While a heated debate on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has gained momentum in the national media, the Law Commission of India has sought public views in its recently issued questionnaire on triple talaq. The objective of this questionnaire, as the Law Commission claims, is to engage all the concerned with the 'comprehensive exercise of the revision and reform of family laws'. The law commission also states that the questionnaire is aimed at addressing 'social injustice' rather than striking the 'plurality of laws'.
The questionnaire, in its initial paragraph, states: "The objective behind the endeavour is to address discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise the various cultural practices" and that the "norms of no one class, group or community will dominate the tone and tenor of family law reforms".
Along with various controversial religious laws and customary practices, the triple talaq in this questionnaire is most pertinent to Indian Muslims — both males and females. The question is: whether triple talaq should be abolished altogether, retained only in customs without legal sanctity, or retained with suitable amendments.
Regardless of the question whether the personal laws need an overhaul or codification, or should the practice of triple talaq be abolished or rethought, the All India Muslim Law Board (AIMPLB) has outright rejected the complete questionnaire. It does not even allow the common Muslims to think over the basic question whether a uniform civil code should be made compulsory or optional.
The AIMPLB, which has been dominated by the males, has directed its women wing also not to engage with the Law Commission’s questionnaire. Instead, it has issued its own pro forma strictly conforming to its norms and doctrines, which is being widely distributed in mosques and religious gatherings. Ironically, there are two separate forms for both men and women. They are being asked to sign and submit the forms which unconditionally endorse the AIMPLB and its obstinate stands. Thus, the AIMPLB is trying to prevent the Muslim community from helping the Law Commission in its democratic procedure of the enactment of the law. At the same time, it is also hampering the Muslim minds from engaging in creating a reconsideration or debate on the pertinent issues.
Recently in a mosque at Haji Colony in Okhla, I came across the same pro forma of the AIMPLB meant for the Muslim males. It tends to be perfunctorily signed by the Muslim men as a formality to prevent them from rethinking their stand on the controversial issue. Slamming the 16 questions mentioned in the Law Commission’s questionnaire, the AIMPLB has predetermined three proclamations in particular:
– We, the signatories, do hereby declare that we are fully satisfied with the commands of Islamic shariah particularly Nikha inheritance, Divorce, Khula and Faskh (dissolution of Marriage)
– We deny that these need any reform or there is any scope for change in them.
– We fully support All India Muslim Personal Law Board and firmly stand with it in its endeavours to protect the Sharia Law.
One wonders why the AIMPLB has castigated the Law Commission when it has sought the opinion from the entire socio-religious spectrum on the "revision and reform of family laws". Isn’t it the democratic process meant to seek the pulse of the mainstream Muslims on the personal laws?
Clearly, it is a political ploy of the AIMPLB to maintain its monopoly over the Muslim affairs in India. Regrettably, it has shrewdly grabbed the support of the two diametrically-opposed Muslim sects – the Barelvis and the Ahl-e-Hadisis or Salafi sect – of Muslims in India. It should be noted that Salafis have nothing to do with the issue of triple talaq, as the matter relates to the Hanafi jurisprudence (Fiqh-e-Hanafi), one of the four schools of law in Islam.
Hanafi jurisprudence has the largest number of followers among Sunni Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. However, while the Barelvis and Deobandis — the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims — follow the Hanafi jurisprudence, Salafis adhere to none of the Islamic schools of law. Therefore, they basically don’t practice the triple talaq. But surprisingly enough, even the Salafis are lashing out at the law commission's question whether the triple talaq should be abolished or retained. Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi, the leader of the Indian Salafis, in a rare interview, told The Indian Express: "We oppose the idea of triple talaq. This is not in keeping with the Quran and hadees (practice/sayings connected with the Prophet)." But at the same time, very interestingly, Maulana Asghar Ali is also seen in the forefront in the agitation boycotting the Law Commission’s questionnaire. He states that "the Centre and the courts should not interfere in personal matters of religion."
Thus, in an organised way, the commission’s questionnaire is painted as an infringement on personal laws and rights of the Muslim minority. According to the website officially run by the Jamat-e-Islami Hind, indiatomorrow.net, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board along with all prominent Muslim organisations like Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Muslim Majlise- Mushawarat, Milli Council, Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees along with other schools of thought like Deoband, Barelvi, Ahle Hadith reject the questionnaire prepared by the Law Commission.
Perhaps, the apex body of Sufi Muslims in India, All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) is the only outfit of the Sunni Muslims which has taken the questionnaire in a good spirit. Speaking to Firstpost, the founder-president of AIUMB, Maulana Syed Muhammad Ashraf Kichchawchchvi expressed an entirely different opinion on the questionnaire. He said,
The AIUMB did not reject the law commission’s questionnaire, but rather, it has got it translated into Urdu and Hindi for its wider distribution among the Sufi Muslims attached to various wings of the board across the country
Remarkably, Kichchawchchvi opines that the calls for the ban on the uniform civil code are pointless because the UCC is already well-established in the multifaith and multicultural Indian society except for a few customary practices like marriage, divorce, and inheritance. However, he averred that the AIUMB will put up to the government the consensus of the mainstream Indian Muslims adhering to the Hanafi jurisprudence. In this backdrop, the AIUMB is planning a national seminar on triple talaq which will gather the leading muftis and experts on Islamic law and Hanafi jurisprudence.
It will be quite interesting to know the forthcoming consensus of the Indian ulema and muftis on the triple talaq, which is basically an issue raised by the Muslim women in India, rather than the government. It will also be an opportune time to debate many other personal laws and customary practices like Halala which are prone to misuse. At this juncture, the Indian ulema should also consult with the progressive Islamic scholars in Muslim countries, including Pakistan, which has rethought the complete concept of triple talaq.
Needless to say, any attempt to imitate what the AIMPLB is doing in its agitation against triple talaq does not augur well.
The author is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. Views are personal. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org