The Centre is contemplating its position to a Supreme Court reference on a raft of petitions challenging the practice of arbitrary triple talaq, a matter which has become an albatross around the neck of a religion that 1,500 years ago gave dignity and status to women.
I recently wrote an article on the Haji Ali judgment as a wake-up call for urgent reform within Islam. I argued that since women were welcomed by the Prophet himself into the Masjid-e-Nabawi in Medina, what right do we, with our imperfect knowledge, have to stop their entry in any religious place and thereby violate Sunnah of the Prophet himself?
Sixteen years ago, I presented the same argument about rights of women in Islam in a report I wrote as a member of the National Commission for Women. I had written it after a meeting with the chairman of Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB), Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, in 1998.
I have presented the report to Muslim organisations, commissions and successive governments over 16 years as a roadmap for reforms based on injunctions of Islam and oral testimonies of thousands of Muslim women from across the country at public hearings.
The looming tragedy before us Muslims is the stance taken in this matter by MPLB. They aver that arbitrary triple talaq, along with polygamy, is a buniyadi (basic) tenet of Islam. This argument reflects neither the spirit nor the intent of Islam. I have spent 20 years explicating the Quranic text to prove my point.
Let it be understood for once and for all and I repeat, the question of arbitrary talaq is a settled law of the land. In 2002, the Supreme Court in the case Shamim Ara totally banned arbitrary triple talaq, allowing it only after consent of the wife and second party arbitration, exactly as enjoined in the Quran. After this judgment, several high courts in the country followed suit. There was no need for Shayara Bano to go to the Supreme Court with a case that was already settled law.
In January 2016, the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the “misery” of Muslim women, while examining the Hindu Succession Act. Shayara Bano’s case was tagged along with it and a matter, which had been settled as far back as 2002, was once again raked up.
But what has the MPLB done? It has submitted an affidavit, which brings extraneous matters into play and opens a host of issues, which have no bearing on the case. It may result in opening up matters we don’t want to touch. Its contents are neither in accordance with Quranic injunctions nor do they respect the dignity of Muslim men and women; for example, their arguments in favour of TT are violative of my self-respect.
The stance they have taken proves that they don’t speak for a majority of Muslim men and women who they profess to represent. I would add that they don’t even represent some of the most well-reasoned voices one hears from within the board itself.
In a world where gender justice is steadily gaining ground, Islam should have been leading from the front given that an entire Surah of the Quran is devoted to gender rights. We Muslims want that perspective to be propagated.
(Syeda Saiyidain Hameed is a social and women’s rights activist, educationist, writer and a former member of the Planning Commission of India. The views expressed are personal.)