The government’s decision to introduce the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in the Lok Sabha today poses a challenge to the Muslim community. As an example of its disregard for the community most affected, the minister of state for law and justice has said that in framing this law, no Muslim groups had been consulted.
The Quranic provision on Talaq is clear. In Islam, there is no concept of reincarnation. To enjoy the gift of this life, the provision of graceful separation is provided in case marriage becomes intolerable for either party. Hence the concept of Talaq and Khula. The man is given a way out through the provision of Talaq and the woman through the right of Khula. The balance is perfect and explained with precision in the Koran. My mentor Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who has translated and written the best explication of the Koran stressed the fact that its injunctions are simple. He deplored the self-appointed custodians of Islam who have created huge complications for Muslims.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, when the Quran was revealed 1,437 years ago, girl children were buried at birth. In these circumstances, came a man who revealed Allah’s word that women were equal to men in every way. That they were free agents with rights in marriage, divorce, property and income. In a society where men contracted scores of marriages the Koran said ‘enough’. No more than four but added a next sentence for men. ‘Since you are generally incapable of dispensing equal justice to four, one is enough.’
When I wrote the first ever report on status of Muslim women in India, I was a member of the National Commission for Women. That was in 2000, when no one could have imagined the way that the political tide would turn rightward. But when I wrote the report there was a sixth sense which made me warn the Maulanas and Alims. I wrote that unless they direct the community in their public preaching to practise Islam in the light of the basic tenets of the Quran and abjure the abhorrent practices of triple Talaq and multiple marriages, they will live to regret it. A time may come when the government of the day will weigh in.
So now we have a proposed law which criminalizes triple Talaq as a cognisable non-bailable offence with a three- year jail term and a fine. Women’s groups who had joined hands with aggrieved women like Shayara Bano are today pulling in different directions. ‘Too harsh a punishment’ says one group ‘because it gives a free hand to the police to terrorise Muslim youth and throw them in jail leaving the broken family to fend for itself’. ‘Harsh punishment is most important as a deterrent’, says the other group ‘because it will stop Muslim men from keeping their wives under the swords of Damocles. One suggestion being made is to treat triple Talaq as violence against women and bring it under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) Act. Both ways, the woman remains a victim and not an arbiter of her fate as she was intended by Quranic injunction.
For the situation in which Muslims find themselves, they have only themselves to blame. We can prevent future damage by reverting to spirit of Islam and not distort it through biased interpretations.