New Age Islam
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From the Desk of Editor ( 14 Apr 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Deoband Muftis Neither Know Islam Nor Indian Customs





Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam


14 April 2012


It's a bit unsettling that Deoband cares more for Indian customs than for Islamic injunctions. It has reversed an earlier fatwa arguing for polygamy and is now saying that it is better to avoid second/third marriage, despite permission in Sharia, as it is generally not acceptable in Indian custom.


Deoband respecting Indian customs is greatly welcome.


However, Indian custom right now is for having mistresses if you can afford it; some people I know have one in all cities of the country that they visit periodically on business. It is Hindu law that prevents polygamy but it kind of allows women (indirectly) to become mistresses without any rights whatsoever, nor any surname for their kids, if they can afford to have one. Indian custom is more of an argument for allowing Muslim-Personal-Law-like bigamy or polygamy in which the other women too will have some rights.


Polygamy, I believe, is not permitted in Islam in ordinary circumstances. It was allowed, at one time, even under strict or maybe impossible conditions of giving equal treatment to all wives in all respects, only for exigencies like war and dealing with questions of large number of women prisoners and war widows.


But, in my view, with its permission for polygamy, the Anglo-Mohammedan law prevalent in India gives greater protection to wives in the sense that it makes it difficult for Muslim men to flirt with other women beyond a point. If they want to do that they are afraid that other women will then start demanding to get married; their argument being that Muslim Personal Law allows more than one wife. On the other hand a Hindu woman cannot make that demand. If she wants or needs to live with the man for some reason, sometimes even for reasons for love, she has no option but to accept the position of a mistress and many do.


After all, the second or third or fourth woman also should have rights. She too is a woman. And no less of a woman than the first wife who may have got married just under parental pressure from both families in our arranged marriage scenarios.


Forgive me if my view of the issue has got a bit distorted on account of my personal knowledge of some Hindu friends with a number of mistresses all over and my sympathies for these women. I cannot help comparing their situation with those of just one family I knew of where a Muslim gentleman insisted on having four wives at all times, never allowing a vacancy for more than a few months.


If I may repeat, I believe Islam does not allow polygamy as a norm. But it does leave a certain amount of vagueness, a certain room for maneuvere, which would be impossible to capture in a codified law. Laws have to apply to all. Aware of human limitations and compulsions, perhaps Islam feels greater need for eliminating irresponsible, undeclared relationships, detrimental to society at large and even to the health of the people concerned. Perhaps it wants to completely eliminate the evil of prostitution, the most demeaning of all human practices.


But polygamy is clearly not the answer. Even countries which allow polygamy have red light areas. And those which do not have designated red light areas see the practice going underground. Their men travel abroad looking for what has been derisively called halal prostitution.


I am not at all arguing for polygamy, but we have to be aware before taking any position on such sensitive issues that there are several sides to an issue. Human situations have complexities that are not easily resolved.


A new complication has arisen lately. Some Arab women, journalists and academics, are demanding that now women too should be allowed to have more than one spouse. Polyandry was prohibited in Islam, they argue, because in the times of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), it was not possible to determine the father of children in a polyandrous situation. But with DNA tests available now the situation has changed and hence the laws too should change. Laws, they say, cannot be static. They have to be dynamic. Laws should take into account changing human situation.


Thus Laws, no matter how good, cannot take care of every situation. We need human beings who are humane.


Anyway, there is not much point in taking too much notice of Deobandi fatwas. If by Indian custom, they meant Indian law or a general civil society view in India, and they want to respect the same, that is most welcome. But our Mullahs, of any colour really, neither know Islam nor Indian customs nor the implications or complexities of either.


Let us let the Mullahs be and get on with our own affairs. Let us keep trying to refine our laws, seeking direction from divine guidance that has come to us from time to time in different parts of the world; but let us also be aware that as long as humans are simply human, we will never have a perfect law or a perfect society.