Muslim Youth Revolt against Muslim Personal Law: Debate about Status Quo and Reforms
Youth Vocal against Muslim Personal Law Board
By Anubhav Parsheeera and Pradhuman Sodha
13 February, 2016
Muslim youth, especially young women, want a change in the Muslim personal laws and even seem ready to welcome the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a non-government organisation, which articulates the personal laws of Muslims in India, and often gets embroiled in controversy because of its “archaic” approach to Muslim laws, especially regarding women, seems to be fast losing touch with the youth of the community. The board is currently in the news because of a Supreme Court hearing on a petition regarding “Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality”.
The AIMPLB was constituted in 1973 as an organisation to safeguard and represent the religious laws of the minority Muslim community of the country. Often projecting itself as the spokesperson of the Muslim opinion, it has repeatedly resisted reforms in the divorce laws for Muslims, and is rigidly against the Uniform Civil Code.
The Muslim youth, especially young women, want a change in the Muslim personal laws and some of them even seem ready to welcome the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code.
Atiya Samreen, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, said, “If the AIMPLB is dissolved it will help us to prevent the exploitation of women in the Muslim community. On the other hand, the board also safeguards all the madrasas running throughout the country and protects their rights. A solution to this is that women should be made aware of their rights.”
An alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, Abir Ahmed stated, “As Muslim liberals, the youth does not want to get pressurised by the extreme views of Muslim clerics and laws. We respect our faith and at the same time are striving to survive in a multi religious society. The majority of the youth does not want to get perceived on the basis of the staunch views of a few. Islam directs one to make religion simple. But laws like triple talaq too have many exemptions that can benefit the women. It’s just that one needs to get educated about them.”
Incidents where husbands have divorced wives through SMS, Skype, and other such modern technology are not unheard of. Apart from the mental and emotional turmoil, a divorce of this kind also leaves the wife with very little time to readjust her life while the man often comes out on top. “The wave of technology is definitely being abused by some people in this regard. What is needed in situations like these is for the community to come to a consensus about the extent to which these technologies can be made a part and parcel of the procedure,” says Hakim Yasir Abbas, a PHD scholar at the National Law University, New Delhi. Talking of some case files where the women have suffered terribly because of the decision of the clerics, he says, “Such incidents arise because the community itself is not aware of its rights and of the laws. This ignorance is utilised by some segments of society to propagate their own interpretation of the Sharia. These issues can be sorted only when the community comes up with certain uniform guidelines,” he added.
When asked if he sees any disconnect between the youth and organisations like AIMPLB, he said, “Absolutely. There is a need for the youth to speak up and tell the board what they want from them and how they want it. It is up to them to tell the board which aspects of their life they need the board to look into and take care of and where to leave them alone,” said Yasir Abbas.
The Debate Is About Status Quo and Reforms
By Mohammed Anas
13 February, 2016
The members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board come out after a meeting in Lucknow in June last year. IANS
At the centre of the debate are the issues of divorce, the maintenance prescribed for the divorced woman, polygamy, et cetera.
The old debate about Muslim personal laws has resurfaced, with some voices calling for reforms, and others seeking that these stay unchanged. At the centre of the debate, as has been happening before, are the issues concerning women: especially the issue of divorce, the maintenance prescribed for the divorced woman, polygamy, and the minimum age for Muslims to get married, etc. The recent debate has arisen because the Supreme Court is hearing a petition called “Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality”, and the Jamiat Ulema e Hind, a prominent Muslim outfit, being a party to the case, has deposed that Muslim laws cannot be subjected to any court scrutiny as per the principles laid out in the Indian Constitution, as their spirit flows directly from the Quran.
“Mohammedan law is founded essentially on the Holy Quran and this cannot fall within the purview of the expression ‘laws in force’ as mentioned in Article 13 of the Constitution, and hence its validity cannot be tested on a challenge based on Part-III of the Constitution (guaranteeing fundamental rights, including right to equality),” says the JUH application filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool, as reported by the Economic Times on 6 February.
The JUH’s position is supported by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a non-government but a prominent Muslim organisation, which has been at the forefront of the debate surrounding the “interpretation of Muslim laws by the judiciary” since the famous Shah Bano case. The board is also expected to ask the SC to make it a party in the aforementioned case.
Kamal Faruqui, member of the executive committee of the board, said that Muslim laws in India, as articulated by the board, have been explained after thorough deliberation with national and international experts of Islamic jurisprudence. “Thus, we do not think there is any need to change that. Albeit, there could be discussion to understand them in a proper light. Take the example of triple Talaq (announced in one go), it is only permissible by some schools of thought and not the mandatory one. In addition, the board has come up with a model Nikahnama, which stipulates marriage to be a highly deliberated agreement between man and woman. A woman is allowed to discuss all her conditions, including the issue of maintenance in case of divorce, as per this Nikahnama. It also makes arbitration by three people mandatory in case of any discord between the husband and his wife. It is actually a remedy against any possible discrimination to women in marital discords. People, and even the government, should try to popularise this instead of raising an unnecessary debate about changing the personal laws of the Muslim community,” said Faruqui.
However, there are sharp critics to the board’s stand on laws regarding women’s issues. “They (the board) are interpreting laws, derived from the Quran and Hadith, in the light of the writings of medieval scholars and thus tend to become archaic in their approach. They have to see the changing context to deliberate on the text of the Muslim laws, especially regarding the treatment of women in society and in family,” said Professor Mohd Ishaque, director of the Zakir Hussain Centre of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia.
Prof Ishaque added that the Constitution of India is in coherence of the spirit of Muslim laws and it has to be understood by the conservative clerics of the country.
But Faruqui did not agree: “If Muslim laws have to be interpreted by the judiciary in the light of constitutional principles, then let them be interpreted by the Muslim judges with the help of the opinion of Islamic experts. Or the tradition of qazis should be revived in the country.”
Muslim personal laws have undergone several rounds of changes in Muslim countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunisia, etc. They have been amalgamated to be part of the Constitution in these countries. In many of these countries, even the system of the hasty triple talaq has been abolished. Faruqui, when asked about this, did not respond.
Meanwhile, taking a different stand from Jamiat and the AIMPLB, the Jamaat e Islami Hind, another prominent Muslim outfit, took a progressive stand. Taha Mateen, member of Jamaat’s Kerala chapter, said that the hasty triple talaq is un-Quranic and thus un-Islamic. “The Quran doesn’t permit hasty triple talaqs. Hence, those propagating it are doing a disservice to Islam,” he said. However, he did not comment on polygamy and the minimum age for girls to get married. Muslim personal laws put puberty as the minimum age for a girl to get married.
‘The Country Cannot Have Parallel Judicial Systems Catering To Communal Demands’; Raziuddin Aquil
By Mohammed Anas
13 February, 2016
Aquil says that women are discouraged and even prevented from seeking divorce. This is in total contravention of what the Quran and the Prophet of Islam would preach.
Raziuddin Aquil, who teaches history at the University of Delhi and has written books like Sufism, Culture, and Politics: Afghans and Islam in Medieval North India and In the Name of Allah: Understanding Islam and Indian History, talked about the recent controversy over Muslim personal laws. Excerpts:
Q: A petition titled “Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality” is being heard in the Supreme Court and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i Hind, being a party in the case, has responded that “since the spirit of Mohammedan laws flows from the Quran, they can’t be subjected to scrutiny by the SC as per principles laid down by the Constitution”. This is the basis of the current, and the oft-repeated debate on Muslim laws and their purported clash with the judiciary. How do you see it that Muslim laws cannot be interpreted by the judiciary in India?
A: The first thing that the likes of those representing the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i Hind are unable to understand is that the Muslim Personal Law or the Mohammedan Law is not in total conformity with the Quranic laws. Triple Talaq in one sitting (Talaq-I Ba’in) is not manifested in the Quran.
The judiciary operates on the basis of legislation laid down. Mohammedan law is not a codified law. The Muslim Personal Law is an Act of 1937. Post Independence, there has been no reform or corrections in the existing lacunae. There is a need for legislation, and till that happens, judiciary cannot intervene.
It is a collective responsibility of the community to press for the much needed modification suiting the requirements of the time, which is in conjunction with the spirit of the Quran, the message of which is equality for all.
Q: The All India Muslim Personal Law Board supports the Jamiat stand on the issue and is even expected to be a party in the said case. Kamal Faruqui, an executive member of the board, has told The Sunday Guardian that since Muslim laws are the result of thorough deliberations among national and international Islamic experts, they cannot be allowed to be interpreted by the judiciary, which is largely non-Muslim. If at all, Muslim laws should be judged by Muslim judges, or through revival of the Qazi system, he argues. Please comment on this.
A: It should be noted that many Muslim countries have modified the Sharia in accordance with the changing times, which has not happened in the Indian case as mentioned above. And the country cannot have parallel judicial systems catering to communal demands.
Q: Many Muslim countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Tunisia and even Pakistan and Bangladesh are said to have worked on Muslim laws to make them amenable to the changing times. In many such countries, even the hasty triple Talaq has been outlawed. Why is it not being done in India?
A: Indeed, there is a need for legislation, even if it is not in the sense in which the rhetorical Uniform Civil Code is often spoken about, more as a political strategy than any real or sincere attempt at framing a truly progressive modern law.
Q: If we say that it is because of the rigidity of the conservative clerics that the Muslim laws remain archaic, why don’t we see an anti-cleric movement, especially from the Muslim academics etc?
A: Scholars and academics often try to protect themselves from getting involved in the violent language of politics, in which these critical issues are contested. Given the overall culture of intolerance, it is now difficult to even say that men and women are not treated as equal in society. Some people can try to legally justify practising polygamy and arbitrarily resort to triple Talaq, but women are discouraged and even prevented from seeking divorce or Khula. This is in total contravention of what the Quran and the Prophet of Islam would preach. Those who want to know can know: Quran has emphasised in no uncertain terms the value of monogamy and strongly disapproved of divorce, but who is sincerely interested to follow the true spirit of Islam these days?
Many Schools Of Thought in Islam Recognise the Validity of Arbitrary Triple Talaq: Kamal Faruqui
By Mohammed Anas
13 February, 2016
Last week, when a prominent Muslim outfit, Jamiat Ulema Hind asserted before the Supreme Court that Muslim laws flowed from the Quran and thus could not be subjected to scrutiny by the Apex Court based on the principles of the Constitution, it restarted the oft-repeated debate on whether, or not, Muslim personal laws trampled upon the Constitution and if they were discriminatory towards women. The SC was hearing a petition titled “Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality”. The next hearing in the case is expected within six weeks and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is also expected to request the SC to make it a party in the case. Member of the executive committee of the board, Kamal Faruqui says that Muslim personal law works for women, especially when it comes to talaq, and the judiciary cannot be trusted to interpret it, in the absence of opinions from Islamic experts.
Q: Whenever a controversy erupts regarding Muslim personal laws, people tend to believe that organisations like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which interprets Muslim laws in the light of the Quran and Hadith as expounded by various Islamic authorities, is rigid and averse to reforms. Why are you rigid?
A: We represent all schools of thoughts followed in the Islamic world, be it Shafai, Hanafi, Hanbali, etc. We come to a position on any issue, take for example Talaq (divorce), after a thorough consultation with Islamic experts. Many schools of thought in Islam recognise the validity of arbitrary triple Talaq announced at one go. That’s why we have accepted this. But many of us consider this the ugliest thing, as there are reported cases of husband delivering such divorce out of anger or in an inebriated condition and then the wife is left to suffer thereafter. Therefore, to prevent any such eventuality, we have proposed a model Nikahnama, which seeks to make the Nikahnama (marriage contract) a highly thought out document. It includes an arbitration clause, which requires the appointment of three arbitrators who would be consulted by the husband and wife in case of any future discord. Without consulting these arbitrators, no divorce will be valid.
Q: Then, why do we see cases arbitrary Talaq or suddenly announced Talaq and women suffering because of that?
A: It is because of the fact that people don’t follow the model Nikahnama. They don’t make marriage a conditioned agreement. And our fault is that we are unable to propagate our Nikahnama to all parts of the country. Our Social Reform Committee is tasked with this purpose, but as we are working with various constraints like sufficient financial and community support, our reach is limited. The government does not help us in any way.
‘If the judiciary is interested in judging as per Islamic laws, then appoint Muslim judges to hear such cases. And even these Muslim judges should be well versed in Quranic injunctions and Islamic principles.’
Q: Since you claim to work among the community, do people come to you for the settlement of their marital discord?
A: Darul Quaza, our mediation department, receives complaints and disposes them of by helping people. But again, since we are limited in our means, we are unable to create the desired the effect.
Q: Why are you averse to the judiciary interpreting Muslim personal laws?
A: In the absence of proper expertise on Islamic laws, judges cannot interpret the personal laws of Muslims. If the judiciary is genuinely interested in interpreting or judging as per Islamic laws, then appoint Muslim judges to hear such cases. And even these Muslim judges should be well versed of Quranic injunctions and Islamic principles. Or simply revive the old Qazi system.
Q: Why do you think the issue of the purported clash between the judiciary and Muslim laws is debated again and again?
Women Get Caught In the Loopholes of Muslim Law
By Dipavali Hazra and Aditi Chakravarti
13 February, 2016
Men Often Manipulate The Law To Get Their Own Way.
Muslim women have long been a victim of the loopholes in the marriage laws within the Sharia. The Sunday Guardian spoke to a few such women who are struggling with their finances, with little or no support, as their husbands manipulate the law to get their own way.
It has been 12 years since Fatima (name changed) decided that she had had enough of her husband and his family’s constant demand for dowry. After hardly a year of marriage, the mental torture became too much. Her in-laws would berate her for not bringing in enough money and would harass her about not wanting to live with her husband when she protested against the treatment. Soon, she was forced to return to her brother’s house in Lucknow. Her husband, who works at a college in New Delhi, has not yet divorced Fatima. In fact, since 2006, he has not met her even once.
“My husband has said in court that he wishes to divorce me. However, he has not been able to give one reason why he wishes to go ahead with it. He remarried around three years ago, despite being married to me already,” said Fatima.
When asked whether she would like to reconcile with her husband, Fatima said: “If I am kept in a different house far away from my in-laws, with only my husband having access to me, I will consider reconciliation. In that case, how he takes care of two families is not my problem. I was not asked for permission when he decided to marry a second time. However, my main fight is for maintenance, which is guaranteed to me by the Sharia and the law of the land. I am, frankly, not looking forward to any Samjhauta (compromise).”
Fatima’s case has been pending in the Lucknow District Court for over a decade and the financial expenses are being borne by Fatima’s brother.
25-year-old Faiza, an orphan, lives with her aunt in UP. Her ex-husband, a butcher, would regularly beat her and force himself upon her. “I had no rights in that house. I was just a maid in that family. Since I was an orphan, no one could really look into the kind of family I was marrying into. I wish I had never been married. After a year of marriage, I was divorced from my husband. Many women do not want a divorce even after they are subjected to torture at their husband’s place, but I am grateful to be out of there.” says Faiza.
Sufiya was also an orphan and her brothers got her married to a man, who ran a coaching centre in Lucknow. Sufiya would often catch her husband flirting with the girls who came to study there. When she would protest, he would abuse her physically, even while she was pregnant. He restricted her movement; she was not allowed to meet people. A concerned neighbour then asked her to meet Shaista Amber (the president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board), and Sufiya addressed a letter to her and had it delivered through her neighbour. For fear of her husband discovering what she was up to, she wrote the letter locked up in the bathroom. When Shaista received the letter and learnt about Sufiya’s ordeal, she immediately informed the police and rescued the girl. Meanwhile, Sufiya’s husband had divorced her. “He told my brother over the phone that he was giving me Talaq. He did not even consult me,” she said.
Shaista Amber intervened and wanted to arrange another Nikah for them, but people said that since the couple had been through a talaq “they needed to perform Halala” (according to some interpretations of Sharia, a divorced woman must consummate a new marriage with another man and divorce him before she can remarry her ex-husband). Shaista was strongly against that. However, she ensured that the couple got back together.
“Things settled down for a while and we lived together like husband and wife,” Sufiya says. “He was supposed to pay Rs 5,000 per month for me and my children’s expenses, which he did for about four months before throwing us out.” Sufiya now lives in Bijnor. She is raising three children — a boy of 14 and two girls aged 12 and 8 — without maintenance from her husband or any help from her brothers.
She often travels to Lucknow, where she negotiates with lawyers to fight her case, but she says her husband manages to pull strings and keep from her the money she is entitled to.
Shaista Amber explained that the Sharia has a provision for the upkeep of children dependent on a divorcee woman. “It is a question of fundamental rights, and in such cases, even the courts can intervene,” she said. “A Muslim woman herself, whether she remarries or not, is not entitled to money from her ex-husband after a Talaq. She is expected to make use of the Mehr money and her portion of her family’s inheritance to live on for the rest of her life. In the Sharia, there is also the concept of Bayt-al-mal, which is a kind of collective fund that is responsible for the upkeep of widows, divorcees and orphans. Even the Waqf ought to help divorcees but that organisation is corrupt itself. They distribute donations among themselves,” she says.
Sufiya is now pursuing a BA degree in the hope of getting a job afterwards so that she may earn and support her family herself. It has been 14 years that her husband has left her, and now she says she is tired of fighting and dealing with lawyers.
“Whenever I tell my story, I feel like I am reliving those times. I have spoken to the media on several occasions. But nothing has changed for me,” she says.
Khudai Khidmatgars Educate About Islam via Telephone Helpline
By Areeba Falak
13 February, 2016
The Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God), members of a movement originally launched to fight the British Raj, have taken it upon themselves to educate people of all faiths about Islam, including the Muslim youth who are often radicalized by misinterpretations of the Quran.
In October 2015, the Khudai Khidmatgars launched a telephone helpline to provide crucial insight on how “communication gap among people of various faiths” is a breeding ground for deep prejudices.
“Most calls (to the helpline) were made by Muslims who had questions ranging from the Sharia to why we let non-Muslims and women participate in our initiative. They wanted to know if Khudai Khidmatgar wasn’t an exclusively Muslim initiative led by Muslim people for the empowerment of only their community,” said Faisal Khan, who, in 2011, revived Khudai Khidmatgar, which was founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) to fight against the British Raj.
Hindus ranked second in the number of calls, after Muslims, and their queries were revealing. Dr Kush Kumar Singh, a pathologist and a Khudai Khidmatgar said, “Non-Muslims asked questions about why Muslim families have so many children, why is it that they don’t participate in any kind of national or social activism.”
“Answering such questions becomes tricky. So we also encourage people to meet us in person if they want to see the answers materialize not just in words but in practice. We tell them about Ahmad Dilshad who is working in Champaran to improve the circumstances of sugarcane farmers, about Qamar Jahan who is helping women in Banaras through self-help groups, about Shahid Ansari who worked for the restoration of water bodies in Kannauj, about Azmat Khan who worked for tribal women in Madhya Pradesh. We share with them the relief work done by Khudai Khidmatgars in the Chennai floods. And on questions about the number of children etc we explain these by way of data emphasising social and economic conditions of such Muslims,” said Singh.
“We are often asked about our political affiliations. At times people just call us to tell us that how we are wasting our time and energy and that it is all futile,” said Khan.
‘Essentially, most of the questions asked indicate that the callers have misunderstandings that can be resolved by simple interactions and participation between communities,’ said Faisal.
“We are trying to bridge the gap that is wrought by prejudices on either side. It doesn’t matter if a person is a non-Muslim, what matters is their intention to help society understand to exist in harmony with each other. That is what the Frontier Gandhi wanted,” Khan said.
“We emphasise the need for the Muslim youth to address prevailing social issues as their own. When they indulge in welfare activities then they’ll know that they are not the only ones suffering. There are other people too who are of different faiths but have similar challenges,” he added.
Since its inception, the helpline — 9718072586 — has only been active from Friday-Sunday every week. The helpline is supervised by four members— advocate and social activist Mahipal Saraswat from Bikaner, Rajasthan, and a Jamia Millia Islamia MBA student Rizwan Khan, apart from Faisal and Singh. Faisal said that they attend to a minimum of 15-20 calls every weekend. Questions related to Sharia are addressed only by Faisal, since he is well versed in the Quran while the other questions are divided among the rest. While calls have come from across the country and some even from England and the Gulf, the majority are received from South India where Khudai Khidmatgar has a considerable following. “We want our callers to set an example where they are. Essentially, most of the questions asked indicate the callers have misunderstandings that can be resolved by simple interactions and participation between communities,” said Faisal.