An influential Muslim body said on Thursday the central government was creating an “internal war” by trying to scrap Islamic personal laws, reigniting the debate around one of India’s most contentious issues.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said it will boycott a questionnaire circulated by the Union law commission that asked for public opinion on a uniform civil code (UCC) and said India’s plurality of cultures had to be respected.
“All communities have different customs and traditions. Our Constitution accepts that. It’s a dangerous idea to treat them with a single yardstick. We oppose this,” Maulana Wali Rehmani, a Muslim leader said.
The AIMPLB is the de-facto guardian Muslim personal laws that give legal sanctions to a bunch of shariah-compliant customs governing marriage, property and divorce.
The key issues here are marriage and divorce norms. Under personal laws, such as the Shariat Act, a Muslim man can divorce his wife by uttering the Urdu word for divorce -- talaq – three times. The same laws also allow polygamy among Muslims. These emanate from the shariah, the Islamic legal code that varies widely from community to community.
India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion and demand for overhauling these codes date back decades. While Hindu law reform began in the 1950s and continues, activists have long argued that Muslim personal law remained mostly unchanged.
In the eyes of detractors, the triple talaq represents the worst excesses of an archaic system tilted against women but successive governments have backed away from initiating sweeping changes for fear of upsetting crucial vote banks.
In recent years, many women have approached the judiciary and the Supreme Court is hearing three petitions against the triple talaq – the trigger for the current controversy.
Last week, the Modi government told the Supreme Court that these practices were undesirable and India’s law Commission, based on a reference, sought public comments on this.
The board said the Constitution guaranteed them the right to religion and the issue of UCC was a question for every community with diverse practices, not just Muslims.
“The UCC is not good for this nation. There’re so many cultures, they have to be respected.”
Rehmani, the general secretary of the board, alleged that board was working on behalf of the government.
“Muslims have scarified their lives for the freedom of the country and they were leaving peacefully by following their traditions. The Modi government is trying to sow the seeds of an internal war and hatred,” said Arshad Madni, who heads the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind.
The debate around Islamic personal laws is likely to have an impact in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls where the community comprises more than a fifth of the population. Critics say the BJP – which isn’t expected to gain Muslim support – is using the UCC issue to drive a wedge and gain electoral benefit.
Rehmani said his organization would “legally” and “democratically” fight any attempt to have a uniform civil code, or a set of uniform civil laws.
In its affidavit before the Supreme Court, the government stated that polygamy was “progressive and path-breaking” when Islam introduced it, but it was undesirable now, when ideas of gender justice had evolved.