The Board Of No Shame!
Read on for the atrocious continuance of Triple Talaq, and the All India
Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB); described in the byline of the first
item as "The Board Of No Shame!" and in the endline of the second item as "a
self-appointed authority, [which] stands irretrievably discredited" - Lynette
OUTLOOK INDIA Web | May 04, 2005
The Board Of No Shame!
It is time to take the matter to the state and argue for some form of state
protection which would be equally applicable to all women in vulnerable
positions, irrespective of religious affiliations.
The All India Muslim Personal law Board’s ‘chintan baithak’ at Bhopal has
failed to ban the reprehensible Muslim tradition of ‘triple talaq’ (divorce
given in one sitting) as contrary to Islamic principles. Demanded by various
women’s organization, the abrogation of triple talaq was to form part of the
‘model nikahnama’ prepared by the AIMPLB. The ‘Bhopal Declaration’, as it
has come to be known, falls woefully short of such demands.
In trying to attenuate the affects of the Muslim demand for abrogation of
‘triple talaq’, the Board mildly condemns it as not desirable. Now there is
a near universal consensus that such a form of divorce is indeed not
desirable. Some commentators have even termed the clause as un-Islamic and
therefore it should have no place within Islamic sharia. What was expected
of the Board was to take the criticism of the various sections of the
Muslims and promulgate a model which would be forward looking. In its
present shape the adopted ‘model’ nikahnama is actually out of tune of the
wishes of large number of Indian Muslims.
It would be naïve to believe that the members of the Board are blissfully
unaware of the changes occurring within the Indian Muslim society. However,
such changes are mostly confined to the aware and largely urban metropolitan
Muslims which are perhaps not the target audience of the Board. Consisting,
as it does, largely of religious scholars trained in traditional seminaries,
the custodians of the Board respond largely to those Muslims who are
primarily living in rural areas or the small qasbas. Changes in this sector
are quite slow and halting, old stereotypes about women still hold sway and
the ulama are still considered the custodians of Islam.
It is against this backdrop that the Board’s recent position on triple talaq
should be understood. Through the model nikahnama, they are appealing to
these sections of primarily non-urban semi literate male Muslims, who are
their clientele. Social change in the urban sector has, in a sense, led to a
gradual contestation of the authority of the ulama, in the sense that their
understanding of Islam is no longer considered the only valid one. Muslims
in urban areas are therefore much better placed, through access to religious
books and other means, to not only challenge the authority of the ulama but
also to have their version of personal Islam.
So much so that the demand for the abrogation of the ‘triple talaq’ has
largely been the work of Muslims living in urban areas. In arguing against a
ban on triple talaq, the Board in this sense emerges as a fortress of
traditionalism as opposed to the reformist demands of the sections of Indian
Muslims. Clearly then, putting pressure on the Board to reform is of no
help, since, in this case, it has given an unambiguous judgment that, if
anything, is anti-reform.
However, it cannot be denied, that the Board still has much moral capital,
which it can use to bring about reform in key sectors like the position of
women among Indian Muslims. The ulama are perhaps the most well-networked
class of people with immense capital to mobilize and mould public opinion.
The Shah Bano agitation serves as an obvious example. If they want, they
can, through the widespread network of mosques and madrasas, percolate their
message and create a favorable opinion against the practice of ‘triple
talaq’ and other such evils.
Yet the model nikahnama clearly tells us that they are not interested in
doing so. Rather, it is much more interested in reinstating the authority of
traditional structures of power based on sex and age.
An obvious example of the way in which this is sought to be done can be seen
in the clause of the model nakahnama which clearly stipulates that without
the presence of ‘guardians’, the nikah will not be valid. Now Islam gives
freedom to adult Muslims to choose their own spouses. This is valid both for
adult men as well as women. This argument has come in handy to many Muslims
who married out of their volition, because they liked someone, or for some
This is a clause which has made them marry the partner of their own choice
without feeling guilty about losing their religion or the validity of their
marriage. If current trends are any marker, then such marriages are only
going to increase in the future. The clause of having a guardian to validate
the marriage will be used with impunity against those young Muslims who want
to marry out of personal choice rather than being dictated by the norms of
the family and caste. In seeking to arrest such changes, therefore, the
Board has shown, once again, its reactionary ideology and its desire to
It is increasingly becoming clear that appeals to such bodies of power as
the Board are bound to be defeated time and again. The women’s groups
demanding the Board to see the plight of Muslim women would do much better
to highlight this plight in front of the state and argue for some form of
state protection which would be equally applicable to all women in
vulnerable positions, irrespective of religious affiliations.
Arshad Alam is International Ford Fellow, Department of Muslim Religious and
Cultural History, University of Erfurt, Germany.
The Hindu -- Thursday May 5 2005
Three words still mean divorce
Yet again, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has failed to
muster the courage to call for the abolition of triple talaq — the
reactionary custom that gives Muslim men the licence to divorce their wives
instantaneously and without their consent, by uttering the word `talaq'
three times. Those who wanted the AIMPLB, a body that has no legal status
but wields considerable influence on questions of Muslim personal law, to
come out unequivocally against the practice have reasons to be thoroughly
disappointed by the model nikahnama (marriage contract) the Board unveiled
last Sunday. The document is a set of voluntary guidelines for Muslim
couples wishing to enter into a marriage contract; the `reform' element in
it is the suggestion that men must not resort to triple talaq
(talaq-e-bidah) in one sitting unless it became inevitable. In other words,
the AIMPLB is not willing to resile from the appallingly unjust position
that triple talaq is a male entitlement. Over the last few years,
reform-minded members of the AIMPLB and progressive women's organisations
(Muslim and non-Muslim) have lobbied for the modernisation of some aspects
of Muslim personal law. On the face of it, triple talaq is an easy candidate
for such reform. It is not recognised by the Koran, is not practised by
Shias, and is banned either expressly or by implication in a large number of
Islamic countries, notably Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, and
Tunisia. It is deplorable that the AIMPLB, which has declared itself in
favour of less discriminatory forms of divorce prescribed under Muslim
personal law, will not recommend the rooting out of triple talaq.
The model nikahnama, a kind of uniform marriage code prescribed for the
Muslim community, is deafeningly silent on issues such as polygamy and the
minimum marriage age for Muslim women. It does have some progressive
features. It calls for the preparation of written records of all marriages
and for copies of the contract to be handed over to both bride and groom (a
measure that will inhibit disputes over matters of fact). It makes it
mandatory for parents or guardians of couples to be present during the
marriage (a check on the phenomenon of forced marriages). It gives Muslim
couples the option of signing a document that agrees to submit divorce
proceedings to arbitration in the event of a decision to separate (although
arbitration by a cleric tends to put women at a built-in disadvantage). In
the overall context, the changes recommended are distressingly inadequate.
Discriminatory and backward-looking marriage laws adversely affect the
socio-economic well being of the women concerned but the harmful effects are
not confined to women. Forward-looking organisations of Muslim women such as
Awaz-e-Niswan are absolutely right in denouncing the AIMPLB document as
"ridiculous... [as well as] dangerous" and as pushing "our personal issues
into the ghetto." The Board, a self-appointed authority, stands