Personal laws cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to individuals by the Constitution
Firoz Bakht Ahmed
The cat of the Muslim Personal Law Board is once again out of the bag on triple talaq and a supposed phobia of Uniform Civil Code! They dictate terms and espouse views on issues that extend from the public domain of Indian Muslims to the privacy of their bedroom. They are wise and venerable men but their physical appearance on television and in newspapers just confirms the unjust prejudices against the majority community. Stoke a controversy involving Indian Muslims and the usual suspects start emerging from the murky and infested woodwork of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
They have jumped to the conclusion that the Government is out to steal Muslims of their personal Sharia rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Besides, with their half-baked
information and unfounded fears and lies, they are leaving no stone unturned in misguiding the community. They have closed their eyes to the fact that 92.2 per cent Muslim women are against the dreaded and un-Islamic triple talaq in one sitting. The Law Commission has taken the right action and has not
specially targeted Muslims but has also asked from all other religions with the sole intention of the uplift of the lot of the suppressed and the depressed — especially the women folk.
The AIMPLB is the vanguard of the battle ranks to ensure that women of the community continue to suffer bias, are deprived of the protection they should get through provisions in the Constitution that provides for equality and non-discrimination, and remain at the mercy of the patriarchal set-up manned by sundry clerics with their own crumpled interpretation of the holy Quran.
These self-appointed custodians of the Indian Muslims, who just wait for an opportunity to lock the horns with the government and cry hoarse, have been blessed by the present triple talaq controversy to make their otherwise diminished presence felt. Triple talaq and Uniform Civil code are two
separate issues. Personal laws cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to individuals by the Constitution.
Without the Uniform Civil Code draft even being complete, they have jumped to the conclusion that the Government is out to steal Muslims of their personal Sharia rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India. All that AIMPLB has managed, is tarnishing the image of Indian Muslims. Most
negative statements the media quotes on behalf of the board, are taken to as
trusted by the community. Truth is that an average Muslim is not governed by them and what the board says is a non issue for him. By the way all such Personal Laws have made India a
Reality is that Muslims need no law boards, rather the issues of Muslim educational, economic and social backwardness are to be
immediately addressed. Time has come that all such wheelers and dealers must be sidelined and the community itself shoulders the burden of coming into the mainstream. The board is a tower of Babel whose members are incapable of taking a unanimous
decision besides being dedicated to
filling their coffers with booty.
The AIMPLB formed in 1972, is a motley collection of some 201
members including clerics and some
professionals of which 101 are
permanent while the rest are on a three-year term. It is felt that the community has to change with the times but most of the board members represent the more orthodox male opinion. They don’t have a progressive viewpoint.
However, all is not well with the Muslim personal law as it is practised in India today. Though considered sinful, the triple divorce is legally enforceable in the Sunni Hanafi law. It is not
mentioned in the holy Quran and is a blasphemous. Since vast majority of Muslims in India follow Sunni Hanafi law, many Muslim women become
victim of this innovated form of divorce and hence they are now taking the help of the Apex Court. To Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), divorce was the most repugnant. Hazrat Umar, a
follower of Prophet Muhammad used to punish thosewho divorced their wives with lashes.
A common Muslim has always objected to the AIMPLB’s plea of
representing the community. What’s still more shocking is the manner in which the media people take each and every word of the Muslim board as gospel
giving them larger than life importance than their actually extremely dwarfed and iniquitous impression on the Muslim community. “What authority do the board members have to speak for us?” ask Indian Muslims.
Indian Muslims face multiple
problems, possibly more than any other prominent religious group in our secular sovereign. Some of the baggage they carry is owing to the angle at which the majority community views them which, in fact, is negative, inaccurate,
retrogressive, made of half truths,
propaganda, outright lies and sometime trumpt up charges. The other baggage
is a result of their own inaction giving rise to lip-serving and opportunistic
interlocutors in the form of their
manipulative, so called leaders.
For a start, most Hindus make up their mind about Muslims on the basis of the Muslim faces they see and the Muslim voices they hear in the media which invariably are 80-90-years old men insisting on the status quo. These men (women not seen!) seem to come from anti-diluvian times. They are a set of disgruntled, disorganised and divided individuals. Consider the convulsions over issues like triple talaq, family
planning, nikahnama, polygamy, Babri Masjid etc.
If the law board members are told of the reforms in the talaq, polygamy or family planning even in countries like Pakistan (Family Law Ordinance), Iran or Indonesia, they denounce saying that they don’t follow these countries. Religious but moderate people in the community believe that the community has to address issues like birth control in its own interest. The AIMPLB should hold a referendum on such important issues. Broadly, the board members are incapable of saying anything that is
less than fundamentalist, orthodox,
damaging and inflaming.
But the tragedy is that in the din of chaotic pandemonium, the voice of
sanity is lost and the media pays no heed to it. Fact is that for those Muslims who choose to embrace modernity, the
AIMPLB is an anachronism. What’s still more shocking is that by projecting the entire community as obscurantist, the board even harms the cause of the faithful whom it claims to serve.
Fact is that time and again the Indian Muslims have been cajoled on matters and terms regarding the triple talaq, appeasement, family planning, polygamy, jehad, kafir, jazia,
conversion, personal law board etc. As the inhabitants of the land, their joys and sorrows are no different from their Hindu brethren. But what is lamented is that the media has been after Muslims and Islam portraying them as irrational.
Media, at times, is responsible for
distorting Muslims and Islam. The plight of the average Indian Muslims stems
primarily from their myths and
misconceptions that the majority
community nurtures about them. If not more, we are as adjusting as the other communities.
Without studying the Uniform Civil Code properly, no serious effort will be possible to begin an ambitious national project of reconstruction of religious thought in Islam by Indian Muslims. Perhaps this can be done by dedicating ourselves with greater vigour to realising Iqbal’s dream of a renaissance in Islamic culture. And the first step must be taken by the Indian Muslims themselves sans any personal law boards.
(The writer is a commentator on social issues, the grand nephew of Maulana Azad and the views expressed are his personal)