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Most Muslims agree that they do not require bodies such as All India Muslim Personal Law Board but would want ones that address and find solutions to their educational, economic and social backwardness

firoz-bakht-ahmed

 

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

 

The cat is once again out of the bag of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) both on the issue of triple talaq and its supposed phobia of a uniform civil code! The Board 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 percent 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 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 talaq in 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.

SELF-APPOINTED CUSTODIANS

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 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 crumpled interpretation of the holy Quran.

The UCC (Uniform Civil Code) has nothing against Islam or Sharia rather its very first point coincides with 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.

These self-appointed custodians of the Indian Muslims, who just wait for an  opportunity to lock 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 quoted in the media 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 issues like education, 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 board is a tower of Babel whose members are incapable of taking a unanimous decision. Their dedication seems to be reserved for taking decisions that helps fill their coffers.

Women members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board address a press conference on triple talaq in Lucknow. Their voices reflect the male mindset. Photo: UNI
Women members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board address a press conference on triple talaq in Lucknow. Their voices reflect the male mindset. Photo: UNI

The AIMPLB formed in 1972, is a motley collection of some 201 members including clerics and some professionals of whom 101 are permanent while the rest are on a three-year term. Most of the board members represent the more orthodox male opinion. They don’t have a progressive viewpoint.

Though considered sinful, the triple divorce is legally enforceable in the Sunni Hanafi law. It is not mentioned in the holy Quran and is blasphemous. To Prophet Muhammad, divorce was most repugnant. Hazrat Umar, his follower, used to punish those who divorced their wives with lashes. But 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.

AN ORTHODOX LOT

The average Muslim has always objected to the AIMPLB’s plea that it represents the community. What’s more shocking is the manner in which the media takes each and every word of the 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 sometimes 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 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.

Women offer prayers on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr in Chennai. As many as 92 percent of Muslim women oppose triple talaq. Photo: UNI
Women offer prayers on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr in Chennai. As many as 92 percent of Muslim women oppose triple talaq. Photo: UNI

If the law board members are told of the reforms in talaq , polygamy or family planning in 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 Muslims believe that the community has to address issues like birth control in its own interest. The AIMPLB should hold a referendum on such important issues. Broadly, the board’s members are incapable of saying anything that is less than fundamentalist, orthodox, damaging and inflaming.

But the tragedy is that in the din of chaotic pandemonium, the voice of sanity is lost and the media pays no heed to it.

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.

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.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has rightly spoken about putting an end to the oppression of Muslim women just by uttering the obnoxious word, talaq, three times in one sitting. His intention is clear: let no Muslim woman be deprived of her rights to equality and justice given to her by the Holy Quran. Modi is just in favour of strengthening the spirit of Islam through the law of the land without interfering in sharia law. The trouble with the clerics is that they subvert the otherwise-broad principles of Islam to meet their own political ends, thereby taking the entire community for a ride. They are the ones to blame for bringing Islam to shame. It is high time they stop doing this huge disservice to the faith and follow the religion in its true spirit.

  —Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on social issues and the
grandnephew of Maulana Azad. The views expressed are his own

Lead picture: (L-R) Muslims attend a rally against a proposed Uniform Civil Code and demand a reservation quota in colleges and in government jobs in Mumbai. Photo: UNI; Muslim women participating in a protest against Uniform Civil Code in Surat. Photo: UNI

 

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