Shameful gag order on Islamic scholar

IN Media Freedom | 31/07/2013
The manner in which Madras University caved in and withdrew its invitation to Islamic and women's rights scholar Amina Wadud was shameful,
say these statements from civil society organisations. FSH report.
A couple of days ago, Madras University withdrew an invitation to well-known women’s rights and Islamic scholar, Amina Wadud, drawing swift opprobrium from different sections of society.
Wadud, who is an internationally renowned scholar, was invited to speak on ‘Gender and Reform in Islam’ on July 29 at the University of Madras. However, the lecture was cancelled by the Vice Chancellor, R Thandavan after he received a letter from the Chennai Police Commissioner stating: “Police cannot allow this (the lecture) considering law and order. Please take action to suspend/cancel the programme”. 
The university’s act follows a growing list of academic institutions capitulating to pressure from vigilante groups and withdrawing books from syllabi, including the celebrated A K Ramanujam book ‘300 Ramayanas’ by Delhi University and the well-known Rohinton Mistry book, “Such a long journey’ by Mumbai University.
Here is the text of a statement from Amina Wadud on the withdrawal of the invitation as well as statements from three organisations, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) and Communalism Combat, expressing shock and shame at the ‘feeble capitulation’ of Tamil Nadu.
Letter from Amina Wadud:
I am forwarding my letter to parties at Madras University and the US Consulate office in Chennai in response to the decision to withdraw the invitation to speak at Madras University scheduled for today.
Instead I have returned to my apartment in Calicut with the express plans to leave India as soon as I have completed some commitments that I have in the region.

I will no longer agree to participate in any public event or participate at any university or college or community organization in the wake of this. The most wonderful thing about being in my 6th decade of life and to professionally retired is that I value my spiritual and wholistic well being over and above notoriety and income. 
As I walk to the grave it is ridiculous for me to agree to take on anything that would deter me from meeting my Lord with a smile on my face.  

Clearly, India and I are not destined to be partners in the struggle for human dignity.  I accept that and surrender.

Please feel free to share and discuss.  

your sister in Islam

Amina Wadud


As-Salaamu Alaykum and Peace,

I do feel it is necessary to follow up my hurried comments from last night with a more substantive and reasoned account of my reaction.  As I had mentioned, I did some surgery about 10 days ago and the mere fact that I had to sit in the airport for 7 hours quite naturally affected my ability to respond without showing the great discomfort I felt. 
However the physical discomfort was alleviated by returning to my own bed and getting a good night's rest, leaving the matter of intellectual assault and the attack on my dignity as person still intact.  Thus I respond only to that at this time.

As the matter was relayed to me, some "extreme or fractional group"' claimed I had given a lecture (public address) some where in Tamil Nadhu and there had been a problem created (either to the audience, the general public or the people at large??). 

Since I have NEVER been in Tamil Nadhu except at the tourist site on the southern most tip, (back in November 2012... without incident) this means that a lie has been cast upon me and a slander of my character.  

Not only have I never created any problem in an audience or general public in Tamil Nadhu, I have 

1) NEVER given any public address there 

2) NEVER been said to have created even the slightest stir while giving one of at least 12 public/university or college lectures and a half dozen public speaking at other grass roots or community organizations and equal number of interviews.  There is PUBLIC record regarding my actual activities since I have been in India and each will substantiate my counter claim that NO PROBLEM has ever ensued upon my public address.  

3) that this actual record should have to surrender to vicious lies and that there is NO RECOURSE for me to defend my honor, means I am subject to the dishonor proposed against my person and my character BY OTHERS unknown to me and that those who had taken the responsibility to invite me are themselves helpless to either defend me or support my counter claims.  

4) meanwhile the threat of violence is totally UNACCEPTABLE.  

I will acknowledge that there is a struggle some times for justice, freedom and human dignity and I will acknowledge that there have been dyer consequences for some who have defended these virtues, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr, Reverend Martin Luther King were both violently assassinated WHILE on the journey to freedom, I never the less do NOT advocate violence nor tolerate.  

I find the threat of it, and the support given to those who advocate it against innocent persons, to be the last straw to my mission to research Islam in the largest Nation-State where Islam is a minority of quite a long time.  By that I mean it has been here for more than a millennium, in a minority status; and this is unique world wide. 

I had HOPED to find a vision, perspective and experience of Islam that could assist with the way we negotiate the future of Islam in the world, where we are also a minority but have an substantial history.  

Alas, those hopes are dashed as I would never again agree to further participate in the way in which Islam is negotiated here, experienced by the believers and shared with their friends and neighbors of other faith or no faith tradition, in this context. 

I wish you all the best as you will inherit this nation-state for long after my one person has gone back to my own home and continued the struggle for justice and dignity in many more global context.  

This letter and its content are solely my own and as such will be shared with any interested party I deem related to the matters discussed here in.

sincerely and with salaam,

Prof. Dr. Amina Wadud
Text of statement from Citizens for Justice and Peace, Muslims for Secular Democracy and Communalism Combat
CJP, Muslims for Secular Democracy and Communalism Combat are disappointed and ashamed at the gagging of Ms. Amina Wadud. 
We, who are fighting for justice in Gujarat amongst others, are disappointed and ashamed at the reported intolerance of Muslim groups from Chennai threatening to create a law and order problem resulting in the cancellation of the lecture on ‘Gender and Reform in Islam’ by the internationally renowned African American follower and scholar of Islam, Dr. Amina Wadud scheduled for July 29 at the University of Madras.
We condemn the feeble capitulation of the Tamil Nadu state.  The Chennai police reportedly sent a text message to the university’s vice-chancellor, R Thandavan stating: “Police cannot allow this (the lecture) considering law and order. Please take action to suspend/cancel the programme”. 
The vice-chancellor timidly complied. 
All three stakeholders of our society have made us less proud as Indians. 
Ms Wadud is a practising, devout Muslim, one of the founders of Sisters in Islam, an international women’s group fighting for  gender-justice.
In 2005, Ms Wadud became the first woman in modern times to lead a mixed-gender Friday prayer in New York. She has done so again on several occasions outside the US on the invitation of Muslim groups. 
It is her battle for gender justice within Islam (as in all societies) that is being opposed, her voice being denied and her views sought to be blanked out.
After being stranded for hours at the Calicut airport waiting to catch a flight to Chennai, Ms Wadud was left with no choice but to return to her hotel from where she has sent out a message, “Clearly, India and I are not destined to be partners in the struggle for human dignity. I accept that and surrender.”
All we the undersigned can say in response to Ms Wadud’s painful decision is that as Indians, including Indian Muslims, we are ashamed. We hope she changes her mind and we’ll be privileged to host her.
Taizoon Khorakiwala, President, CJP, Nandan Malushte, Vice-President, CJP, Teesta Setalvad, co-editor, Communalism Combat and Javed Anand, General Secretary, MSD
Statement by writers and academics 

We the undersigned are deeply shocked and anguished at the cancellation of Prof. Amina Wadud’s special lecture organised by the JBAS Centre for Islamic Studies at the University of Madras on July 29, 2013 on the topic “Islam, Gender and Reform”. A roundtable was also planned in which Dr. Amina Wadud was to have spoken the following day on “Women’s Experiences and the Questions of Authority in Islam”, which also had to be canceled following the instruction of the police.

University of Madras officials claim that local police had been in touch with them and requested them to cancel the lecture and roundtable as they feared a law and order problem. Ostensibly “Muslim groups” had threatened to protest Dr. Amina Wadud’s programs in the city, claiming that she was a puppet of the US government and “anti-Islam”. All the efforts by the Centre for Islamic Studies to defend the University’s rights to encourage debate and dialogue proved to be of no avail.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Dr. Amina Wadud’s work will recognize the baseless nature of these allegations, and register the utter ignorance with which they have been made. An African-American convert to Islam, Dr. Amina Wadud, along with Asma Barlas and Riffat Hassan and many others, has been in the forefront of what has been referred to as “Islamic feminism” in the USA.

Further Dr. Amina Wadud is one of the founders of the Malaysia-based group, “Sisters in Islam” (SiS), which has been working for more than two decades to ensure equality and justice for women from within a world view that takes the Holy Quran as its context and spiritual location. Whether it has to do with challenging domestic violence from the vantage point of Quranic ethics or the triple talaq on the basis of Quranic strictures on equality, SiS has emerged as one of the most dynamic forums for believing women not only in Malaysia but elsewhere as well. Dr. Amina Wadud has also been part of the initiative titled, “Musawah” or movement for equality and justice in Muslim family, coordinated by SiS.

At a time when Muslim women across India – as elsewhere in the world – are mobilizing and organizing as Muslims, and staking claims to equality and justice, which they insist are guaranteed to them as believers and by the traditions of Islamic piety and jurisprudence, it is tragic that groups that purport to represent Muslim opinion in Tamil Nadu seek to overlook their existence. Worse, they seem to not want such views to be broadcast or heard. Dr. Amina Wadud has been speaking at various universities and public forums since her arrival in India with no untoward incidents, and the allegation of possible violence if she were to speak is based on blatant lies. Everyone who is acquainted with her knows very well that she has spent her entire life for peace and greater justice within Islam and without.

This sorry turn of events is worrisome for other reasons: whether it is the Muslim Women’s Jamaat in Tamil Nadu, the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, headquartered in Mumbai, Awaz-e-Niswan, also in Mumbai, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board in Lucknow or scores of groups in smaller towns across India, there exist today forums which confront patriarchal reasoning in matters to do with faith and law. In that sense, Dr. Amina Wadud’s presence and talk would have added to the lively debates in this country.

Those who think differently from Dr. Amina Wadud are welcome to challenge her. But this cannot be done by denying her right to speak, and by tarnishing her with the all-too familiar “American agent” brush.

Secondly, we are very shocked that the police think it fit to “advise” the university as to what ideas may invite public reproach and how it ought to conduct itself in such circumstances. This is surely not the business of the police, and it is clear that they are playing a dangerous and expedient political game.

Lastly, we are equally shocked at the University of Madras’s attitude towards such police “warnings”. Instead of robustly standing by its departments and encouraging open dialogue and discussion, the administration has seen it fit to shut the door on a rather eminent scholar. Not only does it set a bad precedent but also sends out not very pleasant signals about the intellectual culture of the university.

We strongly protest police interference in academic life and call upon the academic community to stand up for its freedoms.

We urge those who claim to represent Muslims to take part in debates such as those initiated by Dr. Amina Wadud and by other Muslim women’s groups rather than seeking to outlaw them. .

We demand that the University of Madras restore the freedom, honour and dignity of the academic. 

for complete list of signatories, please click here

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