Fired by zeal and purpose she spent two full decades in getting ready an all women inclusive mosque. The foundation stone of the mosque was laid by renowned Islamic scholar (late) Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi in 1997, in a secluded corner of Lucknow, on Rai Bareily Road. This year the mosque established another milestone by turning the mosque energy efficient through its own solar power generation. And all this was achieved by the vision and untiring efforts of a lone woman on a mission to elevate the status of women in the light of Islam.
Social activist Shaista Amber the founder president of All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board has come a long way from the day she took a silent vow to ensure gender equality not just in society but also in mosques. The result of her labor is Ambar Mosque. Representing a symbol of promoting women’s rights and for putting up tired, vary visitors the mosque has now taken on the new dimension a new mission –that of projecting a truly environment friendly side of a mosque.
By installing solar panels Shaista has demonstrate the great and urgent need of clean energy in our lives. The 1k W electricity generated will meet three quarters of the mosque’s modest lighting and cooling needs but for Shaista this is a trend setting initiative and she hopes it will inspire other mosques to follow suite and help reduce environment pollution. “We must all do our bit… If everyone starts using solar energy then Lucknow’s air quality will start to improve as well as it will help reduce power cuts,” says Shaista pointing towards solid determination that lurks deep inside for bigger strides she will be taking in this direction.
In addition to the space for prayer, rooms have been constructed for the relatives of poor outstation patients of the SGPGI
Happy with the many accolades coming her way Shaista replies in the humble tone that is her distinctive style, “I am only fulfilling the will of Allah. Cannot thank him enough for choosing me for this mission”.
According to Shaista, her initial plans after not being allowed to offer namaaz in a mosque way back in 1995 was to build an all exclusive mosque for women, but as there was no other mosque in the vicinity and she did not have enough funds to build a separate mosque for men Shaista decided to open the gates of Amber mosque for men too. At least till the time another mosque could be built for men separately. “I thought it would not be right to close Allah’s doors on men, just the way they had done on me and many other women before me,” she said.
Describing the intervening 20 years Shaista agrees that it has not been an easy journey. While the mosque represents a defiance against the patriarchy that exists within the Muslim community her aim has always been to ensure women empowerment. In absence of any major donations or crowds funding Shaista faced a huge the cash crunch. She first used up all her savings, borrowed heavily from her husband, Mohd Ibreez Ahmand, a senior government officer and as a last resort she even had to sell off her jewellery in order to finish the construction.
While there was no stopping her she seems to have no regrets whatsoever. There is this immense satisfaction and a wish that others had been more forthcoming. She feels richer by the experience and recalls the immense power she felt when the strains of the first azaan from the mosque entered her ears in 2016. With great pride she informs the great honor she got by becoming the first women to offer the first namaaz on the constructed mosque. Of course in the years preceding she had offered namaaz on the piece of land- an open field earmarked for the masjid daily in the last two decades, believing in the Will of God and confident that one day the piece of land on which she was prostrating would turn into a form of mosqueou or Allah ka ghar where thousands would bow their heads to his Will.
To China goes the credit of starting the tradition of separate women mosques several hundred years back. These mosques existed in Chinese provinces of Henan, Shanxi and Hubei.The oldest surviving mosque in China, is Wangjia Hutong, Women’s Mosque of Kaifeng, which dates back to 1820.
“Ek khet tha tab sirf aur charoo taraf sannata tha, (“It was an open field then and there was wilderness all around), she informs, adding that all these years she carried a firm determination that it will one day be built into a women-only mosque one day. Today in the 2500 sq feet built area stands the three floor building which has a hall that can accommodate 1000 namazis. The beauty of the mosque is that in addition to the space for prayers, rooms have been constructed for the relatives and attendants of poor outstation patients admitted in the SGPGI.
Shaista recalls the trials and tabulations of the patients’ families who accompanied the patients referred to SGPGI for treatment from far flung areas and were at a loss to find accommodation. Her house was close to the Institute and many a time she opened her doors to these strangers in need. But it was neither a practical nor a permanent solution. It was during such time that in her mental draft plan of the mosque she added some rooms too.
Today her cup of happiness is overflowing. The special Friday prayers also include a session with women who gather there in search of alms and advise. Shaista ensures that on this day she is available for an open house for women of the Muslim community to deal with clearing doubts on concerns like ‘talaaq, importance of educating the girl child, providing medicine and so on. “Main sochti thi key Khuda key bandoo key liey masjid bhi ho aur rahney key liey jagah bhi. Mujeh khushi hai Allah mujsey yeh kaam ley raha hai” she said, her hands raised heavenwards in salutation to the Almighty.
Perfect note on which to end this article. Because now it is between her and her Allah. Apparently there are no words but certainly from somewhere one can hear a congratulatory message being sung. Happy women’s day. Well deserved Shaista Amber, you have set some bench marks that will be hard to miss out or surpass.