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India Muslim women's right activist defends right to watch sports

MUSLIM women’s rights activist Sahira Nasih slammed a senior cleric yesterday for issuing a religious decree saying that Muslim women should not watch men playing football.

Nasih, an activist in the northern city of Lucknow, responded to Mufti Athar Kasmi’s sermon last Friday, arguing how ridiculous it is to stop women watching sports because the men are “playing with bare knees.” 

“It implies that Muslim women should not watch any athletic event, tennis matches or swimming championships. How it can be immoral for a woman to watch men playing sport?” Nasih said.

Kasmi’s decree also attacked men who had the nerve to treat their wives as equals and let them watch football, not just at stadiums but on TV.

“Do you have no shame? Do you not fear God? You let her watch these kinds of things,” he said in his Friday sermon.

Kasmi, a cleric at Darul Uloom, Asia’s largest Sunni Muslim seminary in the northern town of Deoband, added that watching men “playing with bare knees” violated the tenets of Islam and was forbidden for women.

The decree comes after Saudi Arabia finally allowed women to watch matches in football stadiums earlier this month.

“Why do women need to watch these football matches? What they will gain by looking at footballers’ thighs? Their attention will be on that only and they will even miss the scores,” Kasmi said.

Darul Uloom, in Uttar Pradesh state, is a more than 150-year-old seminary that teaches Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence. The seminary’s rigid interpretation of Islam is the ideological foundation for many hard-line religious groups, including the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

About 13 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people are Muslim and the majority of them are Sunni, but the country’s secular constitution ensures that decrees such as Kasmi’s have no legal force.

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