Updated: October 14, 2016 2:38:53 pm
As the triple talaq matter being heard in the Supreme Court picks up momentum, with the Centre filing an affidavit calling for it to be struck down on the grounds of gender justice, there is disquiet among members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and significant sections of the Muslim community.
A reclusive but influential section, the Ahle Hadees, known as one among the more austere Sunni sects, said to take “textbook positions” on the interpretation of Islamic practice has made it clear that it sees triple talaq done in one sitting as “not right” but has questioned the government’s motives.
The general secretary of the Ahle Hadees, Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi, in a rare interview, told The Indian Express: “We oppose the idea of triple talaq. This is not in keeping with the Quran and hadees (practice/sayings connected with the Prophet). We treat talaq said thrice in one go as one utterance only and taking full cognizance of how the Quran frowns upon divorce and advocates measured and patient attempts at reconciliation and the presence of proper ‘panches’ or wise counsel givers in the process, we are opposed to this form of talaq.”
Interestingly, this view held by some schools of Islamic law on triple talaq does not find mention in the affidavit of the Law Board. The affidavit sidesteps those sections within who are at odds with the practice with the emphasis being on non-interference with personal law.
Maulana Mehdi, though, is categorical in his view that “the Centre and the Courts should not interfere in personal matters of religion.” He reflects a growing unease in the community that the triple talaq issue may be used as a lever by the NDA government to open a Pandora’s box around broader questions of personal laws of minorities and eventually religious freedom itself.
“It is a right under our Constitution to practise our own respective religion,” Mehdi said. “We are uneasy with the way the Centre’s argument is framed, to make it a contest between Islam and the Constitution, where Islam is made out to be out of line with ideas of equality and gender justice. This is wrong… Islam is not anti-women, Islam also allows Khula (where the woman is free to seek divorce).” Maulana Mehdi, though, pedals back from any criticism of the Board and says he is of the view that “at a time like this, as the Personal Law Board represents all of us, no attempt must be made to break ranks.”
The chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Syed Jalaluddin Umari, echoed this. Underlining that all major Muslim organisations and a vast majority of the Muslim community stand solidly behind the Board, Umri said: “The problem of triple talaq and polygamy has been blown out of proportion with the sole motive of portraying Muslims as being patriarchal and misogynistic. The percentage of polygamy amongst Muslims is negligible. It is not mandatory for Muslims to practice polygamy but permission to have more than one wife does exist, albeit under certain conditions’’.
As the Ahle Hadees, some other sections, including Shias, also denounce triple talaq, uttered simultaneously, as un-Islamic. However, they are at a loss to explain why a call to rid the community of this malpractice — in sections it is prevalent in — was not taken up as a campaign earlier and was left to petitions filed either by harassed women or NGOs or associations backed by political groups that wanted to frame the debate in terms of Islam versus women’s rights.
One petition filed by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan says the Uniform Civil Code is not pertinent to the debate but has a prayer that the triple talaq is un-Islamic and that should be sufficient grounds to strike it down.
Last week, stating that absence of reforms in the community in the last 65 years have left Muslim women “extremely vulnerable — both socially as well as financially”, the Centre, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, said that polygamy and triple talaq “cannot be regarded as essential or integral part of the religion”.
The affidavit, submitted by the Union Law Ministry in response to a clutch of petitions challenging polygamy and triple talaq, said that the validity of these practices required a “reconsideration” by the top court “in light of the principle of gender justice and overriding principle of non-discrimination, dignity and equality” as well as “evolution of women”.
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