Nikahnama?A model or a misnomer?
By R.B.L. Nigam
The controversy raised over the model nikahnama recently drafted by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) raises several questions on the need as well as credibility of this code. What cannot be ignored is that Muslim women are subject to many of the problems affecting the society at large, like wife abuse as well as the dowry problem. As dowry regulations drafted for the majority community are still known to be violated in most parts of the country, the suggestions made by AIMPLB cannot be expected to be instantly put into practice.
Secondly, the Bhopal declaration of AIMPLB has failed to ban the practice of the much-cursed triple talaq?a licence with which Muslim men can divorce their wives in a single sitting (and without seeking their wives? consent) by uttering the word talaq thrice. Those who wanted the AIMPLB, a body that has no legal status but wields considerable influence on questions of Muslim Personal Law (MPL), to come out unequivocally against the practice (triple talaq), have reasons to be thoroughly disappointed by the model nikahnama. The Board has shown great gumption to call the spade a spade.
It would be better if we understand the background of the Muslim Personal Law Board and the purpose for which it was formed. Is it representative of all Muslims and shades of opinion? It was formed in 1972 in Mumbai by some Ulema who gathered there in response to the campaign for a Uniform Civil Code.The fear was that as a result of this campaign, the Muslim Personal Law will be abolished and a Uniform Civil Code will come into existence. Thus, the most orthodox Ulemas, Deobandis, Barelvis, and Bohras, etc. came together to protect the Shariah.
Thus the basic task of the Board was to protect the MPL than to reform it or to change it in keeping with the demands of the time. With the spread of education and awareness among Muslim women, pressure began to be built up for necessary changes. It is important to note that more and more Muslim girls are opting for modern education, which in turn makes them aware of their rights and they have begun to campaign for the same.
Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, an eminent Islamic thinker and editor of the Milli Gazette is of the opinion that ?the nikahnama has no legal validity in practice, as any party?husband or wife?can violate it and breach what is written in it. This is the right time for the State to step in.?
In a true sense, the Bhopal declaration has sparked off a series of debates and expressions of anguish and thus provided gunpowder for the fusillades launched by many more Nawabs and Muskans?who dared to tear apart the model nikahnama on a public platform in Mumbai.
The Prince of Arcot, Nawab Muhammed Ali, a Muslim nobleman in south India has every reason to be disappointed by the Bhopal declaration. He feels that the model nikahnama would fail to bring out any reform since it was not enforceable in any court of law because AIMPLB has no statutory powers.
Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, an eminent Islamic thinker and editor of the Milli Gazette, is of the opinion that ?the nikahnama has no legal validity in practice, as any party?husband or wife?can violate it and breach what is written in it. This is the right time for the State to step in.?
A popular perception about Shariah is that it is outdated because prominent Islamic countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and Tunisia have amended it but the old-fashioned Indian clergy clings to it to maintain its hegemony. The reforms that take place in Islamic countries is a matter of envy because in a diversified society like India, the Muslim community is scattered?Kerala Muslims have nothing in common with their Kashmiri counterparts, except faith.
The women activists say that it is a deliberate attempt to destabilise the women'sposition in the community. ?This is dangerous for Muslim women. Our personal issues are being pushed into the ghetto.What country do we live in if we are speaking of a Shariah court, when after years of struggle we now have family courts to deal with these matters?? asks Ms Hasina Khan of Awaz-e-Niswan.
It is really unfortunate that the AIMPLB has failed the Indian Muslims once again by missing an opportunity to undo an un-Islamic practice, known as triple talaq. It has shown utter cowardice by not admitting that nowhere in the Quran is this kind of practice sanctioned. Describing the declaration as discriminatory, the All-India Democratic Women'sAssociation (AIDWA) has said that measures favouring women have been included ?only as a pious piece of advice?.
Several women activists have voiced objection to the AIMPLB for having not taken a clear stand against the ?retrograde practice? of divorce, by which the husband can divorce the wife by pronouncing talaq thrice in one sitting. In their opinion, AIMPLB'swordings of the sentence ?to avoid talaq in one sitting? or to ?avoid talaq without compulsion? are extremely vague and will not give any relief to the women victims of this practice. AIDWA too has, also, objected to the omission of khulla, the woman'sright to divorce.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])