Qazi, also known as a judge or magistrate, is an important role in Islam. They are appointed to judge all disputes on the basis of justice in a timely manner without prejudice, to maintain the smooth functioning of a society. Not only that, a Qazi acts as a judge in both weddings and divorces. In short, a Qazi in a Muslim society does more than just dispensation of justice.
Traditionally only men have been appointed as Qazis in Islamic courts and the appointment of women as a Qazi has been frowned upon. Many even consider the idea of a woman Qazi as being strictly forbidden in Islam. However, with the passage of time, things have slowly changed in this regard.
Recently, 16 women completed their training as a Qazi from Darul Uloom Niswan, a centre for Islamic learning and theology in India. The move has drawn strict criticism from conservative Muslim community in India who believe a woman is not fit to work as a Qazi.
The Muslim community in India seems to have bifurcated into two extremes with one side completely rejecting the idea of having a woman Qazi while the other half embraces it saying there was nothing unequivocal in Islam against having one.
The proponents of a woman Qazi believe that being a woman herself, a female-Qazi can best understand the sentiments of females who endure domestic violence. They say, a male Qazi most often shows insensitive attitude towards female victims of domestic violence and advises them to quietly “bear the pain”.
This issue took centre stage back in 2008, when a famous Muslim activist named Naish Hasan asked a female Muslim scholar named Syeda Hameed to conduct her wedding rituals. Traditionally, this duty is performed by a male Muslim Mullah.
At the time, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board rejected the idea on the ground that there was no such thing as a female Qazi in Islam. While the world-renowned Islamic school, Darul Uloom Deoband, insisted there was no unequivocal statement in Islam against having a female Qazi.
However, in 2016, the All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board appointed two women as Qazi on the condition that they would only handle counseling related issues.
The Malaysian government also appointed two women as Qazi in 2010, but again with limited powers to only take cases related to property and children’s well being. They were not allowed to solemnize marriages and or to take other such important cases related to women’s lives.
The 16 newly-graduated women Qazis in India too will not enjoy as much power and acceptability in Muslim society as their male counterparts, however, they sure will be remembered as catalyst of change by the future generations of Islamic historians.