The statement of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) that Muslim women across the country feel secure under the Sharia law and do not want Uniform Civil Code (UCC) professes to speak on behalf of 84 million Muslim women. I cannot speak for 84 million, but, as a believing and practising Muslim woman, I say with humility that they do not speak for me. Let me explain.
My study of Islam has been a lifelong quest, derived from reading and understanding of the Quran. Let me say at the beginning that I have been able to find all my answers in the Quranic injunctions pertaining to personal law. But what the AIMPLB has presented as personal law not only contradicts my understanding but flies in the face of the very spirit of Islam.
The Quran says that Allah is closer to you than your jugular vein. This is the degree of closeness to Allah that the Quran assigns to all Muslims. Unlike Christianity there is no organised church in Islam, no Pope, and no archbishop. Each Muslim is asked to understand Islam according to her own light. When I shine my light it says there is no religion in the world which is as gender sensitive as Islam, a religion which gave women property rights at a time when the customary practice was to bury the girl child at birth.
The highest attribute of Allah, the first two words of the Quran are Rahman and Rahim, Compassionate and Merciful. To legitimise instant triple talaq in such a religion which has given concrete rights to women (and not just deified them) is the greatest ill we can do to Islam. As a Muslim woman, I reject it.
This tragedy is compounded when the very group which says its mandate is to “protect” Islam becomes instrumental in demonising it. To take signatures at masjids from ignorant men and innocent women is deplorable. First they misrepresent Islam, and then they use their congregational powers to collect their votes.
That 84 million Muslim women are rallying behind AIMPLB is unacceptable to me from my personal experience. In 1998, I held 18 public hearings in as many states in my capacity as member of the National Commission for Women (NCW) and produced the report “Voice of the Voiceless: Status of Muslim Women in India”. Thousands of Muslim women spoke in one voice about the Damocles sword of triple talaq hanging over their heads and the resultant penury in which they are thrown when they are divorced by those three words.
In the report I recommended that the community through AIMPLB or any other Muslim organisation set its own house in order according to the tenets of the Quran before the state begins to intervene. Needless to say that the report was read neither by clerics nor by government.
The AIMPLB itself is a house divided. There are several schools within it which forbid one sitting talaq, such as Ahl-e-Hadith, Fiqah Jafariya, etc. Many individuals within are opposed; this opposition is more evident since the board’s anti-gender, in fact an anti-human affidavit was filed before the Supreme Court. One fact needs flagging: the AIMPLB is an NGO where members are appointed, not elected, though they represent many figahs and states. But an NGO, regardless.
In the past, the Ulema have spoken strongly for women. In 1936, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi wrote Hailatun Najiza Lil Ajiza, Successful Solutions for Oppressed Women. In 1997, the last chair of AIMPLB, Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, on page 171 of his book Conditions of Marriage quoted Caliph Umar who whipped the man who gave instant triple talaq to his wife. Let lights such as these shine so Islam’s original spirit imbues our actions.
Syeda Hameed is a social activist and former member of the Planning Commission
The views expressed are personal