By Heena Khan
21 April 2017
A certain Mrs. Raza, a resident of Uttar Pradesh and a victim of triple talaq, wants to give up on Islam. Reason: her husband divorced her over phone. She believes that Islam does not adequately secure her position in the society. My latest online feed points to a case of a man divorcing his wife in a family court in Uttar Pradesh shouting talaq three times. The wife fainted in a fit of agony as the husband exited the court premises. The question of triple Talaq is long and lingering, often politicized by interest groups, on the Indian soil, where Muslims are the largest minority group and an enviable vote bank.
A five-judge constitution bench of Supreme Court plans to examine a batch of petitions challenging Islamic practices such as triple Talaq during the summer month of May. At a time when Muslim women are being divorced on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) maintains its bizarre stand on the issue, equating triple Talaq to the word of God. While their position on the issue is a known fact for all of Indian political history, they can’t be further away from the truth, and further still from relevance in today’s date and time. This instant divorce practice has been barred in more than 20 Muslim countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. And now, in India, with over a million Muslims having signed a petition to end this practice, hope floats for the insecure, underprivileged Muslim women.
It is pertinent here, to quote from one Hadith (historical records of Prophet’s life that help explain the tenets of the religion, supplementing what is said in The Quran) --- when the Prophet (sws) came to know that a certain person had divorced his wife by pronouncing three divorce sentences one after the other, he stood up in anger and said: ‘In my presence, such playful attitude has been adopted with the Book of Allah. [Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman Ahmad ibn Shu’ayb al-Nasa’i, Al-Sunan al-mujtaba, 2nd ed., vol.6 (Halab: Maktab al-matbu ‘at al-islamiyyah, 1986), 142, (no. 3401)]. This anecdote makes clear that the concept of Triple Talaq has no support in Islam.
The issue of triple Talaq has so far been dealt along the crossroad of politics and religion, Muslim political identity framed over decades of minority appeasement and vote bank politics. My views on the issue are strictly expressed through the reasoning of The Holy Quran that is explicit in condemning instant Talaq. It is pertinent to note here that the Quran has not dealt with every possible issue, but has chosen to illustrate only on matters for which there can be no single objective matrix. It has, however, dealt with the issue of divorce in depth.
The Quran grants equal right to divorce to both men and women, the only difference being that a man divorces a woman, while a woman demands divorce from her husband. If the husband refuses, the wife has the right to take the matter to the court of law.
According to another Hadith by Ibn ‘Abbas, the wife of Thabit ibn Qays once came to the Prophet (sws) asking for the divorce from her husband and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I do not have any complaint regarding his character and person; however, I fear that I will lose my faith.” When the Prophet heard this, he said: “Would you return his orchard?” She showed her consent. At this, the Prophet (sws) directed Thabit to accept the orchard and separate her by pronouncing one divorce sentence.
Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamdi (2010, pg. 412-426) points to the verses in The Quran that make it explicit that “if a husband has decided to divorce his wife, he should utter the divorce sentence just once. The wife, after she has been divorced in this way must stay in her husband’s house for a period of three menstrual cycles. This waiting period is called Iddat. This is mainly to ascertain if the wife is pregnant so that the lineage of the yet-to-be-born child does not remain a matter of doubt. If the woman does not have menstrual cycles owing to age, disease or any other reason, and still there are chances of pregnancy, then she must wait for three months. For a pregnant woman, this period is up to the birth of the child, while for a newly-married couple who have had no contact, divorce does not entail any period of Iddat for the wife.”
This waiting period also affords opportunity and time to the couple to work out their relationship issues. If the husband decides to revoke his divorce during the phase of iddat, he may do it. A husband can revoke his decision of annulment for two times. If, unfortunately, for the third time, the situation arises that the divorce becomes inevitable, the Quran says that a husband can exercise his right to divorce. “After divorcing the wife for the third time, he cannot remarry her now, unless, and until, the wife marries some other person, and owing to some situation gets divorced from him --- not as a planned strategy but on account of naturally arisen circumstances. This last measure is actually meant to prevent this affair from becoming a mere child play” (Saleem, 2014, pg. 61).
A case in point is the incident of Rukanah ibn ‘Abdi Yazid, who had divorced his wife three times in one go and presented his case before the Prophet (sws) out of guilt. The Prophet (sws) enquired: “How did you divorce her?” He replied: “I divorced her three times in one go. The Prophet (sws) again enquired: “What was your intention?” He answered that he wanted to divorce once only.
“If this is the matter then take her back. Only one divorce has been implemented. Rukanah remarked: “O Prophet of Allah! I had divorced her three times.” The Prophet said: “I know. Take her back. This is not the proper way of divorcing a wife. The Almighty has said that if one must divorce his wife, he should do so keeping in consideration the ‘Iddat’.”
The following verse speaks as much:
“This divorce [in which the husband can revoke his decision in the iddat period] is permitted twice only, and then a woman must be retained with kindness or allowed to go with kindness [The Quran, 2: 229].
Surely then there is a need to reconstruct religious thought by Muslim leadership of the country, as was espoused by Sir Muhammad Iqbal ages ago. The lacunae in understanding the scriptures can be traced to the interpretation of certain uncertified oral Hadiths, mostly understood out of context, by four imams --- Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafae’e, Imam Maalik Ibn Anas, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hambal --- who formulated Sharia laws, including triple Talaq, in their individual understanding of the religion. And over time, their word became the last word on Islamic jurisprudence. Today, there is an urgent need to revisit and test the validity of these Hadiths on the weighing balance of the holy book, and negate them if they contradict the principles enshrined in the Quran. The Muslim leadership of India needs to deliberate upon and remove all contradictions between the practice of religion and the religious thought as expressed in the Holy Quran.
Heena Khan is currently enrolled as a PhD student at Washington State University, USA. Formerly a journalist, She is widely published in The Hindu, India Today, Platform Magazine, DailyO, and Hindustan Times