Women have been an important part and parcel of every Muslim society and the Subcontinent was no exception to it. Any fair investigation of the teachings of Islam or into the history of the Islamic civilisation will surely find a clear evidence of woman’s equality with man in what we call today ‘political rights’. This includes the right of election as well as the nomination to political offices. It also includes women’s right to participate in public affairs. Both in the Holy Quran and in Islamic history, we find examples of women who participated in serious discussions.
The history of Muslims is rich with women of great achievements in all walks of life from as early as the seventh century. Throughout history the reputation, chastity and maternal role of Muslim women were objects of admiration by impartial observers.
Muslim women have made great contributions towards the Pakistan Movement and if we look at the history, particularly during the large-scale migration, we find them making all kinds of sacrifices. For the cause of a Muslim state, they were subject to killings, torture, abduction and rape at the hands of tyrant non-Muslims. The human history saw the worst treatment meted out to the Muslim women in the Subcontinent during the days of partition. They paid heavily for the cause and the heinous crimes against them have no parallel example in the history of the world. Maybe this was because of their active role in the Pakistan Movement.
At that time, our women used to observe strict ‘pardah’ (veil). They were less educated but were politically more aware than today’s women. Many people may disagree that today most of our women, involved in politics, social welfare work, education and other fields of life, do not have any mission or objective towards their country and nation as they have joined their respective fields for the sake of their economical gains. One feels sorry to say that our female leaders’ main aim is to get self-projection rather than doing some work of the welfare and development of the masses.
During the Pakistan Movement, our women presented themselves as ‘role model’ for the women of other nations. They were so brave, courageous and selfless that despite different kinds of hurdles in the society, they came forward and worked for the noble cause side by side with men. Some brave women formed the women’s branch of the All India Muslim League. They travelled to the nook and cranny of Indian Subcontinent to create political awareness among the Muslim women. They not only organised the women’s public meetings but also addressed the men’s large public gatherings. They met the wives and the daughters of the British officers and convinced them that their cause was just. They boldly faced every hardship that came in their way but did not give up their mission. Some educated women opened schools in their homes to voluntarily educate Muslim girls. They also preached their husbands, sons and brothers to join the Pakistan Movement and those who had earlier joined the struggle, were encouraged not to give up the cause until the goal was achieved.
The name of Abadi Begum, popularly known as ‘Bi Amma’ is on the top of the list of such noble ladies. She was the mother of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali. She encouraged her sons in fight for freedom. The two brave brothers devoted their lives to the cause of Muslims and during their struggle they were arrested and imprisoned for two years by the British rulers. The tyrant rulers asked them to beg pardon for their release but Bi Amma sent a word to them not to give up their cause nor ask for pardon and warned that if they did so, she would not forgive them. No doubt, she was the great woman and her greatness lies in the fact that she had taught her sons to be willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of Muslims.
Begum Muhammad Ali Jauhar, dressed in a ‘burqah’, was the only woman in the All India Muslim League working committee and she was also the first Muslim woman to address the public meetings. Then there was Miss Fatima Jinnah, the youngest sister of Quaid-i-Azam. For her great services to the nation, she was called ‘Madr-e-Millat’ by the grateful nation. The word ‘Madr-e-Millat’ means mother of the nation. She helped Quaid in his struggle and also worked as link between women and the Quaid-i-Azam. She was the right hand of Quaid and associated herself with the Quaid at every step of Pakistan Movement. She was respected by all the sections of society. The year 2003 was declared the year of Madr-e-Millat by the government to acquaint the young generation particularly girls with her services.
Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan’s name is also worth mentioning. She formed women’s voluntary service and women’s National Guard. She was a highly educated woman. She had also worked as honorary secretary of Liaquat Ali Khan at the time when he was General Secretary of the All India Muslim League before the creation of Pakistan and then Prime Minister afterwards. The Muslim League had no money to pay the salary of a secretary and Begum Ra’ana did that job happily. She also used to arrange parties, where Muslim women could meet the wife and daughter of Viceroy to explain their viewpoint and express their protest over British high-handedness against the Muslims. She founded the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), perhaps the first NGO of the women. The APWA is still working for the welfare of women in Pakistan and it has opened many schools, colleges and technical institutes to educate the poor girls.
In Sindh, Lady Nusrat Haroon, Lady Sughra Hidayatullah, Begum Khairunnisa Shaban, Miss Fakhrunnisa Wali Muhammad Effendi and Fatima Shaikh of Hyderabad were noteworthy for their brave work for freedom. Lady Nusrat was elected the President of the All India Muslim Women League in 1943. She was a sincere worker of the Pakistan Movement. She was also an active member of several educational institutions. Later she became Vice President of APWA.
In Punjab, Begum Jehan Ara Shahnawaz was the first Muslim woman to make a speech in London’s Guild Hall. She represented the Muslim women at the three Round Table Conferences, held in London. She was also elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Other women who played an active part in the freedom movement are Begum Iqbal Hussain, Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain, Geti Ara Bashir Ahmed, Begum Shaista Ikramullah, Begum Viqarunnisa Noon, Begum Nawab Muhammad Ismail and Noorus Saba Begum. Begum Salma Tasadduq was the Secretary of the Punjab Women’s Muslim League. She joined the All India Muslim League in 1937. Begum Geti Ara was the President of the women’s branch of the Muslim League. Begum Shaista organised the Msulim Girls Students and was appointed its convener. Begum Husan Ara Khan originally belonged to Swat but had settled in Calcutta, where she devoted herself to the Pakistan Movement. Apart from these ladies, there were other countless women, who had played their vital role to inspire the men to rise for the cause of a separate Muslim state in the subcontinent. We should never forget them while remembering those who had shared their part in the creation of Pakistan.