In your book, Introduction to Muslim Law, you have written, ‘In India Muslim law is applied as a part of the country’s civil law, and not as part of the Muslim religion. It does not enjoy any special status so as to be protected by the religious-liberty provisions of the Indian Constitution.’ Are you saying Muslim Law is subject to changes?
Muslim Law, as also Hindu Law, Christian Law and Parsi Law have been chapters of Indian Family Law. They continue to be applied even now, subject to changes, amendments, alterations, deletions and abolitions made by the competent authority, that is, Parliament and the Supreme Court. There is absolutely nothing, not even a word, in the Indian Constitution protecting the personal law of any community, nor exempting it from the jurisdiction of Parliament or state Assemblies or any higher courts.
More than 90 percent of Muslim women surveyed in India want the “triple talaq” divorce ritual and polygamy banned from family civil law in the country, a study by a women’s rights organization said on Friday.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) said its survey also showed that three quarters of interviewees wanted a ban on child marriage, indicating a need for reforms in the Muslim personal law which governs family-related issues in India.
Activists say the current law discriminates against women and are calling for a well-defined Muslim law that criminalizes polygamy, unilateral divorce, child custody and child marriage.
“It (the survey) suggests that Muslim women are aware of their legal rights and are determined to attain justice in family matters. An overwhelming number of women demand reforms in Muslim personal law as is prevalent in India today,” said a statement from the BMMA.
“They want an elaborate codified law based on the Koranic justice framework to cover matters such as age of marriage, divorce procedures, polygamy, maintenance and custody of children.”
Muslims are India’s largest religious minority, making up more than 13 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population, yet government data shows they are among some of the most excluded and marginalized communities.
These people say they are not competent to understand the Quran. They say they are bound by the interpretation of the Quran by this or that Imam who lived in the first 100 years of Islam’s advent. Just as the Constitution is what the Supreme Court of India says it is, the Quran is what Imam Abu Hanifa (699-767 CE) or Imam Shaefi (767-820 CE) said it was. It doesn’t matter to them that the Quran at the outset asks the reader to go deep into its meanings and decide it for himself. Nor does it matter to them that the revered Imams cautioned people against following them blindly. Read the Quran and decide for yourself, they said. Unfortunately, we in India are going in the contrary direction.
For example, the literacy rate for Muslim women is just 50 percent compared to nearly 68 percent for Muslim men, and below the national average for women of 53 percent, said the report.
Only one in 100 Muslim women are graduates, while an average of 37 percent of Indian women overall have had a tertiary education, it added.
The BMMA said that while there was an urgent need to improve Muslim women’s access to healthcare, education and employment, it was also essential to address their “legal marginalization”.
The study, which surveyed 4,710 Muslim married women across 10 Indian states, found nearly 92 percent of respondents said a Muslim man should not be allowed to have another wife during the first marriage.
It also found that more than 88 percent of women interviewed wanted the legal divorce method to be the “talaq-e-ahsan” method — a practice spread over a period of 90 days and involving negotiation.
Many women surveyed had experienced triple talaq, under which a Muslim man can repeat the word “talaq” three times to divorce his wife.
The survey said some respondents were divorced orally, others by letters from their husbands, and some over the phone or by SMS. More than 78 percent had no say in the decision.
“The study has brought out a major injustice faced by Indian Muslim women through decades in the form of oral unilateral divorce or triple talaq,” said the report.