This episode once again exposes the utter bankruptcy and shocking incompetence of Indian Muslim leadership. This at a time when the community faces unprecedented threats and challenges on every front, more importantly, from a very hostile government. Their very existence and identity is at stake
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED | Caravan Daily
HOW does a party that presided over the mass rape and slaughter of Muslim women get away with presenting itself as their champion and protector? Not only is the BJP known for its ‘love’ of all things Muslim, Islamophobia is at the core of its ideology, its very purpose of existence.
Even if one ignores the Parivar’s role in thousands of anti-Muslim riots and historic crimes such as the destruction of Babri Masjid in December 1992, how can one shut one’s eyes to all that has happened under the Parivar over the past three and half years?
From lynchings and coldblooded killings of Muslims in broad daylight to rising hate attacks at the hands of the ruling party men and even senior leaders, these past few years would go down as one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. All this has happened with the knowledge and complicit inaction, if not the blessings, of those at the top.
So it takes breathtaking audacity for the Parivar to beat their chest and shed tears for Muslim women. It is like the Nazis crying over the predicament of Jews they sent to the gas chamber!
The triple talaq bill that the BJP using its brute majority in Parliament bulldozed through without any debate or amendments suggested by the lone Muslim MP Asaduddin Owaisi would create a law that in the name of protecting Muslim women punishes Muslim men. More important, it shuts out all possibilities of reconciliation between the partners.
As Dr Javed Jamil argues, the bill introduced by the BJP government does not ban triple talaq (divorce) but validates it, making the divorce valid but punishable under law with at least 3-year imprisonment: “The argument being presented is that the Bill is in tune with Quranic injunctions. It is not. Of course, the Quran prescribes a method of talaq, which allows reconciliation within three months and the talaq becomes operable only after the period of Iddah (extended till the completion of the prenatal, natal and also postnatal period). The bill passed by Lok Sabha instead of rejecting triple talaq and directing the husband to follow the proper procedure accepts it as valid meaning that talaq has taken place and punishes the husband with three years’ imprisonment.”
According to another scholar M Burhanuddin Qasimi, the bill indeed criminalizes the Islamic concept of divorce as a whole and not just triple talaq. The definition of Talaq Bid’ah in the Bill is ambiguous and utterly confusing. It covers all forms of talaq, which is enforceable with immediate effect. Thus the Bill is against Quran and all juristic schools of Islamic Sharia. It is against Islam and practices of all Muslims around the world.
Writing in Indian Express, legal luminary Prof Faizan Mustafa notes that the government is doing a huge disservice to Muslim women as no husband on return from jail is likely to retain the wife on whose complaint he has gone to prison. “The bill will lead to more divorces. The remedy to tackle triple divorce is thus worse than the disease. The bill also obliterates the distinction between “major” and “minor” crimes by providing the excessive and disproportionate punishment of three years.”
But if things have come to such a pass allowing an Islamophobic regime to take advantage of the situation, the Indian Muslim community has no one to blame but its own leadership. Even when it had been apparent that the current regime in Delhi is out to exploit the issue, the Muslim leadership and wise men of Muslim Personal Law Board took no steps to counter the mischievous government narrative.
They just sat around on their hands waiting for the government to ambush the community. They did not mobilize the public opinion including among the Muslims on the issue. No one thought of approaching opposition lawmakers, against the BJP’s machinations. As a result, the Congress ended up supporting the government in Lok Sabha.
It was only when the lower house passed the Bill without any resistance that the Muslim leadership woke up to rally the support of opposition parties like the DMK and even the NDA ally, Telugu Desam. The Congress also realized the massive opposition within the Muslim community to the Bill. It was this last minute resistance that helped block the Bill in Rajya Sabha, the upper house in which the BJP remains weak.
This episode once again exposes the utter bankruptcy and shocking incompetence of Indian Muslim leadership. This at a time when the community faces unprecedented threats and challenges on every front, more importantly, from a very hostile government. Their very existence and identity are at stake.
These challenges call for a mature and forward-looking leadership that is not only familiar with the new political realities but is also alive to the needs and aspirations of its people, the majority of whom are young.
The Muslim leadership needs to focus on immediate reforms to put an end to the abuse of divorce laws by reckless, irresponsible men. Although the practice of divorce in Indian Muslim society is still very negligible and almost non-existent when compared to other communities, including the Hindus and Christians, the Muslim Law Board can no longer afford inaction on the issue.
Indeed, it should have initiated these reforms of its own volition to stop such regressive practices. Especially when most Ulema advice against instant divorce. Many Muslim countries have banned it.
By failing to act in time, the Board presented the Parivar with a perfect opportunity to target the Shariah, portraying Islam and all Muslims as unreasonable and anti-women. It handed the regime a big stick to beat Muslims with.
This when the Parivar is yet to break their silence over the inhuman treatment of Hindu women, including 6 crore widows. Every year thousands of Hindu women are burnt alive for dowry. Thousands more are killed in their mothers’ womb for being born of a ‘wrong gender.’ The Muslim society is not perfect of course. But it is largely free of many of these evils and hateful patriarchal practices.
That said, there is no denying that the community needs to change with changing times and it should not wait for the government — least of all one led by the BJP — to dictate reforms to it. Change must come from within.
I have highest respect for the Islamic scholars and intellectuals of the Muslim Personal Law Board and Muslim Majlise Mushawarat, the umbrella body of Muslim organizations. However, they have wasted a lot of time and opportunities to confront the new realities of a new India. It is time they prepared themselves for the challenges of a fast-evolving world by becoming more transparent and accountable.
These highest representative bodies of Muslims must open their doors to more broadminded intellectuals and well-wishers of the community from more diverse backgrounds. Above all, they must accommodate more women, making themselves representative of a 200-million strong community. The times they are a-changing and we must change with them.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an independent journalist and former newspaper editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org