The Many Questions Over Triple Talaq

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BOOK REVIEW

Mohammed Anas | Caravan Daily

INSTANT triple talaq has not been uttered as many times between Muslim husbands and wives as it has been spoken in Parliament and media in recent times. With every Parliament session, the hackneyed but heated debate takes centrestage of national discourse in the country.

As the BJP-led NDA government strives to criminalise the practice claiming it to be the “liberation of Muslim women,” people from the Muslim community – including journalists, commentators, jurists, All India Muslim Personal Law Board and clerics – are trying to educate the public about various aspects of this complex theological and legal issue.

Noted journalist Ziya Us Salam’s book, Till Talaq Do Us Part
(Penguin), which hit the bookstores last year, is an intervention as
part of such educative efforts. The writer aims to remove many a
cobweb woven in popular perceptions about the practice of instant triple talaq in India. However, despite proving in a crystal clear fashion
the practice of triple talaq as violative of the Quranic teachings and innovated practice (instant triple talaq is called talaq-e-biddat, the innovated or sinful one), the book doesn’t take a progressive position. It doesn’t declare that the practice, despite its endorsement by respected imams (leaders of Islamic jurisprudence), it is a practice that was erroneously promulgated.

The book traces the origins of triple talaq to the time of Caliph Umar or Omar RA. There is an oft-repeated narrative that the second Caliph ordered instant triple talaq to be valid to tackle exigencies of some urgent situations (Page 30). It says the Caliph’s administrative decision was meant to prevent men from cheating and mistreating their wives.

“Though Caliph Umar made triple talaq valid, he put in a condition. The instant divorce would be accepted, but the man giving instant talaq would be publicly logged. It was his way of insuring that men desisted from the action. Any pronouncement of instant talaq was followed by the public flogging of he husband. It is this condition which modern-day maulanas have conveniently ignored, even as they declare triple talaq a valid way of divorcing one’s wife,” the book further declares.

Contrast this argument with BJP’s triple talaq bill and
criminalisation of triple talaq in some Muslim countries. Triple talaq
is a punishable offence in Jordan. BJP’s bill demands it punishable
with a certain period of jail term, even though it considers triple
talaq, as judged by the SC, invalid. The majority of Muslims in India,
including the author of the book, oppose the BJP’s bill but don’t offer a dissenting opinion on Caliph Umar’s ruling. Caliph Umar’s ruling was nullified by fourth Caliph Ali RA.

The writer later informs that instant triple talaq is considered valid
among followers of 8th-century jurist Imam Abu Hanifa, and thus they
are called Hanafis. In the Indian subcontinent, the majority of Sunni Muslims are Hanafis. But unfortunately, the writer doesn’t elaborate this important assertion much. He doesn’t cite a single argument of Imam Abu Hanifa on triple talaq. He neither goes into details how later day jurists dwelt on Imam Hanifa and what exactly was the discourse in Muslim intellectual circles? How the phenomenon of instant triple
talaq survived and on what grounds? The writer doesn’t answer, except
that semi-literate clerics kept it alive, ignoring Quranic injunctions.

Interestingly, the book quotes Imam Abu Hanifa saying that he advised
his opinion be ignored if it contrasts with the Quranic wisdom and that
Imam himself didn’t write any book. His disciples compiled his
opinions on various subjects. “So, there is no direct word from Imam
Hanifa on triple talaq,” says the book. (Page 46). If there was no
direct word from Imam, how come his followers insist he had? The book doesn’t take up this debate.

About the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the forebear of the
resistance to any government, constitutional or judicial intervention
in the so-called Muslim Personal Laws (the foreword of the book by Prof
Faizan Mustafa though opined that personal laws are not even law in
strict sense of law), the author says that it is a non-constitutional
body peopled by men who are not necessarily scholars of Islam. “Many
are linked to political parties and have an axe to grind. Only a
handful of them are devoted to the cause of Islam.” (Page 165)

Notwithstanding this clear diagnosis, the writer sees hope that the Board will bring reforms in the community through its campaign to make people aware of the ills of the practice of instant triple talaq via
its efforts such as the introduction of model nikahnama that will
insert a clause against instant triple talaq. Perhaps only optimists like Ziya Us Salam can dream of the day when the AIMPLB will work for
the reforms in the community because no one in this country has seen any couple who has been convinced by the Board to wed via its model nikahnama. That day actually will be revolutionary.

Till Talaq Do US Part
Ziya Us Salam
Penguin

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Mohammed Anas is a Delhi-based journalist. Caravan Daily does not necessarily share the views expressed here.

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