Muslim Personal Law Board has only itself to blame

Rasheed Kidwai | 16 Jan 2018 06:13 PM

Representational picture (AFP)

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is running out of ideas in dealing with the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha, that has made instant triple talaq a punishable offence.

The Board, claiming to be an apex body of various Islamic sects in India, is fighting a grim battle to keep the united face of the community over the dreaded instant talaq. Apart from Shias, Bohras, Ahle-Hadith and many smaller sects who have all along rejected instant triple talaq, a large number of praticising Muslim men and women also want a blanket ban on the arbitrary practice of a cruel, one sided divorce.

The AIMPLB, a mix of religious and political leaders, is trying to stall the Bill’s passage in the Rajya Sabha. Some of its members are arguing that criminalizing divorce would affect Muslim women more than anyone else. But these arguments are not cutting much ice as community members cutting across sectarian lines wonder why most Islamic countries, including Bangaldesh and Pakistan, have prohibited instant triple talaq. In fact, all matters of divorce are routed through the courts in these countries instead of informal darul ifta or qazi’s court that has no legal sanctity in Indian legal system.

However, it is also true that these sharia courts have been working in India for decades, deciding matters pertaining to marriage, divorce and inheritance. Interestingly, in pre-independence India, no Hindu leader had raised any objection to the Muslim proposal for setting up sharia or qazi courts at the Unity Meet held in Allahabad in 1932. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who cannot be accused of appeasing the Muslim community, was a moving force behind this conference.

The Muslim demand for the setting up of such courts was referred to a sub-committee convened by KN Katju, who later became the defence Minister of independent India and Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. The conference eventually accepted the Muslim proposal. The Congress, at its annual session in Karachi in 1931, had assured the minorities that they would be free to follow their personal laws, and the Indian Constitution later conferred this as a fundamental right of the minorities.

The AIMPLB is perhaps itself to be blamed for not paying any paid heed to community leaders some twenty-five years ago.

A group of Muslim intellectuals and leaders including Syed Shahabuddin, Syed Hamid (both dead now) Zafar Mahmood, Moosa Raza and others had called on AIMPLB chief Maulana Rabey Nadwi, requesting him to declare instant talaq illegal. Arguing against instant talaq, the Muslim delegation had argued that since sharia means the “the way of the Prophet,’ instant talaq was a “biddat” (innovation or a corrupt practice).

It was also pointed out that when Caliph Omar made to meet certain contingent circumstances 1400 years ago, the prophet’s close associate had not pronounced it to be a part of sharia. Omar said to have permitted it on account of certain peculiar situation. When the Arabs conquered Syria, Egypt, Persia, etc., they found women there much more beautiful as compared to Arabian women and hence were attracted to marry them. But the Egyptian and Syrian women insisted that in order to marry them, they should divorce to their existing wives instantaneously by pronouncing three divorce in one sitting.

In this context, the ‘biddat’ practice should have been given up once the contingency was removed, the Muslim delegation had reminded Maulana Nadwi pointing how, every Friday, Muslims across the world hear from the pulpit a call against all ‘biddat.’ The sum and substance of their argument was that an instant talaq (AIMPLB in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, had described instant talaq as ‘biddat’) cannot be part of sharia.

Nadwi, a renowned Islamic scholar himself, did not contest the argument but ,is said to have replied that whenever Muslims get closer to following true spirit of sharia, issues such as instant triple talaq would get resolved on its own.

The Muslim delegation had also expressed its concern over the ferment and hostility generated by some Muslim practises including instant triple talaq. The other issues raised were ugly practice of dowry demands by the male side, polygamy, avoiding use of term ‘kafir’ for non Muslims, need to voluntarily stop cow sacrifice (wherever permitted) during Bakrid, restricting volume of azaan during early morning on loud speaker, stop offering Friday prayers on streets etc. “There was some kind of consensus that before these issues became national, the AIMPLB should intervene.

When Indian Islamic Centre, New Delhi started functioning from 2006, a renewed attempt was made to usher in reforms in Muslim society. AIMPLB chief Nadwi agreed to a proposal to set up a panel consisting of religious scholars and Muslim intellectuals to address issues ranging from curbing instant talaq to discouraging cow sacrifice.

The panel reportedly met on few occasions exploring ways and means to implement reforms. But at one meeting, a fiery speaker turned up and took on “reformists” questioning why the country’s minority community needs to be constantly on the defensive. The political class intervened and the panel died a natural death.

Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is @rasheedkidwai
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