By Saba Naqvi
21 May 2017
INDIA is constitutionally a secular democracy. Iran is an Islamic state. Yet during a recent visit there, I would come out with a rich haul of stories and learn a few things that were intriguing. For instance, I would learn that there are restrictions on the volume levels of loudspeakers for the morning Azan in many residential areas even during the month of Ramadan. I guess it’s an unfair comparison since India is a noisy society where temples and mosques all have the license to kick up a racket, but as a reporter it’s a fact I can’t resist pointing out.
In Iran I also had the opportunity to interview a leading cleric Haj Abul Qasim who heads the Jurisprudential Research Centre of Social systems in Qom and is a member of the Assembly of Experts, that’s tasked with guiding that country’s Supreme Leader and choosing the new one when the time comes. Besides several questions on Iran and geopolitics, I also asked him about how clerics should present themselves when they speak for a minority community. The answer was fascinating: he spoke of the concept of “Taqiyyah” whose literal translation is the permission to deceive in order to protect the community.
The way he explained it was fascinating: it means, he said, that you should recognize that what you appreciate and recognize will not be appreciated by others. Therefore when the community is a minority, its religious leaders should act diplomatically in order to protect their people.
Many Indian Maulvis do the opposite. Indeed, as the TTT (Triple Talaq Tamasha) proceeds, the producers of TV news shows are certainly on to a good thing with various worthies of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). Therefore, on any dull news day -- that is when we can’t abuse Kashmiris on prime time TV or harangue Pakistanis or have a super duper exclusive expose on the opposition chaps all now running for cover -- we can dust off the mullahs and produce them on TV. The producers are guaranteed of a sterling performance by one mullah or the other defending the indefensible.
I think there needs to be some serious introspection among Muslims on how the views of the clerics go down with the pre-dominantly non-Muslim audience.
I have also been confronted with convoluted arguments by well-meaning folks who believe I should defend (or at least not attack) Triple Talaq because the BJP regime is challenging it in court only in order to embarrass the Muslim community. They are partly right but very wrong about a few basic principles involved. Certainly, the BJP has no real concern for the welfare of minorities of any gender; hence Triple Talaq could well be viewed as a bait.
Tragically, but very expectedly however, instead of offering any enlightened views, the clerical class of the Muslim community has bitten the bait. On the one hand we have news reports of Congressman and lawyer Kapil Sibal arguing in the Supreme Court on behalf of the (AIMPLB) and saying that triple Talaq is 1400 years old hence should not be tampered with (on such grounds could we have retained sati, child marriage but then perhaps only Muslims need to be kept in a medieval time warp?).
Sibal has also reportedly taken the Holy Book argument that the Quran can’t be tampered with. Wonder why most Muslim majority nations including Pakistan have done away with triple Talaq? I guess the mullahs there are just not as enlightened as our chaps in India.
One may ask, what is the locus standi of the AIMPLB to speak on behalf of the world’s third largest Muslim community? Briefly, the AIMPLB, founded in 1973, is a collection of clerics whose purpose is to protect Sharia law. Half its members are life members who represent an orthodox male viewpoint. The same chaps also have their hand in managing Waqf properties that are meant to be used for the welfare of the poor but are repositories of corruption. There are 3, 00,000 registered Waqf properties in India on four Lakh acres.
There is so much unemployment and backwardness in the Muslim community that giving a child semi-education in a madrasa and then getting him a salary of an Imam can be viewed as a safe career choice. That’s why the mullahs have been getting away with it and also because any demand to question them brings out a familiar response: they are the only people who can interpret the Quran, something Sibal is also telling the apex court.
Under these conditions, the argument being made to me (that by opposing triple Talaq, I am playing a BJP agenda) is not surprising. The idea that someone may take a position because it involves the principle of equality of all citizens does not occur to many people today.