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Clamour for reform grows as Muslim panel meets in Jalgaon
Saturday May 31, 2014 7:02 PM, Aleem Faizee

As the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) prepares to sit for a 2-day national convention beginning Saturday evening, activists especially those working for Muslim women, expressed hope that the high-level panel will realise its duties vis-à-vis the fast changing world scenario at least now and will seriously consider reviving and correcting its position on the contentious issues especially those relating to women.

Muslim woman

"The chorus for reform in the Muslim personal law and a revision as per the changing situation have never been so loud. Let us hope that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in its national convention takes a serious note of the popular demand", said Zakia Suman, Founder President of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA).

The board was established in 1973 to adopt suitable strategies for the protection and continued applicability of Muslim Personal Law in India, most importantly, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariah) Application Act of 1937.

The board however is facing criticism since last few years by prominent jurists, scholars and activists especially due to its controversial stand on marriage and divorce – many even accusing a section in the board of "misinterpreting the Islamic laws to the disadvantage of women" and demanding codification of the Muslim Personal Law and an immediate ban on the malpractice of divorce by triple utterance of the word 'Talaaq'.

"What we all wish to ask is that when Islamic personal laws have been codified in most of the Islamic nations, including Malaysia, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Bangladesh and even Pakistan, then what is the problem in doing so in India?", Zakia asked.

"The procedure of divorce which is prevalent in India and which unfortunately also has the backing of the Muslim law board, is totally un-Islamic and against the procedure as mentioned very clearly in the Quran", she said.

"The procedure of 'Talaq' extends over a period, and saying the word three times does not make the marriage void. There is a time gap of months between three steps of 'Talaq'. It includes counselling and reconciliation by family, and all interventions to avoid breaking of the marriage," Zakia explained.

Making a strong appeal for amendment in the Muslim Personal Law as interpreted in India, Justice V Khalid, renowned Supreme Court judge and veteran jurist, in one of his judgements observed, "Should Muslim wives suffer this tyranny for all times? Should their personal law remain so cruel towards these unfortunate wives? Can it not be amended suitably to alleviate their sufferings? My judicial conscience is disturbed at this monstrosity. The question is whether the conscience of the leaders of public opinion of the community will also be disturbed."

Dr. Mehmoodur Rehman Committee, formed by the Maharashtra govt to look into the educational, social and economic backwardness of Muslims in the state, in its report submitted to the govt in October 2013 too expressed anguish over the prevailing method of divorce terming it one of the key reasons behind the sufferings of the Muslim women in the state.

The board however rejects these concerns and sticks to its stand. It has even challenged court judgements that went against its stated position and also sought amendment through legislation from the erstwhile UPA government.

"We totally reject the recommendations made in Dr Mehmoodur Rehman Committee report and the concerns raised by women activists. These are few modern women not aware of the teachings of Islam and do not represent the majority", said Abdur Raheem Qureshi, Asst Gen Secretary of the Muslim panel.

He also said that the codified Muslim Personal Law as practiced in many Islamic countries is in no way an example or precedent for the board.

"In some of the Islamic countries where the law was changed, the rulers were under the influence of socialist movement and communist lobbies. They cannot be a model for us", he said.

Beyond opposition and criticism
Criticising and opposing the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) for about ten years when Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMAA) did not get any response, it started preparing own codified law based on the principles of Islam, which will be soon sent to the govt. Simultaneously, BMAA also runs "Sharia Court" at three different places in the country where disputes between married couples and cases of divorce are sorted out. BMAA also plans to send its volunteers to Muslim seminaries for Islamic studies.

Board not opposed if mosques are opened for women
Though opposed to giving rights to Muslim women as defined in the Quran, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), in a welcome change from its earlier stand, said it is not opposed if the doors of mosques are opened for women.

"The board is not against if mosques are opened for Muslim women for offering prayers. But, it is the duty of the trustees of the mosque to make provision for them", Abdur Raheem Qureshi, Asst Gen Secretary of the Muslim panel.

In many Muslim and non-Muslim countries and the entire Arab world, women are allowed entry into the mosques. However, except for the few mosques belonging to Shias, Ahl-e-Hadees and Shafees, India which has predominantly Deobandi and Barelvi Muslims has still not opened doors of mosques for women. [A version of this report is published in today's Times of India]

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