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Print edition : Jun 03, 2005 T+T-
SUBIR ROY

SUBIR ROY

Interview with Abdur Rahim Querishi, Secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Abdur Rahim Querishi, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and leader of the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis Tameer-e-Millat, does not hide his sense of delight when he talks about the deliberations of the Board's general council meeting at Bhopal and its decisions. He thinks that with the model nikahnama, adopted in Bhopal, the AIMPLB has "successfully set a social reformist agenda". Querishi spoke to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan about the nikahnama and allied issues. Excerpts:

There have been different kinds of reactions to the model nikahnama. There is also some confusion. What are the highlights of the nikahnama?

The nikahnama is split into five sections: details pertaining to bride and groom, list of witnesses, mehr, guidelines and acceptance of contract. The guidelines for couples are very significant. They spell out the duties of both bride and groom and are based on the motto that "the two have to respect each other's emotions". The individual rights of the husband and wife as well as their collective responsibilities to society and to each other are clearly delineated. Both spouses have equal rights in law. Neither can have "dudh ka rishta", that is, they should not be close relations; wedding one's phuphi [father's sister], khala [mother's sister], neice and nephew has been specially banned. Once joined in holy matrimony, spouses are expected to live according to the dictates of the Shariat, respecting each other's rights. The nikahnama also enjoins the existence of an arbitrator to sort out future differences between couples.

What about dowry and mehr?

Dowry is formally banned. It is prohibited by the nikahnama. The husband's side cannot even demand food for guests accompanying them. Mehr also should ideally be handed over at the time of nikah, and if some part of the mehr is given after the nikah, it should be as jewellery.

But the nikahnama still allows triple talaq. This has evoked the criticism that the Bhopal meet has not achieved anything concrete...

See, people interested in hair-splitting will continue to criticise, but you cannot negate the fact that the Board has successfully set a social reformist agenda and has charted a course to take it forward. The Board has literally called upon Muslims to `avoid' triple talaq. Those who are criticising us say that we should have banned that too. But the Board's basic responsibility is to protect the interests of the community as per the Koran and Shariat. And going by that as well as the Prophet's own life, we cannot say that Islam has not permitted triple talaq. There are special situations where it is permitted, but we have called upon the community to avert and avoid it. We have even said that if separation is unavoidable, the intervention of senior family members should be sought to thrash out a solution. If that does not work out, the couple should approach the Shariat court.

So you feel that the AIMPLB has set a reformist agenda?

It has not only set a reformist agenda but charted out ways and means to take it forward. See, the AIMPLB has no doubts that reform has to take place first in the hearts and minds of people. There is no way you can come out with a list of diktats and imagine that all the people would change overnight. Liquor prohibition was in force in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra for decades but did that stop people from drinking or even bring down [consumption of liquor]? So, we are trying to educate people about the inadvisability of triple talaq, using the present guidelines.

What form will this education process take?

We have planned nationwide campaigns. This will be planned and carried out in the next couple of months. In fact, we have carried out some campaigns in the past too, and we are happy that it has had a positive impact. Even [the number of instances of] triple talaq has come down when compared to the past.

But there is an overall impression that the model nikahnama has not significantly altered the plight of the Muslim woman...

One can have any number of interpretations. I am not going to quarrel with all that. But please consider these facts: The model nikahnama has accepted khula [the right of the wife to ask for divorce] and even pointed to the possibility of fakh [dissolution of the marriage by a senior arbitrator]. It has asserted that the boy and the girl have equal rights over the father's property. If, after all this, there is a view that we have not done enough for Muslim women, I can only say that it is a matter of perception.