Before examine the status of Muslim women in India we must know the meaning of Status. The concept status has been widely used by social scientists to understand the position of an individual or a group in the society.
When making attempt to study the status of women in any society or community three dimensions are usually examined. They are: 1) the traditional method of assessing the roles of women in relation to the men, 2) the extent of actual control enjoyed by the women over their own lives and 3) their role in decision making process within their families and outside.
Many social scientists have observed that progress and development of a country depends on the status of its women, meaning if the status of women is low the country's progress and development will be retarded and if the status of women is high and equal to that of men there will be rapid progress and development
The lower status of women denies them access to resources, education, and even to health facilities. They are being exploited both by the men and the society. Majority of the women in Third World Countries including India are not aware of their rights and even if a few are aware they are not empowered to exercise these rights.
In the contemporary Indian society despite legislation, women empowerment programmes and growth of women and feminist movements, still the Indian women do not enjoy equal status on par with the men and their rights are curtailed.
Muslim Women and their Status in India
After six decades of independence majority of Muslim women is one of the most disadvantaged, least literate, economically impoverished and politically marginalized sections of Indian society.
Islamic Scholars argue that Islam treats both men and women as equals and cite verses from Quran to prove their argument.
“O people be mindful (of your duty) to your Lord. Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men women”.
Besides the above mentioned verse, there are a number of other verses which enshrines equality of status and rights for both men and women.
Despite the claim that Quran bestows equal status and rights on both men and women, the reality is different. In Muslim society the Muslim women have lower status than their men and do not enjoy equal rights both in the family and outside.
Three distinct opinions are being expressed on the status of Muslim women in India.
One opinion says that Islam and Islamic law have nothing to do with present disadvantaged status of Muslim women. This view stresses that the status of Muslim women is similar to that of in other caste women in the country, the most important reason being poverty and illiteracy.
The second view is that Islam imposes many restrictions on its women and gives higher status to the men and concentrates power in the hands of men.
The third view is that Islamic law treats both men and women as equals but unfortunately the Islamic scholars and religious leaders are misinterpreting the Islamic law giving the men power over the women.
Shushtery (1938) writes that Islam contributed to the status improvement of women in the following ways: i) by stressing the need to respect and to give good treatment to a foster mother. ii) By making women the mistress of her own property in which the husband had no right to interfere except with her permission. iii) By giving her the right of claiming divorce (Khula), (iv) By allowing her to hold any public office. v) By giving her the freedom to remarry after divorce, and vi) by encouraging her to study and acquire knowledge.
Kapadia (1965) writes that Islam improved the status of women by restricting polygamy to four wives and favoring monogamy, by condemning female infanticide, by assigning share in inheritance, by declaring Mehr as a compulsory gift to the bride and by re-orienting the Arab law of marriage and divorce in favor of women like providing maintenance (for iddat period) for divorced women and their children. Paradise was promised to a believing woman as it was to a believing man.
Tahir Mahamood (2006) writing on Muslim personal law vise-a-vise the status of Muslim women says that Muslim women are being treated as secondary members in the Muslim community because of distorted and misinterpretation of Muslim law by its own scholars and elites
Salima Jan (1998) in her study `women's studies in Islamic perspective' concluded that Islam has given women the rights which no other religion has given. Due to lack of proper knowledge of Shariah (Muslim Law) as well as wrong practices largely deviating from the true Islamic teachings wrong notions exist about Muslim women. She felt that it is necessary to have adequate knowledge about the Islamic view point and this knowledge will help us to reassess women's role in the light of new changes and new situations
Most important work on the status of women in the recent past is "Towards equality". Important conclusions on the status of Muslim women in this study are they are neglected in their education, prevalence of polygamous marriages and obscurantist ideas (Government of India, 1974).
E.H. White (1978) reports Illiteracy, Ignorance, male domination and traditional beliefs have hindered the progress of the Muslim women in India.
Tabassum F.Sheik (1999) in her article `Muslim women and social life' concluded that inspite of the several drawbacks and restraints; the position of Muslim women is changing for the better.
However it may be mentioned that all is not lost in the case of Muslim women.
A number of studies on the status of Muslim women in India suggest that their position is gradually improving but at a snail’s pace. No doubt women's education in India has made considerable progress and even Muslim parents are showing some interest to educate their daughters along with their sons. Many educated Muslim women have come forward in the country to fight against the gender discrimination in the community. Human rights groups in general and those among the Muslims in particular started examining the status of Muslim women and fighting for to put an end to gender discrimination.
There is a number of Muslim and non-Muslim associations in the Country trying to increase the literacy standards of the Muslim women believing that education would equip them to fight for themselves.
Gradually secular education as against Madarasa education is being preferred both for the boys and girls. Educated Muslim women entering into white collar jobs both in public and private sectors has become quite common. There are indications that the inroads of education and modernization are influencing the Muslim women still their progress is painfully slow because of their seclusion and life of submission.
The progress achieved so far in the upliftment of Muslim women is meager and requires concerted efforts from all the groups like Governments, Muslim elites, Muslim women activists etc.
Various Departments/Ministries of Government both Central particularly Ministry of Women and Child Development, Minority welfare Department and various state governments are implementing various development programmes such as awareness programmes, health and nutrition, vocational training cum production centers, micro credit to self help groups for starting income generating activities, girls hostels for students, working women hostels etc., for the welfare of women.