Implement Iqbal’s dream of renaissance in Islamic culture: Take decisions sans personal law boards

law-boardBy Firoz Bakht Ahmed*

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has rightly spoken about doing away the suppression of Muslim women by just uttering the obnoxious word, talaq thrice in a sitting. This is in keeping with his agenda of equality and equanimity as per his slogan of development for all because most Muslims agree that they do not require such bodies but would gladly accept the ones that address and find solutions to their educational, economic and social backwardness.

Modi’s intention is clear that no Muslim woman must be deprived by the men, the rights of equality and justice given to her by and Islam and the holy Quran. Muslim men were punished for divorcing women by Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Ibn-e-Tymia and the Sahabas (followers of Prophet Muhammed. He is just in favour of strengthening the right spirit of Islam through the law of the land without interfering into the Sharia law. Though considered sinful, the triple divorce is legally enforceable in the Sunni Hanafi law. Since vast majority of Muslims in India follow Sunni Hanafi law, many Muslim women become victim 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.

Travesty with the clerics is that they crumple otherwise the broad principles of Islam into myopic ones to make way 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 stop disservice to the religion and follow Islam in its true spirit.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a tower of Babel, 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 steal 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 has taken the right action and has not specially targeted Muslims but has also asked 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 which states that both men and women be given equal rights. It’s only the injustice to Muslim women meted out 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 talaqin one sitting) to Talaq-e-Husna (talaq in three months allowing a possibility of patch up).

It is sad that the Muslim leaders are creating a humbug over a non-issue. The AIMPLB is at the vanguard of the battle to ensure that women of the community continue to suffer bias, are deprived of the protection they should get through provisions in the Constitution that provide for equality and nondiscrimination. The Board, it would seem, wants them to remain at the mercy of the patriarchal set-up manned by sundry clerics with their own crumpled interpretation of the holy Quran. These self-appointed custodians of the Indian Muslims, who just wait for an opportunity to lock the horns with the government and cry hoarse, have been blessed by the present triple talaq controversy 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. Most negative statements of the Board the media quotes 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, issues like education, unemployment, economic and social backwardness are addressed. The time has come when all wheeler-dealers must be sidelined and the community itself shoulders the burden of coming into the mainstream.

The average Muslim has always objected to the AIMPLB’s plea that it represents the community. What’s still more shocking is the manner in which the media take each and every word of the Muslim board as gospel truth. “What authority do the board members have to speak for us?” ask Indian Muslims. The truth is that for those Muslims who choose to embrace modernity, the AIMPLB is an anachronism. What’s still more shocking is that by projecting the entire community as obscurantist, the Board even harms the cause of the faithful whom it claims to serve.

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 and sometime 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.

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 men insisting on the status quo on the triple talaq and other issues. These men (women not seen!) seem to come from antidiluvian times.

They are a set of disgruntled, disorganized and divided individuals. Their convulsions over issues like triple talaq, family planning, nikahnama, polygamy, Babri Masjid etc are cases in point. If the law board members are told of the reforms in the 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.

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.

*Commentator on social issues, grandnephew of Maulana Azad

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