By V.M. Khaleelur Rahman for New Age
19 October 2015
Hon’ble Union Law Minister Shri Sadananda
Gowda has said that a uniform civic code (UCC) was the need of the hour and in
national interest and a step should be taken in that direction, and added that
the government would not move on the issue without the consultation and
consensus, not just within the government but with all stakeholders. In this
connection I would like to say the following:
One wonders if a thousand debates which we
witnessed on the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case and the Muslim
women (protection of rights on divorce) Act 1986 passed in Indian Parliament
after a very long and thorough arguments were not enough to conclude that
Indian Muslims cannot compromise on their fundamental and Constitutional rights
such as protecting their ‘more than life’ important Islamic laws which they
consider rational, reasonable and divine-inspired.
As there is frequent criticism of the stand
taken by Muslims on the above said judgment even after so many years of the
passing of the Muslim Women Act 1986, it seems necessary to place the Muslim
points of view before the people on this oft-repeated and never-ending
Unless we discuss and debate things which
confront us, we cannot understand and solve them. Hence this humble attempt to
make sure that in matters of faith which are of course one’s personal affairs,
there should be no interference from any quarter at all. This is a ‘since qua
non’ for unity and integrity of our country. Let our ancient country India
remain a garden of different flowers and spread its message of unity in
diversity and composite cultural heritage without any religious fanaticism so
that all people, whatever their religion or faith, may live in peace and
harmony. Our aim should be to make our country materially prosperous and
spiritually “a shining symbol or model of peace”.
The Supreme Court judgment, delivered on
April 23, 1985, in the Shah Bano Begum case, created an unprecedented
controversy in 1985 and 1986 in our country. Indian Muslims protested strongly,
en masse, against it by holding rallies, meetings and processions throughout
the country and expressing their views in the press. In spite of a detailed
debate on this issue and passing of the historic “Muslim women (protection of
rights on divorce) Act 1986”, some politicians, writers and even people
connected with the judiciary, mostly non-Muslims, continue to ask even today,
why the Muslims opposed the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case and
criticise them. Most of the people consider it as the handiwork of Muslim
I would like to place some well known facts
here for reference as this judgment will continue to be referred to in the
press, if not for anything, at least for the sake of denigrating the Muslim
community here and so we must remember what actually happened in the case and
Shah Bano was married to an advocate
Mohammed Ahmed Khan with a maher of Rs.3000/- They had three sons and two
daughters. It seems that they lived together for about 43 years, of course with
incompatibilities. She was an uneducated woman. The Rs.3000 maher fixed (which
may be equivalent to quite a large amount now) and other informations indicate
that they hailed from middle class families. In 1975 Shah Bano was sent out of
the house. It is not clear if she occupied the house again or lived in another
house of her husband or in her own house as after the judgment when the
controversy erupted, a Hindu lady tenant living in the house where Shah Bano
lived complained to the police and some political leaders that she was harassed
by Shah Bano and her son for paying rent to Ahmed Khan who was her Land Lord.
Shah Bano filed a petition in the judicial
first class magistrate’s Court at Indore under Section 125 of the Criminal
Procedure Code for a maintenance of Rs.500/- per month. The pity is that under
this over-adored or over-praised Section the maximum amount allowable for
maintenance is only Rs.500/- The judicial proceedings were dragged on for long.
Meanwhile Ahmed Khan divorced her on November 6, 1978.
Let the critics of the Muslim Personal Law
note that after three years of the filing of the petition by Shah Bano, the
Magistrate ordered Ahmed Khan under Section 125 Cr. P.C. to pay a monthly maintenance
of a “princely sum” of Rs.25/- in 1979. Even a “Panchayat” or some mediators
would have done justice to her in a far better manner. Then Shah Bano appealed
to the Madhya Pradesh High Court and got it increased to Rs.179.20. Ahmed Khan
approached the Supreme Court but this amount was upheld there with a judgment
which hurt the feelings of the Muslim community.
Immediately after the Supreme Court
judgment Maulana Asad Madani visited Tamil Nadu. A meeting was held in
Vaniyambadi. He delivered his religious discourse in his inimitable style in
sweet Urdu. He referred to the age-old relations of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind
and the Congress leaders, particularly during the freedom struggle of our
country. He drew the attention of the people to the sacrifices made by eminent
Ulema during the freedom fight and the support extended by them to Mahatma
Gandhiji. It was a very inspiring speech in a highly nationalistic manner.
After the speech, an advocate of Madras
High Court Mr. Mohammed Ghouse asked him what he thought of the Supreme Court
judgment in the Shah Bano case. His reply was surprising to the audience there.
He said that “Court Kay Faisalon Say Kya Hota Hai?” Wazeer-e-Azam Janab
Rajiv Gandhi Nay Vada Kya Hai Aur Yaqeen Dilaya Hai Ki Woh Muslim Personal
Law May Mudakhilat Naheen Karayngay” (What happens from Court judgments,
Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi has assured us that there will be no
interference in the Muslim Personal Law) Then he proceeded on to other
questions put to him by a few persons there.
The fact was that the then Rajya Sabha
member Maulana Asad Madani and other Ulema of his ilk were actually unaware of
what had happened in the apex court. It was something different that he started
opposing it after sometime in line with others,
It was not any Maulana or a religious
leader who was responsible for the controversy, actually a right one which
brought so many things before the people on the Shah Bano judgment. As far as I
know, it was none other than Mr. A.G. Noorani who first came out with a thought
provoking and well discussed article, published not in any religious periodical
but in a popular women’s fortnightly “Femina” under the caption “Excuse me, my
Lords”. He strongly criticized the manner in which the judgment was delivered, insulting
Islam and re-interpreting Islamic laws without any necessity. He further opined
that the judgment flouted the intent of the legislature, brushed aside the
precedent and administered its gratuitous advice on a uniform civil code.
Indian Muslims are at least as human as any
other religious people. All, whatever their religion or faith, are first human
beings created in the same manner by God. No person on the basis of his colour,
creed, nationality or any other such thing can be superior to any other person.
The differences we see among the people are for the sake of identification
only. The person who is dearer to God is the one whose character is good. This
is what Islam teaches. How can all the Muslims together think of doing any
injustice to anybody or approve any injustice?
The tone and tenor of the Supreme Court
judgment irritated the Muslims most. It made them feel alien in their own
country and directly and indirectly insulted their religion and national
identity so much that they actually revolted against it. The minority Muslim
community finding itself in a dilemma over the outbursts of remarks made by the
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Mr. Y.V. Chandrachud sought a suitable
remedy by a democratic process. They did not indulge in any hooliganism in
blatant violations of the rule of law or the Constitution as was done on
December 6, 1992 when the historic Babri Masjid was “martyred” in the presence
of the entire world in a brutal manner. They as law abiding citizens of this
country knocked at the door of Parliament for justice. They were right and
hence got justice in the manner they wanted.
Indian Muslims, no doubt, felt that the
divorce of Shah Bano of Indore by her advocate husband in her old age was
unfortunate as divorce, according to Prophet Mohammed (sal-am) was “permissible
only as a last resort” and that “kingdom of God trembles when it is
pronounced”. In the holy Quran and traditions of the Prophet there are many
guide-lines for this undesirable act. There are also no two opinions about the
“triple divorce” on one sitting being a practice of the days of ignorance (Ayyam
ul Jahiliyya). The holy Quran has given in clear terms the method and a system
for honourable separation of the couple if unfortunately it becomes inevitable.
Islamic scholars always preach about the
undesirability of divorce. Perhaps because of their attempts divorce like
polygamy is less prevalent among Muslims. But unfortunately it seems to be on
the increase now. It is time for the community to gear up its preaching
machinery and make people realise that compromises and adjustments are
necessary for a happy married life.
There are different countries in the world,
where people belonging to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other faiths live.
The laws of every country differ from those of any other country, to whichever
religion it may belong. The same laws are not in force even in those countries
where religion is just the same one. It is just the question of how a religious
group or people or any other group want them. It is actually a democratic and
fundamental right of people who have laws of their choice. If anybody thinks
that only a common civil code should be in force or be made applicable to all
in a country like India where different religious people live in considerable
numbers, it is a wrong notion, detrimental to national interests and also
integrity. Things like Sati, child marriage, caste outrages, etc. are of course
in a different category for which sanction cannot be given on religious or
customary grounds. In the same way the dowry system among Muslims which is
responsible for many evils should be discouraged in all possible ways.
If law alone can rectify the society and if
there is any example of any people eradicating evils in any country only by enacting
laws in a particular way, one can consider it. But the facts are different.
Various laws, totally different in nature, have been helpful to the people in
the world. Sometimes laws have been ineffective also as in our own country, the
laws on matters like dowry, polygamy, family planning, etc. could not bring the
desired results and are considered to be failures. One is not in a position to
say with confidence what laws should be enacted in a multi-lingual,
multi-racial and multi-religious country like India.
There is the dire necessity of giving every
religious community a feeling of “at home” in our country, which is possible
only by following the well chalked out philosophy of unity in diversity. Any
attempt for “uniformity” in laws relating to personal affairs of different
religious communities can be rightly considered as an attempt of interference
in their personal laws and denial of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the
Constitution. What is more important is national unity and integrity, and not
necessarily the uniformity. Let the Indian garden be more beautiful with its
colourful flowers of different attractive shades. Actually Indian strength is
in its composite culture. That is why the great founding fathers of our
Constitution have drafted it in a manner agreeable to all. If any changes are
necessary in any personal law, they should come from within that community in
accordance with its traditional and religious ethos.
The great pious Islamic scholars and highly
respected personality Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwai, the supremo of the Muslim
Personal Law Board and other members of the Board were responsible for
representing the Muslim community to the late Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi
and getting the Muslim Women (protection of rights on divorce) Act 1986 passed
When the Muslim Women Act was passed in
Parliament, the Maulana made it clear that there should be no victory
processions or any other such sort of jubilation.
Many legal experts including an unorthodox
and liberal minded senior advocate of Madras High Court Mr. Habeebullah Badsha
have appreciated the Act. Mr. Badsha says: “though the Supreme Court judgment
was supposed to have been a boon for Muslim women, the majority of the Muslim
women criticized it. As a result of this unexpected unity and sentiments of
outrage expressed by Muslims, the Parliament passed the Muslim Women
(protection of rights on divorce) Act. There was an uproar against this Act and
the government was criticized for having yielded to the so called
fundamentalists among the Muslims. Time has however proved that the Act has
proved more beneficial to Muslim women than Section 125 of the Criminal
Procedure Code, because Courts have been awarding heavy amounts of compensation
to divorced Muslim women. This relief is not available under Section 125 of the
Tamil Nadu Muslims also joined the national
mainstream in extending their support, not blindly but based on reason and
rationality, to the Muslim Personal Law Board. Many meetings and seminars were
held and great Islamic scholars and eminent legal experts like Dr. Tahir
Mahmood were invited to address them.
The Tamil Nadu Muslim Graduates Association
was in the forefront in ascertaining the Muslim points of view on the subject.
A seminar organized by it on “The Rights of Muslim Women” was well attended and
highly successful. The papers presented mostly by Muslim women in different
walks of life highlighted the undeniable fact that Islam provides enough
safe-guards for women.
Mrs. Muthahirunnisa was in the lime light.
Not only she took part in various gatherings, but also brought out a book, of
course, after sometime, on the importance of Islam.
When the Muslim delegation under the
leadership of Maulana Abul Hasan Nadwi sahib approached Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and
apprised him of the feelings of the Indian Muslims who constitute at least 15%
of the Indian population with a rich national and religious heritage, spread
among different linguistic and cultural groups, contributing for the betterment
of our country in every field of activity and expressed what actually had
happened in the Supreme Court and what they wanted as a remedy, he was
convinced, because of his unbiased thinking capacity and promised to do justice
to the Muslim community. He fulfilled his promise like an honest and forthright
gentleman, which he definitely was.
We frequently come across remarks made by
some people criticizing the Muslim Women’s Act 1986 and asking why monthly maintenance
is opposed by Muslims. One wonders how can a rational divorced woman demand or
accept any “pittance” (maintenance) from her former husband who has already
divorced her, particularly when one of the humiliating conditions for giving
maintenance is that a divorcee who receives maintenance from her former husband
is expected to go to bed with him if he so desires. This is something, to say
the least, most undesirable and cannot be tolerated by any respectable woman.
It is also against Islamic norms and perhaps against any other religious or
It is also note-worthy that Shah Bano
appealed to the Supreme Court that the verdict be withdrawn because it amounted
to interference in the Muslim personal law. There is also reason to believe
that the “Kanyadan” system of marriage among Hindus is responsible for the
thinking that monthly maintenance should be given to the divorced woman by her
former husband. In the Muslim society even after marriage a girl’s relations
with her parents and other relatives are not severed but remain intact as it
was before her marriage.
Islam undoubtedly provides enough
safe-guards for all including women who enjoy an exalted status in Islam. Only
Islam has given an enviable social and dignified position and rights to women.
My question to all those who still harp on
the importance of the Shah Bano judgment and consider the Muslim Women Act as a
setback to Muslim women even though it has paid rich dividends is: What was it
that Shah Bano got from Section 125 Cr. P.C. after a long legal battle of about
10 years and what is it that a Muslim divorcee cannot get under the provisions
of the Muslim Women Act 1986?
The Chief Justice of India, Mr. K. G.
Balakrishnan said rightly sometime ago that a uniform civil code is a highly
sensitive issue in our country where people belonging to different castes,
races and communities live and explained it in detail saying that “it took
thirty years for Britishers to implement the Indian penal code after its
codification in the beginning of 1830”. It is really welcome and appreciable. I
feel that his opinion should have pleased the minorities here particularly
Muslims and Christians.
In a plural society like India only plural
laws can give a strong feeling of nationality. Ours is a country of people
belonging to different faiths and cultures and of course they must have the
laws of their respective choice. The different personal laws in vogue now
should continue to exist for the purpose of unity and solidarity of the
country. If a uniform civil code is imposed on the unwilling minorities, it
will not only be of no use, but also weaken our country. The best way is to
make the different personal laws uniform as much as possible. There is no
attempt in this respect by any quarter just because the uncalled for obiter
dicta of the Supreme Court is being exploited by communal parties to their
selfish political ends and the Muslim intellectuals who have the interest of
the community and country at heart have lost their grounds for reforms of the
Muslim personal law in the midst of rampant communal atmosphere.
There is an urgent need for creating a
right atmosphere in the country where people can feel free to think and decide
their issues. Moreover there is mention of a uniform civil code in the Directive
Principles of the Constitution and not of a common civil code. It is well known
that the Hindu laws are not the same everywhere in the country. The tribals
also enjoy their own laws and they continue to receive support from all
politicians. As the first step let the Hindu laws be made uniform.
This writer asked many Ulema about this
issue. They say in so many words that they cannot oppose a uniform civil code
if it is within the framework of the Islamic laws but there is no possibility
of this and hence their opposition. It is wrong to say that Muslims oppose a
uniform civil code. They only oppose any imposition of unwanted laws on them
because they feel and rightly so that Islam provides better laws which are not
only for them but for all human beings of all times. On the contrary the laws
found in the Indian personal laws are not perfect.
The Muslims should consider that the Holy
Quran has given excellent laws about marriage, divorce, inheritance etc. which
are indeed far better than the modern laws and so they should adopt them in
spirit and letter.
A majority of Muslims oppose the unilateral
and instant triple divorce system and prefer the rational Quranic laws. The
Ulema (Islamic scholars) belonging to the Ahle-Hadees school of thought
simply consider this system un-Islamic and invalid. All other Ulema also
consider the instant triple system an act of the days of ignorance (Ayyam ul
Jahiliyya) but “occurred” if it is practised even though it is not an
approved system in the light of the holy Quran and Ahadees. All Ulema say that
divorce should only be as the last resort and there should not be any hasty
decision. There are many books written on this subject. Moreover almost all
Muslim intellectuals, including Justice V. Khalid, former judge of the Supreme
court, disapprove this system and consider it un-Islamic.
Islam provides laws for all situations and
it is our inability to make use of them properly. And it is this inability of
ours which often lands us in trouble. If Muslims follow the Islamic laws in
spirit and letter, not only they will be benefited, but even people belonging
to other faiths will come forward to follow them because of their fairness.
The Muslim Personal Law should continue to
be in existence in our country and of course we can and we should make
necessary changes in it as time demands in the light of the holy Quran and
Ahadees. Islam provides laws meant for all times. We fail to grasp and