Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musliar, an internationally known Sunni Islamic scholar based in the southern Indian state of Kerala, has been in the headlines recently for his misogynistic statements.
Aboobacker Musliar is the chief of the All India Sunni Jamiyyathul Ulama, a religious organization belonging to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam. Early this year, Aboobacker Musliar visited New Zealand, where he is establishing a mosque to further his religious influence.
On January 2, he posted a message on his certified Facebook page: "The western Hamilton city of New Zealand, where more than two hundred families of Muslims live without a single Masjid [mosque] in the province except the one in the East. Some of our brothers have bought land in the West and want to build a masjid which will accommodate three hundred worshipers and to be a beacon of Islam in the area. If anyone wish to built [sic] or contribute in this great endeavour, please contact us." On January 4, he posted: "Touched down Wellington International Airport, New Zealand. Thank you for the grand reception. Many brothers turned out to the Kiwi capital."
But it is Kerala where Aboobacker Musliar's influence among Muslims is widespread. The southern Indian state has recently attracted attention for growing Wahhabism and other forms of Sunni religious orthodoxies. From this state, a journalist went to Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS), and some UAE-based Keralite Muslim youths were deported back to Kerala because of their pro-ISIS connections.
Aboobacker Musliar: "Women Have No Mental Strength And [No] Power To Control The Universe, Which Lies In The Hands Of Men"
On November 28, 2015, at a camp of the Muslim Students Federation (MSF) in the town of Kozhikode in Kerala, Aboobacker Musliar spoke out against women. Following are excerpts from an Indian media report about his statements:
"Musliar... said that women have no mental strength and [no] power to control the universe, 'which lies in the hands of menÔÇª Gender equality is something which is never going to be a reality. It is against Islam, humanity and was intellectually wrong...'
"'Women can never equal men. They are fit only to deliver children. Women cannot withstand crisis situations,' he said. He also wondered [aloud] whether there was even a single woman among the thousands of cardiac surgeons.
"The 76-year-old Islamic scholar's remarks against reserving seats for women in elections recently set off another controversy; he had called reserving 50% reservation of seats for women in civic polls was 'too high'ÔÇª
"Referring to the ongoing debates over allowing girls and boys to sit together in colleges, Musliar said that this was 'part of a calculated move to destroy Islam and culture.' He also rejected recent allegations regarding incidents of sexual exploitation at madrassas [in Kerala] and asked those who raised allegations to bring evidence to prove it. A controversy had erupted recently after a woman journalist [V.P. Rajeena, a sub-editor for Jamaat-e-Islami's Malayalam-language daily Madhyamam] wrote on her Facebook about allegations of sexual abuse of young boys and girls in madrassas."
Aboobacker Musliar: "Islam Stands For The Safety Of Women In A Milieu Of Extreme Feminism And Misogyny"
After a controversy erupted over his statements, Aboobacker Musliar wrote on his Facebook page on November 30, 2015:
"This is to clarify the misunderstanding stemmed out of the remarks I made about gender equality during one of recent speeches. Islam stands for the safety of women in a milieu of extreme feminism and misogyny. A fair approach is one that empowers them through education and social upliftment...."
"I referred to the nobility of motherhood while talking on the duties of men and women in family life and reiterated the plain fact that 'only woman can give birth.' I stick to the statement that childbirth and upbringing of the children are of the noblest deeds we can ever think of. This pro-women statement has been deliberately distorted and misinterpreted, and quoted me as saying women are capable only of childbirth."
"Through this distorted presentation of my statement and also taking it out of the context, without even making an attempt to crosscheck their 'story' with me or anybody in our organization, these media houses are proving our doubts about Islamophobic media houses in Kerala who are trying to thrive by sensational victimizing a community and its leaders, as evident from other examples such as 'gender equality issue in Farook college', 'claims on human trafficking by orphanages."
"I also maintain my position [about the understanding] of nature suggests to take responsibilities in the social and personal life according to the differences in the gender. I have no problem in anybody stigmatizing me as misogynist for saying the fact that men and women are different. While I disagree with those who believe that gender differences are social construction, I respect their right to express their opinion and also expect they may respect my right to disagree with their opinion, informed by the basic tenets of Islam."
Woman Journalist Sandhya PP: "The Moment He [Aboobacker Musliar] Saw Me He Said A Woman Can't Interview Him"
Following this controversy, some women journalists have emerged with their own experiences trying to interview Aboobacker Musliar. Journalist Sandhya PP said:
"Thirteen years ago, when I was working with Asianet, I had to interview Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musliar. One of my male colleagues arranged the interview for me. They did not know that a woman [journalist] was coming to interview the leader. The moment he saw me he said a woman can't interview him. If it was necessary, then the cameraman could interview him. But I was firm on my decision; later he agreed with a demand that visuals of me sitting with him or questioning him could not be aired. Since the interview was very topical, we had to telecast it after agreeing to all his demands. But being a woman, I felt ashamed."
Safeera Madathilakath, another journalist, recounted her experience, stating:
"Some unforgettable incidents occurred during my life as a media professional in Thiruvananthapuram [the capital of Kerala]. One such incident was when I went to report on an event attended by Kanthapuram [Aboobacker Musliar]. When I was about to enter the venue, some of his followers rushed to me and said women are not allowed. I tried to convince him that I came for reporting, but they didn't allow. Since I didn't budge, they shouted at me so menacingly that I got scared and thought they might thrash me. The men who shouted at me questioned why I had come with mics instead of sitting at home. I asked why they couldn't behave properly, to which they called me a curse and [said that] for their ustad [literally: teacher, but Aboobacker Musliar], girls were haram. Till then, no men had ever behaved so badly to me."