Espousing the cause of triple talaq at their two-day Lucknow meet recently, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) president, Maulana Rabey Hasan Nadvi, warned the state not to interfere. Simultaneously, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, while addressing the BJP national executive at Bhubaneshwar, firmly stated, “When we speak of social justice, our Muslim sisters too should get justice. We do not want to challenge the Islamic law but we are dead against the exploitation of our Muslim sisters.” Modi’s intention is clear - that no Muslim woman must be deprived by men; that the rights of equality and justice given to her by Islam and the Holy Quran are not taken away by the men.
Modi has rightly spoken about doing away with the suppression of Muslim women via triple talaq thrice in a sitting. This is in keeping with his agenda of equality and equanimity as per his slogan of development for all. Most Muslims agree that they do not require such bodies as AIMPLB but would gladly accept the ones that address and find solutions to their educational, economic and social backwardness.
Muslim men were punished for divorcing women by Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Ibn-e-Tymia and the Sahabas (followers of Prophet Muhammed). Modi is in favour of strengthening the right spirit of Islam through the law of the land without interfering in Sharia law.
Though considered sinful, the triple divorce is unfortunately legally enforceable in Sunni Hanafi law. Since vast majority of Muslims in India follow Sunni Hanafi law, many Muslim women become victims of this innovated form of divorce and hence they are now taking the help of the apex court. It is not mentioned in the Holy Quran and is blasphemous. To Prophet Muhammad, divorce was the most repugnant.
The travesty with clerics is that they crumple the otherwise broad principles of Islam into myopic ones for their political ends by taking the entire community for a ride. They are responsible for bringing Islam into the ambit of mockery by the media and others. It is high time they follow Islam in its true spirit and stop threatening law makers.
The AIMPLB feels it is its right to dictate terms and espouse views on issues that extend from the public domain of Indian Muslims to the privacy of their bedroom. Stoke a controversy involving the community and the usual suspects start emerging from the murky and infested woodwork of the AIMPLB. So the wise men constituting the board have once again jumped to the conclusion that the government is out to deprive Muslims of their personal Sharia rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India. In doing so, they have closed their eyes to the fact that 92.2 per cent Muslim women are against the dreaded and un-Islamic triple talaq in one sitting.
It must be pointed out here that the Law Commission is working in the right direction, as it has asked for inputs from all the other religions with the sole intention of uplifting the lot of women. The UCC (Uniform Civil Code) has nothing against Islam or Sharia rather its very first point coincides with what the Quran says - that men and women be given equal rights. It's only the injustice meted out to Muslim women by their men that will be corrected by the UCC and that too in the spirit envisaged by Islam. Indeed, the UCC, as per the Islamic order, will strengthen the right procedure of triple talaq from talaq-e-bidat (triple talaq in one sitting) to talaq-ehusna (talaq in three months allowing a possibility of patch up).
It is sad that the so-called Muslim leaders and clerics, are creating a fuss over a non-issue. The AIMPLB is at the vanguard of the battle to ensure that women of the community continue to suffer bias and are deprived of the protection they should get through provisions in the Constitution that provide for equality and non-discrimination. The Board, it would seem, wants them to remain at the mercy of the patriarchal set-up manned by sundry clerics with their own interpretation of the Holy Quran. These self-appointed custodians of Indian Muslims, who just wait for an opportunity to lock horns with the government and cry hoarse, have found in the present triple talaq controversy a way to make their otherwise diminished presence felt.
Triple talaq and Uniform Civil Code are two separate issues. Personal laws cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to individuals by the Constitution. All that AIMPLB has managed is tarnish the image of Indian Muslims. The media quotes the most negative statements of the Board and these are taken as reflecting the views of the community. The truth is that an average Muslim is not governed by what the Board says. The reality is that Muslims need no personal law boards. They would rather prefer focus on issues like education, unemployment, economic and social backwardness. The time has come the community itself shoulders the burden of coming into the mainstream.
For a start, most Hindus make up their mind about Muslims on the basis of the faces from the community they see on TV and the voices they hear in the media. The people covered by the media are invariably 80-plus-year-old men insisting on the status quo on triple talaq and other issues. These men (women not seen!) seem to come from antediluvian times.
They are a set of disgruntled, disorganised and divided individuals. Their convulsions over issues like triple talaq, family planning, nikahnama, polygamy, etc. are cases in point. If the law board members are told of reforms in talaq, polygamy or family planning in 22 countries like Pakistan (Family Law Ordinance), Iran or Indonesia, they dismiss them saying they don’t follow examples set by these countries. Religious but moderate people in the community believe that the community has to address issues like birth control in its own interest.
Indian Muslims face multiple problems, possibly more than any other prominent religious group in our secular sovereign republic. Some of the baggage they carry is owing to the way in which the majority community views them. In fact, many of the notions are negative, inaccurate, retrogressive, made up of half-truths, propaganda, outright lies some of which are trumped up. The other baggage is a result of their own inaction and the lip service they have paid to opportunistic interlocutors and so-called leaders.
Without closely studying the Uniform Civil Code, no serious effort will be possible to begin an ambitious national project of reconstruction of religious thought in Islam by Indian Muslims. Perhaps this can be done by dedicating ourselves with greater vigour to realizing Iqbal’s dream of a renaissance in Islamic culture. And the first step must be taken by the Indian Muslims themselves sans any personal law boards.
The writer is a commentator on social issues and a grandnephew of Maulana Azad. The views expressed are his own.