By Zeenat Shaukat Ali
Sep 11, 2016
The Muslim Personal Law Board has justified
triple talaq and polygamy. Muslim women’s groups fighting for a ban on the two
customs say the Board’s reasons are medieval, patriarchal. It’s over to India’s
top court now.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board
(AIMPLB) recently told the Supreme Court that “rewriting Personal Laws in the
name of social reform” would erode religious freedom guaranteed by the Indian
AIMPLB said that a man giving triple Talaq
to his wife was a better option than him murdering her or burning her alive;
that women were less proficient in decision-making and, therefore, this “right”
lay with men; and that polygamy was Islamic, banning of which would lead to
promiscuous sexual practices.
The justifications of AIMPLB —a
non-government organisation that is supposed to educate Indian Muslims on the
protection and application of Islamic laws — are medieval and reinforce the
worst stereotypes that “Islamophobes” have constantly proliferated. By
relegating women to second-class status, the Board betrayed misogyny and
patriarchy of the worst kind that was done away with by Prophet Muhammad.
Some of Quran’s major concerns were to
liberate humankind from the dangers of subservience, autocracy, ethnicity,
racism and chauvinism. Islam allowed questioning, encouraged the ability to
interrupt a prearranged archaic thought process ingrained in a male-dominated
In early Islam, Muslim women were active in
numerous fields, and participated in decision-making. They were equal
participants in both spiritual and material aspects of life. Women’s right to
participate in social, economic, educational, cultural and political activities
was equal to their male counterparts. They could acquire, administer, dispose
and inherit property. They had equal freedom to choose or refuse a spouse.
Women can enjoy the same benefits as men, and follow any respectable profession
as men: “To men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn” (Quran,
The Quran extols the leadership of Queen
Bilques as “a woman ruling over them provided with every requisite” (H.Q. 27:23).
Her leadership qualities are not measured by her gender but by her capacity to
fulfill the requirements of office, her political acumen, the purity of her
faith and her independent judgement.
Historical evidence shows that women
contributed significantly in the fields of knowledge and learning. The wife of
the Prophet Mohammad, Harzat Khadija, also a powerful business woman, was the
first to embrace Islam. The progeny of the Prophet primarily emanates from his
esteemed daughter Hazrat Fatimah who played an active role on discussions
relating to succession.
Hazrat Aisha, well known for her knowledge
of Hadith, was also a politically active, influential leader. Hazrat Hafsa held
with her the entire manuscript of the compilation of the Quran finally published
in the time of the Caliph Uthman. Umm Salamah was instrumental in advising the
Prophet during the crises at Hudaibiya). Bibi Zainab was actively involved in
The early history of Islam shows that women
took part in national activities, acted as advisors, and joined in
congregational prayers in mosques. They were in battlefields, helped carry the
wounded and slain. Women served male guests during feasts, did business with
The Prophet consulted women and took their
opinion seriously. According to Imam Hanbal, the Prophet appointed Umm Waraqah
as the imam of her household. She also led prayers for both genders. Khawla bit
Salibah corrected the authoritative ruling (fatwa) of Caliph Umar ibn
al-Khattab on the issue of dower (Mahr). Hanbali jurisprudence upholds
the qualifications of women to serve as judges. They owned and sold property
and engaged in commercial transactions (there are references to this effect
from Hadith of Imam Bukhari).
Women became Muslims before men, again
contradicting the patriarchal view that women were incapable of independent
action. In the political arena the Quran refers to women who, independent of
their male relatives, pledged the oath of allegiance (Bayah) to the Prophet: “O
Prophet whenever believing women come to thee to pledge their allegiance to
thee… then accept their allegiance” (Quran. 60:12).
Women were not confined within the four
walls of their houses. Household duties were not their sole responsibility.
“The best of you is the one who is best to his wife” (Tirmidhi; Ibn Majah).
The Board also said that divorce
proceedings instead of triple Talaq could damage a woman’s chances of
re-marriage if the husband indicts her of loose character in the court.
But neither the Quran nor Prophet Muhammad
sanctioned triple Talaq. The Prophet said: “God has not created anything on the
face of the earth that he loves more than emancipation; and God has created
nothing upon the face of the earth more hateful to him than divorce” (Abu Daud,
Triple Talaq clearly disregards the
displeasure of the Prophet as the following tradition illustrates: “The
Messenger of Allah was informed of a man (Rukhana) who divorced his wife three
times together, his face became red and he stood up in displeasure and said:
‘Is the Book of Allah being sported with while I am still in your
AIMPLB has argued that polygamy is a
“social need” and a “blessing” as a lawful second wife is better than an
unlawful mistress, saying that it gave divorced or widowed women more opportunity
But polygamy in Islam is a restrictive and
not a permissive ordinance; it is an exception not the rule. Prophet Muhammad
did not introduce polygamy as is conveniently believed. The only verse in the
Quran on polygamy (4:3) was revealed during the Battle of Uhud when, under the
circumstances of war, women were left orphans, homeless and destitute. Prophet
Muhammad restrained polygamy by insisting on Adl (justice). A large
number of influential jurists, like the Mutalazaites, belonging to schools
presently archaic, held polygamy unlawful.
Prophet Muhammad at the age of 25 married
Hazrat Khadeeja who was 40, adhering strictly to the ideal of monogamy in a
totally polygamous society, at a time when prevailing conditions were normal
and there was no war. It was only when war situations arose and women needed
shelter and protection that the Prophet married another.
A number of Muslim countries have limited
polygamy by bringing about statutory provisions, anti-bigamy stipulations or
exercise of judicial and social control.
AIMPLB has argued that the death rate of
men is higher since it is mostly men who die in accidents, and that since women
outnumbered men, not permitting polygamy would force women “into leading a
But in India the sex ratio is approximately
920 women to a 1,000 men. What then is the argument to retain polygamy?
It is not Islam but the assertion of
pre-Islamic patriarchy that are obstacles in the path of women.
Zeenat Shaukat Ali is director general, World Institute of Islamic
Studies for Dialogue, Peace and Gender Justice.