- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

MADRAS, India — A group of Muslim women in India, fed up with what they say are sexist decisions by male religious authorities, particularly in divorce cases, have decided to build their own mosque.

The women in the village of Parambu in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have formed a group called Chaaya (Shadow) and acquired land to build the mosque.

Sharifa Khanam, convener of Chaaya, said they believe the male-dominated jamaats — dispute-settlement forums — were handing down verdicts in family disputes, especially in divorce matters, that favour men.

She said the jamaats sat in the mosques, which women were not allowed to enter, so they could not give their side of the argument, even in a divorce.

“How can the woman put across her case when she is denied entry into the mosque, where the jamaat sits? We have been demanding entry for women into the mosque for over five years now. We have pleaded that we would cover ourselves entirely with burkas, but still the clerics are unrelenting,” Mrs. Khanam told AFP.

“We have no option but to build our own mosque and hope to fight for our rights.”

The new mosque will be an all-women affair, where even the priest will be a woman trained in the Koran, she said.

“And the mosque will not be just a place of worship; we will discuss and seek solutions for a variety of problems we Muslim women face every day. And when a dispute comes before us, we will hear both sides and pronounce a fair verdict,” Mrs. Khanam said.

Rasheeda, another villager, said a survey conducted by the group showed that in one out of every five Muslim households there is at least one case of desertion or second marriage by the husband, citing some mental or physical disability of the first wife.

“And when these matters were taken to the police station, they asked us to settle [them] with the jamaat, which are controlled by men,” she said.

But the women acknowledge that not all men are like that.

Mrs. Khanam said the women had collected 35,000 rupees ($770 U.S. dollars) so far for building the mosque, and that most of the donations came from men.

Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, vice chairman of the All-India Muslim Personnel Law Board, said the women had every right to construct a mosque.

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