Yasmeen Khan/New Delhi
Nishat Hussain is a beacon of change and empowerment in traditional Muslim society. Hailing from Jaipur, Nishat Hussain is a trailblazer as she broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman Qazi (Islamic jurist) in Rajasthan.
Nishat's journey has been full of both challenges and triumphs. Speaking with Awaz -The Voice, Nishat said that when she stepped into the zone, she faced skepticism and backlash from men and even some fellow Qazis. They raised eyebrows, questioning her qualifications and abilities.
Nishat said that her influence transcends geographical boundaries. She was recently invited to preside over a nikah in Shimla. Her reputation as an influential Muslim voice has spread far and wide. Excerpts from the interview:
The concept of becoming a Female Qazi is quite new in India. Since you stood up against patriarchy, and challenged the stereotypes this would not have been easy. Tell us about your journey and challenges.
My path was noble and yet paved with challenges. Critics questioned my abilities, citing my gender; they said it is not suitable for a woman to become a Qazi. They cast doubts on my capacity to navigate the intricacies and requirements of the role and dismissed me as too delicate to engage actively.
However, I drew strength from the profound principles I found in the Quran. I reminded myself that the Quran, in its boundless wisdom, did not differentiate between men and women when it came to the pursuit of knowledge.
You are also involved in training aspiring women Qazis. Could you please share your experiences?
The role of a Qazi extends far beyond just officiating nikah ceremonies. In ancient times, the influence of a Qazi was so profound that their judgments were sought even in the presence of kings. This underscores the broad and significant responsibilities that come with being a Qazi. Recognizing the depth of this role and the need for well-rounded knowledge, I have taken on the responsibility of training girls to become Qazis. Beyond the scope of conducting marriages, I believe aspiring Qazis must be well-versed in various aspects of society. This includes understanding social norms, being aware of issues related to health, and gaining insight into other sectors that influence the lives of individuals. A woman holding such a responsible position is a testament to the changing dynamics of our society and the progress we are making toward gender equality.
Qazi Nishat Hussain
In Rajasthan, the implementation of the Triple Talaq law was far from what is expected. You chose to take proactive steps by engaging in activism on this crucial issue. Could you please share your experiences and insights into your efforts to address the issue of Triple Talaq?
We formed "Bharti Muslim Mahila Andolan"(organization) to tackle Triple Talaq. Our work is not limited to Rajasthan. We work across 12 states to combat its impact. Unlike the Muslim Personal Law Board, we engaged with the communities directly. In Mumbai, women were united and shared their tales of the suffering of their children due to instant talaq.
Taking our plea to the Supreme Court, we secured a ban on instant talaq, a victory showcasing unity's power. Yet, we aimed for lasting change through legislation, advocating for a comprehensive law to protect women facing Triple Talaq's aftereffects.
Our determination resonated, prompting the Supreme Court to direct drafting of a law and it was the turning point in our collective action's strength in transforming women's lives.
Could you please share details about the work you undertook concerning issues related to polygamy and Halala?
Polygamy's reality is often obscured by misconceptions. Men may advocate for it without considering the historical contexts in which it was practiced. Moreover, they frequently overlook the ethical obligation of seeking permission before marrying again. Regrettably, subsequent marriages can lead to neglect of the first wife and children—a pattern we have repeatedly observed.
While studying cases of Halala, we came across disturbing tales. In one instance, a woman was lost to gambling, and her husband sold her for a night to a friend. These stories exemplify the depths of despair that can arise from exploitative practices. Our intervention led to her separation and prompted us to address the blaming that often ensues in such situations.
Could you please share your experiences of working on communal harmony?
My timeline saw the upheaval of the 80s, marking my first encounter with violence. Witnessing the suffering of women firsthand, I realized the profound repercussions that every act of violence brings. It does not merely impact one life. It affects an entire family—sons, daughters, husbands, and brothers. This realization compelled me to work relentlessly at the grassroots level, aiming to instill a deeper understanding of the significance of communal harmony. In this journey, I've steadfastly held onto the belief that hate finds no place in any society. I have striven to cultivate the idea that unity and harmony are the cornerstones of a thriving community.
Given that Muslim girls often do not receive a fair share in property under Muslim inheritance laws, what is your view?
The Quran laid down inheritance laws 1500 years ago, yet only a handful truly secure their rightful property share. It is disheartening that after the parents' death, brothers often withhold their sisters' share. In this context, it becomes imperative for women to assert their rights and be vocal about their demand for their rightful share in inheritance.
Your commendable work undoubtedly invited both appreciation and criticism. Could you share how you navigated and managed the criticism that came your way?
I faced heavy criticism, and I am grateful for it. The backlash I encountered only fueled my determination to excel further. My character was questioned, but rather than allowing it to deter me, I took it as a challenge, standing resolutely against patriarchal norms that sought to undermine my efforts.
There have been occasions when my commitment was recognized with offers of prestigious awards. However, for me, working for the betterment of people is more important.