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Islam vs modernity: Ban triple talaq, it’s a sin

Asghar Ali Engineer

Posted: Jun 17, 2004 at 1018 hrs IST

Recently, several cases of instant triple divorce have been reported. In Bihar, just because a woman did not vote for the candidate of her husband’s choosing in the Lok Sabha election, he pronounced triple divorce and threw her out. There are several cases of talaq that are as absurd as this one, if not more so. Many others go unreported. Then there is this curious case from Kerala: members of orthodox Sunni groups are threatening to agitate if women are allowed to pray on Friday in the mosque.

What do such developments convey to the world? Do women have secondary status in Islam? Is it a sin to pray in a mosque on Friday? What sort of Islam is this? For many Muslims, orthodox customs have become more important than Qur’anic injunctions. They do not know that Islam was the first religion in the world to empower women and give them equal legal status. Commenting on verse 2:228, Maulana Azad in his Tarjuman al-Qur’an, says that it is a revolutionary declaration of equality of the sexes made 1,300 years ago. But Muslim society, under the influence of a feudal ethos, never realised this revolutionary potential.

But time is running out on such regressive attitudes. Even in conservative Saudi society, there are stirrings of change. Last week, 70 Saudi Arabian scholars and intellectuals participated in a national dialogue in Madina to address the issue of women’s rights. Several women scholars read out papers at the conclave, aimed at creating an environment conducive for Saudi intellectuals to discuss the position of women in Saudi society.

In India, too, Muslim women have become more conscious of their Islamic rights and are demanding changes in personal law in keeping with Qur’anic teachings. Take the issue of talaq, which is regarded as a highly sensitive issue. The Holy Qur’an is very cautious in matters of divorce. Yet, despite clear Qur’anic injunctions to the contrary, we approve of triple divorce in one sitting and destroy marital life in one breath. How can such an act be Islamic? It is the source of the greatest injustice, especially for women.

There are four key words in the Qur’an: adl, ihsan, rahmah and hikmah (justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom). Triple talaq is against all these principles. It is not just, nor benevolent, nor compassionate, nor an act of wisdom.

In fact, the Qur’an does not permit triple divorce at all. Among other injunctions, the three talaqs have to be spaced out over a period of three months so that the couple gets enough time for reconciliation through the intervention of relatives and friends.

Some Muslim women have devised a standard nikahnama (marriage contract) strictly within the Shari’ah framework and handed it to the Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB) a couple of years ago. Since marriage in Islam is a contract, such a nikahnama is perfectly valid and was approved by a great scholar like Maulana Ashraf Thanavi. But the MPLB is hesitant to implement even this very modest reform that could give great relief to Muslim women.

All ’ulama agree that pronouncing triple talaq in one sitting is bid’ah (an innovation) and that bid’ah is a sin. Yet this sinful practice is enforced in the name of divine law. It’s time, then, to make every possible attempt to eradicate this sinful practice. The ’ulama, who are the guardians of Islamic law, should play a leading role in this process. I have talked with many of them, who privately agree that this form of divorce should be abolished but do not have courage to say so publicly.

Many men are Islamically illiterate and do not even realise that triple divorce is a sinful form of divorce. If the members of the MPLB do not have courage to abolish this form of divorce, they should at least have courage to launch an awareness movement on the issue and educate Muslim men on the need to desist from adopting this sinful form of divorce. As early as 1939, Maulana Ashraf Thanvi and others, took the bold step to draft the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, which gave great relief to the Muslim women of the day. Can the MPLB not show such wisdom and draft a comprehensive law codifying Muslim personal law on the lines of the 1939 Act? And even as the MPLB takes up this concern, can’t progressive and practicing Muslims also come forward and support this movement for reform?

If Maulana Ashraf Thanvi could take such a bold step over 60 years ago, why can’t our ’ulama in the 21st century do likewise? This will be not only in keeping with the true spirit of Islam but will also go a long way in improving the image of Islam in India. It is because of such un-Qur’anic practices that the image of Islam has suffered and the demand for a Uniform Civil Code periodically raised.

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