By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
07 September 2016
The recent submission of the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) before the Supreme Court pleading the necessity of continuing with the practice of triple Talaq has brought shame on the entire Indian Muslim community. In the absence of a singular religious authority within Islam, it has always been difficult to stop any organization from expressing their views on Islam.
While for some, this might be laudable as an example of internal democracy and diversity of views within Muslim society, the problem is much more complex. AIMPLB is free to give its opinion of matters Islamic and otherwise. The trouble is that this organization considers and parades itself as the representative voice of all Indian Muslims. In fact, nothing can be further from truth.
Due to AIMPLB’s Deobandi leanings, the Shias and the Barelwis now have their own personal law boards. And because of the entrenched misogyny of the AIMPLB, Muslim women are now represented by another board. This largely self-appointed leaders whose knowledge of Islam is deeply suspect, have taken upon themselves to defend the Muslim community from the onslaught of the state. In the process, they have ended up doing irreparable damage to the Muslim community. All those who actually think that AIMPLB is the representative body of Indian Muslims must be thinking Islam is a mediaeval misogynist religion and that Muslims are the most regressive community in the country.
The arguments of the AIMPLB are simply ridiculous. Despite arguing that instant divorce is a practice which is antithetical to the spirit of Islam, the AIMPLB wants to retain it simply because it has been practiced for so many centuries. This logic goes to the heart of the problem. Any institutional practice if not evolving over time leads to ossification. This applies as much to the religion of Islam as to its custodians like the AIMPLB. Their defence of polygamy and their problematic views of men’s superiority over women goes on to show their deep seated conservative opinions regarding gender equality.
As a religion, Islam got established within a particular socio-cultural and historical context. To argue that Islam remains fixed and frozen within that time is an argument against history. After all Islam brought many new things in its wake and most importantly it brought new ways of thinking.
A religion which rightly gets credited to establish women’s property rights for the first time today has to face the criticism of being a religion which is anti-women. Things have come to such a pass because of the entrenched intransience of the self-appointed custodians of this religion to change with the times.
We know that any religion changes because of the effective protest of its followers. We needed a Prophet to make Islam happen and we needed Luther to critique the Church and establish Protestantism.
Islam needs its followers to change it in such a way that it becomes aligned with the demands of modernity while at the same time retaining its core message. Such an effort is hardly forthcoming. And the presence of institutions like AIMLPB only means that such an effort will actively be discouraged. Bodies such as these do not exist to make Islam acceptable to the larger masses but in fact their presence is to ensure that Islam gets a bad name.
As expected the Muslim religious and political leadership has been silent on the issue. All possible indications are that they share the same view with regard to reforming personal law as is being held by the AIMPLB. Indian Muslims have been making all kinds of demands from the state. But when it comes to engaging with the state which entails a possibility of willingness to change, then the Indian state is accused of being majoritarian and hell bent on imposing a Hindutva agenda.
The Muslims must realise that they cannot have it both ways. The nation state imposes certain categories which evolve over a period of time since the state has to represent the demands of contemporary modernity. To hide behind the logic of so called divinity of personal laws is not just counter-productive but also means that Muslims as a whole are unwilling to change. That the nation state is good when it listens and pampers to its conservatism but instantly becomes bad when it tries to reason with Muslim community on the acceptance of demands of modernity.
This has been a result of distinct brand of politics, particularly of the secular variety which has been pandering to the whims and fancies of the Muslim clergy. It is not altogether the fault of Muslims if they have started thinking that secularism in this country means the acceptance of all of their third rate medieval perspective.
It is heartening to note that despite such a reactionary stance taken by the AIMPLB, there is a growing of both this institution as well as the manner in which Islam is practiced today. Social media is abuzz with Muslim students criticising the advocacy of AIMPLB to retain practices like triple Talaq and polygamy. It seems that young Muslim minds are already thinking of making these institutions redundant which is not only good for Indian Muslims but also for Islam as a whole.
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist.