Since she was sent to a Madrasa in Lucknow, at the age of 12 far from her home in West Bengal, Farheen’s life has seen many a turns. It was her Abbu who decided that one of his daughters should devote her life to the almighty. Having hardened his resolve, her Abbu stood by his decision in the face of insistence on the part of her tutor who saw a bright student in her and wanted her sent to a school instead.
Her uncle’s wife who also studied in a Madrasa left a lasting impression on the mind of her grandmother. Looking back, Farheen has only this much to say- “Abbu bahut khush the ki main deen ke liye kuch kar rahi thi.” Longing for her mother, crying for hours and missing her language followed once she began to live at her new home – a Madrasa in Lucknow.
Camaraderie with her new friends, diligently studying religious texts and working on Arabic language is all Farheen recalls of her stay at the Madrasa for five years.
Recalling many instances of girls reaching their breaking point and quitting the place she says, “There were many small girls who could not adjust to the new place away from home. But such thoughts never came to my mind. I got engrossed in the books and always thought of fulfilling my Abba’s dream.”
Now a student at Jamia Millia Islamia, pursuing her MA in Islamic Studies Farheen calls herself lucky for having carved out a new career for herself. “There are many girls who find themselves handicapped when they come out of Madrasa because what they are taught there is of no relevance to the modern education system in the country. We are taught age-old Islamic history at the cost of modern history and other subjects.”
Finding contradictions with what is taught in Madrasas and the practicalities of everyday life she says, “The artificial world having two separate spheres for men and women is not feasible in practical world. We are not living in an Islamic country where one can replicate all the edicts.”
Encountering the shadow of ever-looming patriarchy at every turn Farheen says, “Apart from all the physical limitations, the amount of syllabus we study is far less than what is taught in boys’ Madrasas. This is contrary to what we see in history where we see Ayesha, Prophet Muhammad’s wife leading the war and other instances of women participating in the so-called men’s spheres.”
Terming the whole system of Madrasa futile Farheen says, “You cannot change somebody’s original nature. It’s just a matter of time, once these girls come out, one cannot even distinguish them from other girls. All the attempts at conditioning these women go in vain.”
Beware of the censure her views can invite from some quarters Farheen says, “If they see me speaking such things about the place where I lived for so many years, they might even issue a fatwah against me. You cannot reason with them, if you do they might enclose them further. Instead of arguing, self introspection is the only hope that might bring some change.”