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Zakiya Soman, Muslim Mahila Andolan: Why should Muslim women leave the fold to be treated as equals?

Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has filed a new plea saying it is not calling for a uniform civil code but wants triple talaq declared un-Islamic.

Written by Seema Chishti , Aamir Khan | June 27, 2016 1:08:19 am
Shayara Banu, triple talaq, Muslim Mahila Andolan, halala, polygamy in islam, gender equality in islam, shayara banu, muslim women fight injustice, equality for muslim women Muslim women want solution to triple talaq within the Quranic framework and not through a uniform civil code, says Zakiya Soman. (Express Photo: Javed Raza)

In Shayara Bano’s petition on triple talaq, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has filed a new plea saying it is not calling for a uniform civil code but wants triple talaq declared un-Islamic. Zakiya Soman, co-founder of the movement, describes how she is walking fine line between the Muslim right that wants triple talaq to continue and the Hindu right that wants it replaced with a uniform civil code. Excerpts from interviews with her:

You are arguing for being strictly within the parameters of Islamic law. Why?

Muslim women, like most women in India, are believers and want a solution within the Quranic framework. Besides, it is their constitutional right to practise the faith they want to. If they are Muslim, they should remain Muslim and yet be seen as equal as Islam recognises women as equals. All communities have personal laws based on their religious texts, so why should Muslim women be made to feel they need to leave the fold to be seen as equals?

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In the Shah Bano case, the argument was that Muslim women needed rescuing from Islamic law itself. How is the current case different?

A lot has changed since 1986. There are a number of Muslim women who have become aware of their rights and are demanding justice. Enlightened Muslims have also been able to reach out to women much more now since 1986.

How have other countries that have outlawed triple talaq managed?

All Muslim countries have codified their laws, and have managed to address different aspects of personal law. The practice of triple talaq has a history. Abu Hanifa, while addressing the problems of women at a specific time in history, who were kept hanging and not divorced, brought in this provision to ensure women could be free from marriages that were not fair and unequal. Now, a small blip in history is being used by men who want to shake off their responsibility and subjugate women under the threat of being able to divorce them in a jiffy.

Will Islamic law on India ever be codified? Isn’t the problem of too many schools insurmountable?

We have to work for codification and it will happen… The many schools of argument are meant more for obfuscating the debate.

Why are even Muslim women aalimas in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board hostile to the idea of courts striking down triple talaq as un-Islamic?

That is simple to understand and is not a problem just here. This is just like some sadhvis who speak the language of VHP and Bajrang Dal… About 92% of women whom we surveyed want a ban on unilateral divorce. Moreover we have had two national hearings where women have narrated their stories. We have had publications narrating the stories of victims. Currently we have a photo campaign running on Facebook where women victims have shared their stories of victimisation. About 50,000 women signed a petition asking for a ban on oral divorce.

Does the BJP being in power make your case complicated?

Yes and no. Let us remember the courts gave justice to Shah Bano, it was political interference that overrode the verdict. The BJP no doubt has a very divisive agenda based on it three pet projects, of which a uniform civil code is one. But how can we have a uniform civil code if people feel it goes against their right of religion? We should allow the courts to do their job and reconcile gender justice and the right to religion… Will the Hindu right agree to a marriage without the kanyadan or seven pheras? No, they won’t. Then why should others give up rights enshrined in the Constitution of right to worship or not worship as per your choice? Our point is that the 1937 colonial law that allows Muslim personal law [Shariat Act] should be properly implemented in the true spirit of Islam.

Will India ever see Article 44 [uniform civil code] operational?

We are not arguing for the uniform civil code. That is is not the solution, in any case once the move failed the answers were provided by the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act and various amendments to the Christian Marriage & Divorce Act, etc. Plus the Special Marriages Act is virtually a uniform civil code for anyone who wants to marry as per secular law. This issue has been needlessly politicised. Women are equal in Islam and Indian Muslim women must also be allowed to exercise that right and not pushed back by either the Muslim right or the Hindu right.

Is there any scope of Muslim men speaking for women’s rights?

Muslim men recently signed up to demand abolition of this practice. In a short span of a few days close to 225 men, some of them very prominent Muslims, signed up against the practice.

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