in many societies women are miles away in education. It is considered unworthy to provide them education or allow them to attend schools and colleges. It would be interesting to know more about the life of Maulvi Syed Mumtaz Ali Khan who took the efforts to write such a book more than a century ago.

According to the October 2009 issue of Communalism Combat, Maulvi Syed Mumtaz Ali Khan in the preface to the book wrote: "If this humble effort of mine results in the protection of rights of even a single old woman in the entire country I would consider my effort to have been worthwhile."