By Muhammad Faheem
Famous writer and poetess Kamala Das, who has quite a few honorary
doctorates to her credit, sprang a surprise by announcing her decision to
embrace Islam. Applause as well as criticism came from all directions.
In an interview to the Times of India on December 15, she threw down a
gauntlet to the champions of women's emancipation and empowerment, by
declaring that it was purdah (Hijab, or more accurately Niqab) which
appealed to her the most. "I like the purdah which Muslim women wore. I
like the orthodox lifestyle of Muslim women," she said in no ambiguous terms.
"Purdah is a wonderful dress. No man ever makes a pass at a woman in purdah".
It provides her with a sense of security."
To Dr. Surayya (her new adopted name), purdah grants protection. She is not
in need of the freedom that the Western culture wishes to grant the women
along with lustful eyes. At a recently held book fair in Delhi, semi-nude
female models were installed as statues so as to attract and allure more
and more visitors. What a shame! Women's bodies have, even in India, become
tool to popularize products.
People who are spearheading a ceaseless battle against the advocates of
purdah to "emancipate the woman" in order that she may "march with the
times" do so by exposing her body to the vulgar gaze of strangers.
Speaking about freedoms that liberation offers, Dr. Surayya is quite candid:
"I don't want freedom. I had enough of it. Trust me. Freedom had become a
burden for me. I want guidelines to regulate and discipline my life. I want
a Master to protect me. I want protection and not freedom. I want to be
subservient to Allah. In fact, for the past 24 years I had worn purdah off
and on. I had gone to markets, matinee shows and even while abroad I had
worn purdah. I have several of them. A woman in purdah is respected. No one
touches you or teases you if you wear one. You get total protection," she
In a society, where harassment of women is on the increase, molestation in
offices goes unabated, where promotion of female employees increasingly
depends on sexual compromise, where rape incidents are taking an alarming
trend, what a woman really needs is protection.
"Now let us consider freedom," continued Surayya. "The tenets of Islam
offer full freedom to women. They are treated with equality. Curbs on freedom
are there only in those societies where these tenets are ignored. I don't
consider a woman's submission to her husband and other higher powers as
lack of freedom. I've had enough of such freedom and I don't want it any
have totally submitted myself to Allah. I am happy to observe His rules and
According to her, Islam is the only religion that truly recognizes the
dignity of women. She had not found that in the Hindu religion in which she
Dr. Surayya took 27 years to make up her mind to finally embrace Islam. Her
consultation with her husband in the early seventies and his thoughtful
advice to her to read more about Islam points to a healthy understanding
between both of them. Neither her husband nor children pressured her to
reverse her course. Rather, they extended a helping hand.
Her three sons have all joined her in the town of Kochi (South India) to
support her in view of the threats made by fanatics. "We have no
disagreement with her decision. She is our mother whether she is a Hindu
Christian or Muslim. We would be with her all the time," said one of her
"They say if it pleases me, they too are ready to change their religion,"
Dr. Surayya discloses about her sons.
Dr. Surayya has totally ignored threats. "I have left everything to Allah.
He will protect me to the last," she said. Her son, Mr. M. D. Nalappad,
former editor of Mathrubhumi and former resident editor of the Times Of
India in Bangalore, said that they received a number of threatening
telephone calls, apparently from Hindu extremists. One caller threatened
kill her within 24 hours.
The support, love and compassion coming from the Muslim community
overwhelmed her. "My feeling that Islam is a religion of love and ompassion
has been proved right. I have been getting calls from almost all the Muslim
countries extending support to me ... My next foreign trip will be to
Makkah. I want to kiss the soil in Madina," she said in another interview.
There have been some ludicrous allegations in the press that she was taking
away the Hindu god Krishna from the Guruvayoor temple to make him Muhammad.
History stands as testimony to the fact that Islam was never spread by
forcible means. Since Independence of India, thousands of people have
embraced Islam without any compulsion. Rather, attempts were made and
measures were taken to prevent people from accepting Islam. The threats to
Dr. Kamala Das are not new happenings, but whosoever dares to abandon one's
birth religion to embrace Islam has to confront them.
What brought Dr. Das to Islam was her desire to teach two blind Muslim
children, Irshad Ahmed and Imtiaz Ahmed. She had to study Islamic
scriptures before teaching them. One of them is now a professor in Darjeeling
(Northeastern India) and the other is an attorney in London.
She plans to write poems on Allah. "Allah is the fountainhead of love and
compassion," says Surayya. "I will write about that. I have already written
three poems on Allah. I will write more soon and bring out a compilation
before the end of next year."
She is against the Hindu practice of cremating the dead. "I do not want my
body to be burnt. I do not want my successors to offer pindam (a ritual)
and believe that after death, I will re-appear in the form of a crow," she
She also plans to learn more about the Qur'an and about the things that a
good Muslim is expected to do. "I understand that a good Muslim should help
others. I have been doing so and I am keen to continue it," she says. "I
don't want to keep money. I want to give part of what I have earned to
others. I would like to make this the religion of the new millennium. I will
tell people the virtues of this religion and share the happiness I
experienced after embracing Islam. I have no words to explain the
contentment I feel now. I have never felt such happiness in my life. I feel
loved and protected. I am an old person. I want this love and protection.
Money cannot bring such happiness. I don't want money."
A Profile of Dr. Kamala Das
Dr. Surayya was born in Kerala. Her mother was a famous poetess. Her
father,Mr. V. M. Nair was the Managing Editor of two journals, Mathrubhoomi
Nalappat Balamani Amma. Her late husband, Mr. Madhava Das was a Senior
Consultant for International Monetary Fund (IMF).
She had served as the Poetry Editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, as
the President of Kerala Children's Film Society, as chairperson of Kerala
Forestry Board, and as the Orient Editor of Poet Monthly.
In addition to her numerous prominent works in Malayalam language, her
works in English have also been honored. Summer in Culcutta, Alphabet of
lust, The Descendants, Old Play House and Collected Poems are some of her
Ente Katha, written in Malayalam, has been translated into 15 foreign
languages. One of her works received the Kerala Sahitya (Literary) Academy
Award for short stories in 1969.
She was awarded Asian Poetry Prize in 1964 (for The Sirens), Kent Award in
1965 (for Summer in Calcutta), and Asan World Prize and Academy Award (for