Personal Law

‘Against the spirit of the Quran’

Print edition : February 02, 2018

UNLIKE the Hindu Code Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1948 and was debated for over a decade, no consultation with members of the community preceded the introduction of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017. Neither Muslim scholars nor the heads of leading Muslim bodies, notably, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), the Jamiatul Ulema and the Tablighi Jamaat, were consulted. Even the women’s wings of these organisations were not consulted.

Shaista Parveen of the JIH women’s wing said: “Only the most gullible would believe that the Bill was mooted with the intention of helping Muslim sisters. Women have enough rights in Islam, but the government wants us to believe that it is bringing about a change in the condition of Muslim women. It is laughable. After all, as recently as the Gujarat Assembly elections, one of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leaders was speaking about attempting to reduce the number of daarhi and topiwalas [allusion to Muslim leaders] in the legislature. It is a ruse to destroy the social fabric of Muslim families. Muslim divorce [practice] is just an excuse.”

The point was made more emphatically by the noted academic Apoorvanand in an article in The Tribune: “In the recent Gujarat elections, the Prime Minister criminalised the very thought of a Muslim being a chief ministerial candidate. He divulged a secret that the Congress party wanted to make a Muslim the Chief Minister of Gujarat! As if it was against the Constitution or was anti-national for a Muslim to be proposed for the top job in the State!”

Salim Engineer, JIH secretary general, said: “The Bill has an overweening political intention. It has nothing do with women’s safety or empowerment. It is against the spirit of the Constitution. It is an interference with the Shariat. It is also against a woman who considers triple talaq to be only a single divorce after which patch-up with the husband is possible. If the husband is jailed, it denies both the spouses an opportunity to forgive and forget and try to make their marriage work. The punishment for uttering three words, which have no legal bearing now after the Supreme Court judgment, is equivalent to someone who rebels against the nation. One can make out the motives of the government.”

Liberal voices in the Muslim community were flustered. Noted scholars and activists such as Professor Faizan Mustafa and Ubaidullah Barani opposed the Bill in no uncertain terms.

Mustafa claimed that the remedy the Bill sought to provide was worse than the problem. He said that a man punished for uttering the triple talaq with three years’ imprisonment was unlikely to take his wife back after he completed the jail term. He called the Bill an instance of legal excess. “I consider Muslim personal law is not law for the purposes of Article 13. So it cannot be examined as a matter of constitutionality. The honourable judges said so. The Shayara Bano case is a law now. Triple talaq is banned. We do not need a fresh law.”

He said the Union Law Minister’s claim that triple talaq was held unconstitutional by the court was incorrect. “It was held unconstitutional only by two of the five judges. One judge said it was invalid as it was not Islamic.” Mustafa pointed out that Section 5 of the Bill stated that the divorced women were entitled to subsistence without clarifying how the husband serving a jail term would provide for subsistence. “It is silent on the state of children,” he said.

Barani was more scathing in his criticism: “Criminalising the pronouncement of instant triple talaq after it has been set aside by the Supreme Court is nothing but harassment of Muslim men. The Bill will destroy Muslim families.” He said the Bill validated triple talaq instead of banning it.

“The court had emphasised the procedure of divorce as outlined by the Quran to be followed. That procedure entails sustained effort at reconciliation between spouses before making a single pronouncement,” said Imam Muhibullah Nadwi, the imam of New Delhi’s Jama Masjid.

However, the Bill removes all attempts at reconciliation by imprisoning the husband. He said: “Instead of limiting itself to instant talaq, the Bill seeks to cover all forms of divorce available in Islam. It is against the letter and spirit of the Quran.”

Although the Bill has not been passed in the Rajya Sabha, the fears of the Muslim community have not been allayed. There are apprehensions that the government might push the Bill through an ordinance.

“We have come to know that the government wants to implement the triple talaq Bill through an ordinance. If that happens, it will reveal the dictatorial character of the Modi government,” Maulana Khaleelur Rahman Sajjad Nomani, spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

“It is a conspiracy to systematically and substantially take away the rights of talaq from a Muslim husband. The proposed law is going to affect Muslims at large. It encroaches upon the fundamental rights of equality set out in the Constitution of India. The provisions run counter to the existing legislation relating to guardianship and domestic violence.”

Ziya Us Salam

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