Citizens for Justice and Peace

Muslim Women Against the Maulvis

01, Aug 1993

August – 1993


The BJP’s claim of being “within striking distance of the Centre” is bogus. But only the purblind will deny that, as of now, the party which is playing with fire seems to be the only dynamic force in the political arena 


Muslim women against the Moulvis 

ON JULY 27, Mid-Day, an eveninger from Bombay published a letter which threatened that if the system of instant talaq of Muslim women and polygamy were not made unlawful in two months, Muslim women will immolate themselves before Parliament and state legislatures to highlight the injustice against the daughters of Islam.

The letter was signed, Suraiya Banoo, Convenor, Muslim Women’s Equality Forum. Not many people seem to be familiar with the name of Suraiya Banoo or the organisation she claims to represent. It is therefore difficult to judge whether the immolation threat is real.

But there is no doubt that from the moment the controversy was triggered towards the end of May by the Ahl-e-Hadith sect, the Muslim community in India has been torn from within.

A publication of the Ahl-e-Hadith reiterated the group’s old position that the system of divorcing a Muslim woman instantly by the husband pronouncing, “Talaq, talaq, talaq”, thrice on a single occasion is un-Islamic. The news was flashed prominently by news-papers all over the country.

Islamic scholars like Dr. Rafiq Zakaria and Asghar Ali Engineer welcomed the stand. But professor Akhtar-ul-Wase from the Jamia Millia Islamia and some others dismissed it saying the Ahl-e-Hadith group represented only a small section of Muslims in India.

On June 24, the All India Muslim Women’s Association held a press conference in New Delhi at which three divorced women recounted the harrowing experience they and their children had after being instantly divorced by their unfeeling husbands. The association threatened to launch an agitation unless the All India Muslim Personal Law Board agreed to immediate changes in the anti-women law pertaining to divorce among Muslims.

A week later, on July 1, Maulana Syed Asad Madni, president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, an influential body of theologians, called a press conference, also in New Delhi, to announce that the validity of instant talaq was “established beyond doubt” as far as the four Islamic schools of jurisprudence Hanafi, Maliki, Shafai and Hanbali – followed by sunnis in India was concerned.

Maulana Madni’s intervention, far from closing the issue, opened the flood-gates for protest. The opinion and letters to the editor columns of newspapers in different languages from all parts of the country have since been over-flowing with the demand by educated Muslim women and men that the system of instant divorce be outlawed immediately.

Alarmed by this unrelenting barrage of criticism of their stand, the ulema and other Muslim organizations like the Milli Parliament initially tried to silence the opposition by arguing that Muslims who are helping to keep the controversy alive are effectively diverting the community’s attention from its “real problems” and therefore causing it great harm.

But as the debate refuses to die down, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has hinted that the issue is being reviewed and it is likely that a pro-change stand may be adopted at a full meeting of the Board in Jaipur in October.

It is for the first time in the history of post-Independence India that educated Muslims in large numbers have made bold to publicly take a stand which is opposed to that of the ulema and the established Muslim leadership. The significance of the present open debate on the question of divorce therefore carries within it the potential of a larger movement for wide-ranging reforms to ameliorate the condition of oppressed and exploited Muslim women.


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