By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
04 January 2018
The debate on the triple Talaq bill has divided the Muslim community right through the middle. There are vociferous opinions opposing the bill as being detrimental to Muslim women themselves and there are those who are hailing the bill as progressive as it will effectively curb the incidence of instant triple Talaq within the Muslim community. There is a sense in which it can be argued that the way in which the government proposed the bill leaves much to be desired. What was the seeming hurry in going through the bill without properly scrutinizing it as was demanded by the opposition parties and even some women groups themselves? What did the government want to prove by not admitting to a wider debate within the Lok Sabha? Is it that the government was sure that it will be welcomed by one and all and hence there was no need for a debate at all? Or is it that there were some deeper strategies at play?
It is a fact that Muslims in jails exceed their share in population. This has been historically true and no single party can be blamed for this sad state of affairs. It is also true that over the years, the condition of Muslims has deteriorated due to a number of factors and now their socio-economic indicators are very much similar or lower than the scheduled castes of the country. This gives an added sense of relative deprivation to the community which continues to battle religious stereotypes and now increasingly bears the brunt of being a permanent marker of anti-national identity. The targeted killing of Muslims over cow and love jihad has made the community jittery and therefore any move by the government would largely be seen with an element of suspicion within the community. It is not without reason therefore that Muslims have been arguing that the triple Talaq is nothing but a ploy to overpopulate the jails with Muslims.
These fears are not to be taken lightly. After all, the bill makes the act of triple Talaq non-cognizable offence which would give the police wide powers to arbitrarily arrest Muslim youth just on the basis of a complaint. Added to this level of harassment, is the very real possibility that women themselves would be prone to abusing the provisions of the law as it has happened with anti-dowry law, etc. For the Muslim man therefore there will be hardly be any recourse, neither at the state level nor at the family level and that does not portend well for our family structures. It was realisation such as these which made Muslim women’s groups demand that the offence be made into a non-cognizable one. But for a government in a hurry to promulgate this bill into a law, there was no need to pay heed to such reasoned arguments. It might sound ironical but it seems that the real targets of the bill were not Muslim women but some other group which wanted to punish Muslims as a whole.
In many ways, this was coming and Muslim religious figures are to blame for this. Firm in their view that Islam is the best religion and practising Islamic supremacy from the pulpit, they never realised that Muslims as community had become backward and their religion was now synonymous with all that was regressive within many religions. Through their practice of Islam, they had transformed it into a faith of social conservatism and orthodoxy. It is not that they did not get their chance at reforming this outmoded system. In recent memory, it was the Shah Bano moment when they should have given the call for reforming the personal law. Instead, they browbeat the Congress government into believing that the Supreme Court has committed a cardinal sin by venturing into the Muslim personal law and passing a judgment which ensured some minimum maintenance to Muslim divorcees.
All hell broke loose when the judgment was passed and predictable slogans of Islam in danger were raised. Champions of minority rights, who had no understanding of the Muslim religion, threw their might with the regressive stand of the Muslims and colluded with the Mullahs to ensure that Muslim women remain in chains and at the beck and call of their husbands.
The current debate on instant triple Talaq, initiated by Muslim women themselves, was another opportunity which the community missed. Instead of paying heed to the just demands of Muslim women, the clergy started calling them names and putting motives to their political action. Again, it was their firm belief that they follow the best religion on the planet that became their undoing.
Had the clergy paid some attention to the demands of Muslims and reformed the personal law in tune with the demands of modernity, things would not have come to such a pass. Instead, what we got from the clergy was the shaming of the entire Muslim community by levelling baseless and anti-women arguments in the Supreme Court. Despite the whole world now knowing what kind of a backward religion Islam is, the clergy remains steadfast in their belief in the superiority of Islam. Even after the Parliament is debating the bill to criminalize triple Talaq, the clergy still is more interested in pointing out the ‘nefarious’ designs of BJP led government and claiming that Muslim women, who spearheaded the movement for reform are nothing but agents of the ruling government. Absolute nonsense.
Yes, it is true that Ishrat Jahan has joined the ruling dispensation. So what? And how does this single act delegitimize the struggle of Muslim women for gender justice. Everyone is free to join any political party of his or her liking. In doing so Ishrat has exercised her fundamental right and the clergy has no business casting aspersions on her motive. After all, there are many Muslim men in BJP, but such vituperative statements are never made against them.
The problem is perhaps mush deeper. The more important question that needs to be asked is this: why is it that reformers like Ishrat Jahan and others find space only in BJP and not in Congress and other so called secular political parties? After all, why is it that a reformist like Arif Muhammad Khan did not find space in Congress or the Left parties who cry hoarse over their ‘progressive’ and ‘pro-minority’ politics?
The fact remains that these parties have no vision for the Muslim community. Also, they firmly believe that being pro-Muslim must translate into appeasing the Mullahs since it is the Mullahs which control the Muslim community. Whether it is the SP or BSP in Uttar Pradesh or it is the Trinamool in West Bengal, they all think alike when it comes to Muslims. And their thinking does not go beyond the Mullahs and their madrasas. They need to realise that the tide is turning within Muslim community. That now there are many within the community who are ready to challenge the monopoly of the Mullahs and there are many who now want to move in a different direction from the sectarian agendas which had hitherto defined Muslim politics. The sooner these so called progressive parties realise it, the better it will be for their own political fortunes.
Again, the clergy must realise that this is not the end of the struggle for women. This is just the beginning and in the coming years we will have similar legitimate voices raised on the evil practices of polygamy, Nikah Halala and even the unilateral right of divorce which Muslim men enjoy. It is time for a comprehensive reform of the Muslim personal law. The Mullahs would do good to at least start debating these issues within their circles if they want to remain relevant in the Muslim society.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.comNew Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism