Image courtesy of Reuters
Muslim women tend to defend Sharia laws, especially if they have been victims of its repressiveness and injustice. I often get asked why this is so; my whole teenage and youth were spent in understanding why my mother (the Shah Bano of Kashmir for 18 years) would consider me her enemy when I spoke up in her favour or criticized the Muslim elders, their approach and the Muslim milieu in general, never having known that in 1984 the nation had already taken a turn for the worse. A decision that would come to haunt the Muslims and Hindus equally a few years later when Hindus started awakening to the appeasement of Muslims for decades. and asserting their rights, their majoritarianism, and the demand for real secularism or none at all.
Sharia (also spelled Shari'a or Shariah) laws are cast from the Prophet's words, called "hadith", his actions, called "sunnah", and the Quran, which he dictated. Sharia law itself cannot be altered, but the interpretation of Sharia law, called "fiqh" by muftis (Islamic jurists) is given some latitude. What is fascinating is that women who have been the victims of these laws (maybe inspired from divinity but passing through fallible human minds) defend them vociferously to the point of passion and aggressive defence.
It would be a disservice to these poor women to dismiss their perspectives as Stockholm Syndrome; a much harder task is to try and understand the horrors of their lives (domestic violence, abuse, injustice in alimony, custody of children, property rights, individual rights, etc) and the subsequent darkness (trying to make sense of a society that pushes them further into their cages, parents, and relatives stigmatizing their actions to take control of their lives, eventual mental illness, etc). A simplistic but complicated explanation would be these women are trying to cope with their lives by using the solace of religion, and tribal affiliations.
But this empathy and understanding from our part tend to marginalize those brave, strong, rational women who break the shackles and take steps to empower themselves or others. This is a very lonely road because the activist Muslim women or the brave ones speaking out are giving up on the support structure that a clan provides; putting themselves up to a lifetime of abuse, trolling - both online and offline, harassment, ostracism, fatwas or in extreme cases honour killings.
I often get asked why is it that women defend the hijab as a tool of empowerment when it is clearly being forced on millions of women across the world. Recent resistance to the compulsory hijab, niqab or the burqa by Iranian women, Egyptian women, Afghans, even ex-Muslim women celebrating the No Hijab Day has made it clear that it is a fabric being coerced onto millions of women. Masih Alinejad's White Wednesday campaign in Tehran emphasizes this on social media every day. To further understand this persistence of defence of unjust laws, one has to realize that the safety, security that a clan provides, or the counselling by the clan members, no matter how regressive can be helpful to the women whether they have been victims or not. Nobody likes being an outcast so it is perfectly natural that women exploited by Sharia laws still cling to the very laws that were cruel to them in the first place.
Civilizations have always evolved from regressive, barbaric, brutal societies to more humane, progressive, modern ones who take care of the civil liberties, freedoms of individuals as well as promoting democratic values, liberalism, and Enlightenment. Western and some Eastern cultures have worked hard to abolish slavery, apartheid, gender discrimination, homophobia, and other regressive ancient and medieval practices. Of course, even today civilizations aren't perfect but they are much more egalitarian than the ones we read in history.
What is unique to Islamic Civilization are the self-built barriers to modernity and reform such as the infallibility of the Holy text, the demi-God status of the Prophet, the blasphemy laws, and general apathy towards rationality and scientific temperament. In modern India too as the politicos started appeasing the Muslims whom they saw as vote-banks and paved the way for personal laws instead of a Uniform Civil Code. The elite Muslims in subsequent decades didn't implement any of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report though they do keep waving it in the faces of those who want to uplift the millions of Indian Muslims from the doldrums.
There has been no proper scholarship on the various Hadith, the Sharia, Sunnah, the fiqh (jurisprudence) of Muslims. Indian Muslims are bound by the decrees of Imams, Muftis, and their local leaders - religious or political, and except for the youth, no one seems to want to own the religion, its culture, or the entire civilization that rose around it, for their own. Seven decades is a long time to assimilate into the milieu of an Indic Civilisation; the demand for a Uniform Civil Code or UCC should have come from the Muslims themselves considering this was a Hindu majority country, and the criminal laws are equal irrespective of caste, creed or gender or religious affiliations.
A partitioned nation that was trying to get over its colonial past, heal from the trauma of the division, still gathering its identity from a violent, invasive earlier past, working on its "idea of India"; was forced to watch the murder of secularism time and again; put up with the bullying tactics of Muslim leaders and their appeasement by various political parties, creating no-go zones on the ground as well as in jurisprudence, history, archaeology, icons, and politics. The result was a constant bombardment of Indian ethos by foreign powers, collaborators embedded in various institutions of India; and Shaheen Baghs happening in almost every state.
Erich Fromm had long ago surmised that people are so scared of freedom that they will do anything to hand over control to some authority just to keep from becoming free. This is true of Muslim women who despite being victims of Sharia laws defend it on every occasion. It is going to be hard to decondition Indian Muslim women from this predicament but someone somewhere will have to start and the women campaigning for the ban of instant triple talaq years ago, and now for UCC have shown the way.