Jamida K is the first Indian Muslim woman to lead the Friday prayers.
'I don't care if they kill me because what I have done is historical; nobody can take it away from me,' she says.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
On January 26, when Jamida K (popularly known as Jamida teacher) led the jumma prayers in a village in Kerala's Malappuram district, she was breaking centuries of Shariat convention and creating history as the first Muslim woman to do so in the country.
The 35 year old led the prayers for a group of 50 men and women at the central committee office of the Khur’aan Sunnath Society. The prayer was set up by Chekannur Moulavi, a radical Muslim scholar.
Since she challenged this male-dominant religious practice, which had been followed for over 1,400 years, Jamida has been criticised and abused on social media and elsewhere. She remains unfazed and is ready to lead prayers at regular intervals.
In this first-person account, Jamida shares with Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier the struggle she had to face from the time she was a child, leading up to the point where she has created history today.
IMAGE: Jamida K leads the Friday prayer on January 26. Photograph: Kind courtesy Jamida K
If I were to talk about the historic Friday when I got the chance to lead the jumma prayers, I have to begin many years ago because that day in January was the explosive culmination of my radical thoughts, anger and struggle over the years.
I was the youngest in a large family of 13 children. The age difference between me and my eldest brother is so huge that he has children older than me.
I lost my father, who was in the army, when I was very young. As a result, we were poor and there was very little food to share among us children.
Even at that age, I was aware of the discrimination in the way boys and girls were treated.
If Umma (her mother) made fish curry, the boys got the fish pieces; we girls got only the gravy.
The reason cited for the preferential treatment was that the boys, as adults, would take care of their parents and the family.
For as long back as I can remember, I was told, 'You are a girl so you are not allowed to talk loudly, laugh loudly, go out alone or dress well.'
We were not even allowed to see the school youth festival, let alone participate in any programme. The restrictions and the discrimination made me restless and extremely angry.
*IMAGE: The atmosphere in the college where she studied was regimented and restrictive, she says. Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
*Kindly note image published only for representational purposes.
I studied well, thinking education would liberate me.
As no one was willing to spend money for my college education, I was sent to an Arabic college where education was free.
In a way, they abandoned me.
As far as I was concerned, it was an opportunity to escape from the stifling atmosphere of growing up in a very traditional family in a remote village that did not appreciate a woman being educated or thinking differently and freely.
I knew I could only defeat them if I studied and became accomplished.
But the atmosphere in college was even more regimented and restrictive.
The college perceived it as a sin if girls looked at boys or spoke to them. We were made to sit separately and use different entries and exits so that our paths never met.
When they used the Quran to put a lot of restrictions on women, I wondered, 'Why was it that women alone were asked to cover ourselves? Why couldn't women make the call for prayers (azaan)?'
IMAGE: What angered Jamida the most was the argument that heaven was not for women and that it belonged to men alone. Photograph: PTI Photo
When I was studying, both men and women were working outside yet women could not do anything without permission from men.
What angered me the most was the argument that heaven was not for women and that it belonged to men alone.
In a way, what I saw and experienced in college made me think differently from the established norms.
I could not accept the way Allah was perceived and looked at by people.
When I was a child, the word Allah was used to terrorise me, saying that if I did not eat, if I disobeyed, if I acted according to my will, Allah would get angry and punish me.
I could only think of Allah with fear. I never was able to love Allah.
In college, we were woken up at 4.30 in the morning for prayers, saying Allah would roast us in Hell if we didn't pray early in the morning.
I wondered why Allah was a scary figure and not a loving one.
I could not even discuss my questions with my friends because all of them believed, or were forced to believe, that if we asked questions, we would be disowned by Islam.
They chose the easiest route by blindly accepting what the authorities said.
I had so many questions in my mind and there was only one master out of the 100 teachers who encouraged me to ask questions, however unorthodox they were, and he answered all of them.
*IMAGE: When Jamida wanted to dissolve her marriage, she was warned that there was no law in Islam which allowed a woman to divorce her husband. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters
*Kindly note image published only for representational purposes
I was just 21 when I was forcibly married off to an auto driver in Thiruvananthapuram by my brothers. Though I protested strongly, I couldn't escape from the marriage.
When I realised I could not live with him or his mentally ill mother, I wrote to many Islamic organisations, the human rights commission and women's organisations requesting them to help me dissolve my marriage.
No one helped me. I did not get justice from anybody.
Instead, I was warned that there was no law in Islam which allowed a woman to divorce her husband.
Life was hell at my husband's home. I could only work outside after doing all the household work.
The only silver lining was that I got to work as a teacher at the Oxford International School and also in the government higher secondary school. I worked three days each in a week in both schools. I took private tuition classes at home.
Whenever I had free time, I assembled women who never had an opportunity to study and taught them.
Spreading literacy among illiterate women and motivating them to fight their own battle became an obsession and passion for me. I also tried to empower them as I didn't want other women to share my fate.
I soon realised that they needed emotional empowerment more than just learning to read and write.
I did all this to forget the pathetic condition of my life; it was a torture for me to sit even for a second at home.
*IMAGE: Muslim conservatives, including her brothers, wanted Jamila ostracised from the community. Photograph: Kind courtesy rmac8oppo/Pixabay
*Kindly note image published only for representational purposes
My work angered many conservatives in the Muslim community angry and they started attacking me and my children.
These people, including my brothers, spread the news that I was not a Muslim and should be ostracised from the community.
When I was isolated and my life was in danger, one of my sisters, who is a progressive thinker, came forward to protect me. I fled Trivandrum with my children to her place.
Whatever I was writing and talking about got the attention of the Khur’aan Sunnath Society, headed by an atheist called K K Abdul Ali in Kozhikode. He is a revolutionary and a member of the Kerala Yukthivadi (Rationalist) Sangham. His father was a well known maulvi.
IMAGE: In the more than 6,000 verses that the Quran contains, it does not, even once, address people as men and women; it only addresses people as human beings, says Jamida. Photograph: PTI Photo
My life changed after I moved to Kozhikode with my children. Due to their belief in my liberal ideals, the KSS made me their state general secretary.
Chekannur maulvi of the KSS and the others were of the opinion that a lady should spread the fact that the Quran was the only truth and that the Quran tells us to move with the times and make the necessary changes in our life.
He also wanted people to know that the Quran talks about giving equal rights to both daughters and sons.
But many conservatives had been interpreting the Quran as something that separates people.
In the more than 6,000 verses that the Quran contains, it does not, even once, address people as men and women; it only addresses people as human beings.
It was the conservatives who made the Quran as a book for Muslims alone.
We believe that, in a democratic country like India, it is not necessary to divide people on the basis of religion.
There shouldn't be different laws for Hindus and Muslims. That's why we support the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.
IMAGE: Muslim women mourn during a religious procession to mark the tenth day of Muharram. Jamida believes there shouldn't be any sacrifice of animals on Eid as no one has the right to sacrifice an innocent animal.
Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
We are against triple talaq (divorce), unreasonable talaq and polygamy.
Both men and women should have the right to ask for talaq, but only through the court.
We are the only Muslim organisation in the country that wants the Uniform Civil Code and wants the practice of triple talaq abolished.
All religious laws are created by men so, naturally, it favours them.
While other religions have changed with the times, Muslims refused to change.
We do not want some board or men to decide what all Muslims, especially women, have to follow. We have a Constitution in the country; let the Constitution decide.
IMAGE: A Muslim woman and her family at the dargah of Sufi saint Muhammad Moin-ud-din Chisti. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
In 2016, I stood before the first class judiciary, explained my plight and asked the court not to ask me to live with a person I didn't like.
Under Section 52 of the Order of Dissolution of Marriage or fasakh, my marriage was dissolved and I became free.
When I openly spoke against triple talaq, I was attacked. Some men even barged into my house and tried to assault me.
When I spoke against conversion after Akhila became Hadiya; when I made it clear that if Hadiya had fundamental rights, her parents also had fundamental rights, I started receiving death threats.
I met Akhila-Hadiya and, after spending six to seven hours talking to her, I understood she had been brainwashed into believing heaven awaited her after she converted to Islam. She believed that she would go to heaven only if she did namaz five times. She believed that, in order to achieve salvation, she needed to give up all contact with her parents.
I would call this mental kidnapping of the girl. After I got involved in this case, I started getting more threats.
When I spoke against the call for prayers (azaan) through loud speakers, many Islamic organisations became even angrier.
They told me that only scholars have the right to talk about religion. They threatened to burn me, to sacrifice me alive.
IMAGE: Conservative Muslims trolled cricketer Irfan Pathan for posting this photograph of his wife on social media. Photograph: Kind courtesy Irfan Pathan/Facebook
When some television channels asked for a message on Eid, I said there shouldn't be any sacrifice of animals on that day as we did not have any right to sacrifice an innocent animal.
I said if somebody really wanted to sacrifice something, they should sacrifice their children or themselves.
This angered the believers even more and more death threats followed. But nothing frightens me now.
My question to these fundamentalists is: When they raised their voice for the rights of Hadiya, why is it that they don't care about my rights?
There were two attempts to kill me (on December 11 and 22, 2017) but did any Muslim organisation come forward to speak for me?
Except for the Kerala Yukthivadi (Rationalist) Sangham and the Hindu Ikya Vedi, nobody did.
The fact is, everybody is interested only in vote bank politics.
When the attacks against me did not stop, the KSS felt we should do more. They decided that I should lead the jumma prayer.
So, on January 26, 2018, at 12.04 pm, I started the speech and led the Friday prayers at Cherukode village in Malappuram. We did it without an azaan because we believe our Allah is not deaf.
The day after, I was flooded with phone calls and WhatsApp messages, all abusing me in the most vulgar language and issuing death threats.
IMAGE: The day after she conducted the Friday prayer, Jamida says she was flooded with phone calls and WhatsApp messages abusing her in the most vulgar language and issuing death threats. Photograph: Kind courtesy Jamida K
I don't care if they kill me because what I have done is historical; nobody can take it away from me.
I am happy that I had the good fortune to shake patriarchy and become a part of history.
What I did was not for me, but for the entire Muslim society, for all Muslim women, and for the generations to come.