A study conducted by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), an NGO working for reforms in Muslim personal law, has confirmed what the Muslim clergy in India had been unsuccessfully denying so far. After talking to a large number of women across 10 states, it concluded that 92.1 per cent Muslim women in India were against the discriminatory practice of triple talaq and wanted it banned.
The majority of the women surveyed were economically and socially disadvantaged, over half had been married before the age of 18 and had faced domestic violence. Summing up the conclusions of the first-ever study of how Muslim women feel about deprivation of their human rights, co-author Noorjehan Safia Niaz said, “An overwhelming number of women demands reforms in Muslim personal law. They want an elaborate codified law based on the Quranic justice framework to cover matters such as age of marriage, divorce procedures, polygamy, maintenance and custody of children.’’
The BMMA plans to take the issue up with the government, Law Commission and the National Commission for Women (NCW). The demand is not new. Since it was set up in 2007, the BMMA has been campaigning for a ban on triple talaq, calling it a travesty of divorce as envisaged in the Qur’an, where the word has to be pronounced on three separate occasions spread over three months and must be accompanied by efforts at reconciliation.
Unfortunately, every time a demand for reforms in Muslim personal law, particularly discrimination against women, is raised, it runs into the same stonewall. Muslim religious leaders say the rules governing women are sanctioned by scripture and, therefore, cannot be altered. Most political parties are also unwilling to step up in defence of Muslim women due to vote bank politics.
A committee on the status of women, set up by the UPA government in 2013, has recommended a ban on ‘oral, unilateral and triple talaq (divorce)’ that allows Muslim men to divorce their wives over phone, on social networking sites, and even over text messages.
The 14-member committee—the biggest yet to be set up to study the condition of women—submitted its report last week to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The ministry is now expected to discuss the recommendations and decide whether or not to accept them.
Unfortunately, the law of divorce is one of the most misunderstood and debated tenets of Islam. The word talaq in Arabic literally means ‘I divorce you’. The Quran, in surah Talaq, clearly mandates the presence of two witnesses at the time of divorce. But then, the Sunni law also allows instant triple talaq, which is not allowed under the Shia law.
Despite the clarity of the Quran and Prophetic teachings on the issue, the concept of divorce has been completely misunderstood by the Indian clergy. According to the prevailing understanding of ‘shariah’ in India, talaq has been broadly categorised into talaq al sunnah and talaq al bid’ah. The first form refers to divorce pronounced in accordance with the Quranic procedure as explained by the Prophet, while the second alludes to a sinful innovation (bid’ah) supposedly introduced by the second Caliph, Umar. What is astonishing is that the Sunni jurists consider talaq al bid’ah a grave sin and yet legalise it. No theological explanation is offered as to how a sinful act can become legally valid.
The triple pronouncement of talaq in one sitting has been banned by law in many nations, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and arbitration councils and judicial interventions were introduced to promote reconciliation. In India, however, the Muslim personal law still permits it.
The patriarchal influences in keeping this practice alive cannot be ignored and in this day and age of women’s lib, it’s about time such practices were dumped as they have been elsewhere. Even in Pakistan, which is an Islamic nation, unilateral triple talaq is not practiced. Then why should we retain it?
Javed is an independent journalist and media consultant