Thirty years after it had convinced the Rajiv Gandhi government to get Parliament to override a Supreme Court verdict giving a divorced Muslim woman a fairer share than what she got under personal laws, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) made an announcement that signals a significant, and welcome, change in its position on Muslim personal law on divorce. It has urged members of the community to start a social boycott of those who pronounce instant triple talaq.
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court in the case on triple talaq, the board has informed that it will issue an advisory on this matter “through its website, publications and social media platforms”.
For an organisation that has often raised the spectre of an embattled Muslim community to argue against court intervention in Muslim personal laws, the AIMPLB affidavit marks a long-overdue intent to initiate reform from within.
The board’s departure from its inflexible argument of the past, that triple talaq and polygamy “are an integral and essential part of Islam”, should be seen in the context of a fatwa issued by the Dar ul Uloom, Deoband, on March 30. The fatwa decreed that nikahnamas or marriage contracts should incorporate “the condition that the woman will never be given an oral and instantaneous triple talaq”. “If it is uttered thrice at one sitting, it would be correct to treat it as one utterance,” the fatwa proclaimed.
According to Islamic law, a fatwa is a non-binding opinion, but one from Dar ul Uloom, Deoband — amongst the premier Islamic seminaries in the world — is deemed as the gold standard of appropriate practice for the community. While earlier decrees of the Dar ul Uloom did not approve of instantaneous triple talaq, the March 30 fatwa, for the first time, enunciated a procedure to reform the practice.
About two weeks after the Dar ul Uloom fatwa, the AIMPLB showed the first signs of changing its position on triple talaq. In an announcement on April 17, it described the practice as “wrong” though “still valid”. It also talked of social boycott, but this censure was meant for only those who “misuse” instant triple talaq.
Before the apex court over the last week, the board has been less ambiguous. Last Thursday, it told the court that it plans to issue advisories to qazis asking them to discourage triple talaq. Monday’s affidavit talked of starting a “grand public movement for desisting people from pronouncing triple talaq without any reason”. The AIMPLB must now make sure that these affidavits do not remain on paper.