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Islamic Society (17 Oct 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Uniform Civil Code or Islamic Reform?

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

17 October 2016

The latest controversy over the Law Commission Questionnaire eliciting responses over the viability of a Uniform Civil Code has raised many questions. But at the outset, it should be made clear that there is nothing wrong in the Commission asking for opinions from the general public about something which is important not just for Muslims but for a host of other communities in India. Those who are seeing a sinister design behind the questionnaire are plainly wrong. The questionnaire also elicits opinions about reforms in other communities, not just in the Muslim community. Those who are reducing it as a Muslim issue must answer the charge of communalizing and trivializing an otherwise serious issue.

The responses from various political parties have been along expected lines. The so called parties of social justice have been quick in condemning the law commission outright and declaring it as an infringement on the rights of minorities, particularly Muslims.

There is some merit in the argument that the law commission questionnaire dovetails neatly with the upcoming UP elections. It can also be safely argued that the BJP’s desire in fostering a debate on Uniform Civil Code is not about any genuine attempt to have a dialogue on the merits of the proposed legislation but is more driven with a desire to paint the Muslims as the other: as a community which is perpetually inclined to block reform within its ranks and choose to be socially conservative and regressive. The ironical problem however is that amidst all this debate, it is the BJP which is coming out as a supporter and champion of gender justice.

The position of AIMPLB is only furthering the agenda of the BJP. If the BJP wants to portray the Muslims as the regressive minority, the AIMPLB is more than willing to act like one. By not engaging with the questionnaire of the law commission, it does not realise that it is sending a wrong message to other communities that Muslims remain committed to be wedded to the norms of a bygone era and refuse to come out of it. Granted that BJP might be willing to polarise society for electoral purposes, granted that it has a hidden agenda; but the fact remains that it the party of ruling dispensation and that Muslims need to engage with the government. The wholesale refusal of the AIMPLB to junk the questionnaire shows them in a particularly bad light.

On a more theoretical plane, one needs to rethink the relationship within the individual and the community in so far as the Muslim community is concerned. The received wisdom that group rights are inalienable to the Muslim community needs to be rethought. What we are confronting today is that the defined religious rights of the community are coming in the way dissenting opinions not just from specific individuals but also from within minority groups within the larger Indian Muslim community. Democracy and justice demands that these voices need to be heard and their demands be taken seriously. There cannot be a situation where in the name of rights of minorities, right of dissent should be taken away from smaller groups and individuals. Given the nature of Muslim religious organizations, this situation is hardly going to change: the power asymmetry within the Muslim community will only end up silencing the critics of the existing religious authority.

Therefore the role of the state becomes important here. Without the state support, one cannot conceive that Muslim women’s group challenging the patriarchal Islam of AIMPLB will ever succeed. Those questioning the motive of these women organization must understand that historically, all voices of reform have succeeded because the state has stood solidly behind such demands. If the Muslim women’s bodies today seek the support of the state, there is nothing wrong with it. Moreover, to be fair, their campaign was first targeted at the Muslim religious establishment. It was only after the refusal of the custodians of Islam in India, that these women rights activists decided to move court and they are absolutely well within their right to do so.

It is agonizing to see that the Muslim religious establishment is not even ready to grant very basic changes within the existing personal law. All that the Muslim women’s groups are demanding is the abolition of triple Talaq. This in itself is a very conservative demand. In no way, this demand is questioning the unilateral right of divorce granted to Muslim men by Islam.

All that they are arguing is that instead of one sitting, Talaq should be pronounced in three sittings as is the Quranic norm. By no measure does this demand question the basic asymmetry of power in Islam between men and women. And yet for the AIMPLB, this demand becomes akin to questioning the very basics of Islam. But perhaps the problem is different. And it has to do with the non-Islamic nature of Indian courts. And yet they have no problem in seeking relief from the same courts to protect their conservative interests. Such hypocrisy has been the distinct nature of Indian Muslim leadership for quite some decades now. And that’s why it suits them not to talk about reforms and the issues raised by women’s groups but to talk about a Uniform Civil Code so as to deflect attention from real issues. It would be advisable for women’s groups and all concerned that they stay focussed on their demand for the abrogation of triple Talaq and not fall for a pseudo debate on the viability of a uniform civil code.

Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-society/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/uniform-civil-code-or-islamic-reform?/d/108878

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  • Secular Saheb. The normal secular human being accommodates the differences in family practices. If you find it difficult, question yourself. May be you are not secular desplite your claim. I have no problem in your 7-pheras though if I were a nut, I would have exclaimed, what is all this meaningless spectacle! Hope you understand there are many such Hindu practices legally and constitutionaly permissible in India through which big holes can be dug logically,but majoritarianism would not allow that and at least Muslims are prohibited by Islam to do that. We are only required to convey our religious ideas as being the True ideas.
    By Manzurul Haque - 10/18/2016 2:27:15 AM

  • Ashokji, we can leave it because I don't argue for argument's sake. Was just trying to suggest that we should not go overboard. I don't deny the achievements of modern civilization but what we have achieved is not unmixed blessing. Personally I realize bringing substantive changes are not so easy.
    By Manzurul Haque - 10/18/2016 2:13:07 AM

  • Dear Mr. Manzurul Haque, the problem is that you read what you want to read. I was saying that you are benefiting from all the good things of modern civilization but do not want to accept its even better aspects of humanism. Where in any religious texts you find democracy, human rights, secularism, gender equality and social welfare ? They still talk of Kings ordained by God, control of men over women, slaves, complete submission to authority, supremacy of their own group and ideology etc. One can not be fooled in this age of internet. All religious texts are available in all languages. Humans are more civilized toady than ever before. This process must continue forward and we should not try to block this march.
    By Ashok Sharma - 10/18/2016 1:42:42 AM

  • Why are Muslims against UCC? Cant they live like normal secular human beings? Why must they be special everywhere. And if they are so fond of Shariah, why dont they want to try Muslim criminals under Sharia? Bloody Hypocrites. 
    By secularlogic - 10/18/2016 1:17:31 AM

  • Asjokji. Democracy, equality and gender justice are Islamic ideals which are missing in the modern world and therefore the clash of civilization.s.  You think that riding a car in place of camel, creates equality. Sorry it does not. You are not able to think beyond your privileged life and that is the bane of modern civilization.
    By Manzurul Haque - 10/17/2016 11:09:19 PM

  • Human civilization has progressed in last two centuries at an unexpected speed and so have social values and norms. Democracy, equality and gender justice are the new norms. One can not talk of slaves and masters in the old sense anymore, even though the society is still far from being perfect. Islamic ideologues must also change their attitude. They do not ride camels, live in desert caravans and rear sheep anymore. When they use internet & mobile phones, travel in latest models of cars & super-sonic jets, go to the best hospitals for heart operations or, kidney transplants; they must also accept the modern basic human values of this era. One can not simply exploit only one aspect of the modern human achievements. It has to be a package deal. Otherwise, there will be a 'clash of civilizations' which will be detrimental to human existence.
    By Ashok Sharma - 10/17/2016 3:15:49 PM

  • I fully agree with Arshad Alam sahib. Muslims are against UCC,  but not against reforms needed to make our laws conform with the Indian Constitution. AIMPLB's petulant attitude in this regard will prove to be harmful to our community in the long run.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 10/17/2016 2:17:02 PM

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