The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, or more commonly known as the Triple Talaq Bill was recently passed in the Lok Sabha in December 2017. The Bill was passed based on the Supreme Court ruling and made instantaneous Triple Talaq a cognizable (allowing the police to arrest without a warrant) and a non-bailable offence.
Organisations like the Bharitya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board rejoiced the passage of the bill, terming it as the “watershed moment” that was the result of ordinary women openly challenging the authority of male-dominated misreading of religious diktats. But The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which was their main adversary, is only seeing red.
The AIMPLB sees the present legislation not as a progressive change but as a slight attempt of the government to slowly interfere in sanctified religious matters. But more than that they hold that even if they objectively view the Bill, on its own merit, it remains “fundamentally flawed”.
“It declares instantaneous talaq invalid. Then punishes the man for giving the above said talaq. If by law no talaq happened then what is the man being punished for?” says Kamal Faruqui, a minority rights activist and founder member of AIMPLB.
The AIMPLB sees in the loosely worded Bill, an immense potential to be easily misused, to falsely frame men and get them imprisoned. “Also, the bill demands that the accused should provide sustenance for the wife while he is jail, which is again absurd to say the least,” added Faruqui.
The AIMPLB is now staging silent protests-across states- to make the government take cognizance of their disapproval of the Bill. Making things more dramatic is the fact that this time, unusually for the generally androcentric AIMPLB, it is the women who are in the forefront claiming the Bill to be “anti-women.”
AIMWPLB head Shaista Amber maintains that the only problem AIMPLB has with the Bill is that it challenges their male superiority. “They are “instrumentalizing” women against women to further their own male dominated agenda,” says Amber.
AIMPLB which has mostly been charged with bigotry and religious zealotry, have at times before, objected to changes in the Indian Law which threatened the conventional and conservative reading of the Quran. Countering that view point Faruqui strongly asserts that he, AIMPLB and any true believer is against the practice of Instantaneous Triple Talaq as it is un-Quranic. “Any man who divorces his wife using it should be socially boycotted. But the law against this should be the prerogative of the Muslim community and should be made in the light of the Quran and the Hadith,” he adds.
AIMPLB have been brazenly opposing any attempts to let the law of the land make any attempts to codify Muslim Personal Law. They see it as an incipient attempt to bring forth the Uniform Civil Code of which they are critically against as they believe it goes against the Fundamental Rights of Freedom of free profession, practice and propagation of religion (Article 25).
Mr. Kamal Faruqui explaining the complexity of codification in Islam says that codification of civil issues becomes a problem as the Quran has been translated varyingly by different sects of Muslims.
“Md. Yousuf, of the Bohra community, has an English translation of the Quran, his interpretation is apt more so for the Bohras than the rest of us. Translation by Mohammed Ali of the Ahmadiya community-will not be acceptable as we do not recognize them as Muslims. Such divergences will become very difficult to iron out when we codify it for all,” says Faruqui.
He emphatically reiterates that there is no need for a common codified law for all Muslims and instead propogates the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 as he believes that it gives freedom to the Muslims to interpret their civic issues within the purview of their interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith.
The main issue with the Shariat Application Act is that while it mentions the cases on which the ”Sharia” will apply, it fails to explicitly define what the “Sharia” will be in individual cases. This leaves the door open to interpretations which more often than not are conflicting, mostly to the disadvantage of women, and sometimes even to the men.
“Sharia is a male dominated misinterpretation of Islam which is mostly done on the basis of the interpretation offered by the AIMPLB,” says Zakia Soman of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.
She says that since it does not talk about the age of marriage, procedure for divorce, polygamy, the amount of meher, women share in the property, anomaly arises between what the Quran says and what people interpret. According to her it is this gap, which the AIMPLB with its regressive explications, uses to its own benefit and to keep the women subjugated.
Islam she argues believes in “Ijtehaad” which is the process of interpreting the Quranic teachings in the light of modern times.
Soman has been very vocal about her demands to bring about codification of Muslim Personal Law based on the principles of equality and gender justice as mentioned in the Quran and the Indian Constitution and sees it as a way in which “ill-practices of the religion can be curbed.”
Prominent religions of the country have a personal law that has been codified barring the Muslim Personal Law and Soman, apart from blaming the AIMPLB also criticizes political class’ apathy for women issues in favour of maintaining a steady vote-bank. “Politicians don’t want to upset the Muslim vote by trying shake the status-quo of the Shariat Act. They shirk away from their constitutional duty under article 14 and article 15,”she adds.
Despite challenges she has courageously prepared a draft law and has submitted the same to the Law Commission as well. When asked about how she brought different jurisprudences of Islam on the same page while preparing this draft, she says, “When we can bring many sects of the Hindu community together under a single Hindu Marriage Act, I don’t think we are being too ambitious if we ask the same for the Muslims. Also, while codifying the law we are taking only non-negotiable things into account- say Triple Talaq, no matter what jurisprudence you belong to, you cannot argue in favour of it.”
Rebuffing any probing questions on codification Faruqui said that before we talk of highfalutin concepts like codification we must first take into account the pressing issue of finding a valid interpretation based on which codification can take place. “Quran has to be read by those who know. Certainly women like Soman who do not follow the religion in her personal life are in no position to argue.”
Faruqui assertively claimed that AIMPLB have the authority and the proper knowledge of providing a valid interpretation, “If at all there absolutely has to be a codification it has to be done by us-that will be by the Muslim Community for the Muslim people,” he said.
Bringing the attention back to the current protests he says, “Instances of government codifying and enforcing it- like they are doing in the Triple Talaq case-is not acceptable to us and will be considered as interference,” says Faruqui.