By Dr. Lubna Sarwath
14 December 2016
Jyoti Punwani’s Nov 27, 2016 interview with a woman activist who had recently resigned from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) () appears to be an attempt to whitewash the retrogressive medievalism of a couple of “Jamaats” even while painting the AIMPLB as obscurantist. In one of her responses Punwani’s interviewee states that “Jamaats such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and Ahle Hadees are very active, and both are very progressive on women’s issues.” The groups that are being referred to here are Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees Hind. Both are headquartered in New Delhi.
By no stretch of imagination can these two organisations be described as progressive on women’s issues. The JIH, for instance, issued a press release on Oct 11, 2016 in which its chief, Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, said:
“Jamaat-e-Islami Hind completely stands by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board which is the authentic representative body of Indian Muslims. All major Muslim organizations and a vast majority of the Muslim community stand solidly behind the Board and will not accept any interference in their personal law. Those try to sow the seeds of dissension among Muslims will never succeed. The problem of triple Talaq and polygamy has been blown out of proportion with the sole motive of portraying Muslims as being patriarchal and misogynistic.”
The JIH has always held that three Talaqs pronounced in one sitting (Talaq-e-Bid’ah) is valid and breaks the marriage, although it is a sin. This is based on the views of the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Maududi. In Towards Understanding the Quran, the English version of his Urdu commentary Tafhim al-Quran he states:
“The pronouncing of triple divorce in one session is a highly sinful act according to the Law, and the Prophet has strongly denounced it…Although this procedure of divorce is considered sinful, the founders of the four legal schools consider it to have legal effect, with the result that such divorce, in their view, becomes absolutely irrevocable.” (Note no: 250, Vol.1, p.178)
JIH “completely stands by” the AIMPLB, a body which thinks that if instant triple Talaq is abolished Muslim husbands may kill their wives! Punwani’s interviewee must tell us how this is a progressive position. Indeed, one just has to read the constitution of JIH, especially Articles 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 () to understand its regressive and anti-democratic ideology according to which it is incumbent on every member of the JIH that he or she should “relinquish any key-post which he/she holds under and ungodly governmental system, or the membership of its legislature or a judicial office under its judicial system.” Further, this 'progressive' Jamaat does not have a single woman as part of its Central Leadership, Markazi Majlis-e-Shura, Department Secretaries, or State Presidents, as evident from their website. Unbelievable!
Not to mention, the fact that the president and General Secretary of these 'progressive' Jamaats, viz., JIH & Ahle-Hadees, also happen to be one of the Vice-Presidents and Members of the Executive Committee of AIMPLB.
Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees Hind
The Jamiat Ahle Hadees considers itself outside the fold of the four major schools of Sunni legal thought namely, Hanafi, Shafa’ii, Maliki and Hanbali. It believes that adhering to any school amounts to blindly following (taqleed) its founder which is wrong because Muslims are obliged to follow only the Quran and teachings of Prophet Muhammad. This Jamiat is so puritanical that it describes itself as “Salafis” who “interpret Quranic Verses with an anthropomorphic reference literally”, and counts among its adherents, believe it or not, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq of the Tughlaq dynasty that ruled India between 1320 and 1413 AD.
Surprisingly, despite their extreme conservatism, the Ahle Hadees clerics do assert that uttering three Talaqs in one session should be treated as one Talaq only. This view, when compared to AIMPLB’s obscurantist position on instant Talaq, may appear to be progressive.
The problem, however, is the sanctimoniousness with which the Ahle Hadees group exploits rejection of instant Talaq to promote itself as modern and progressive when in reality it is as regressive as any medieval-minded Muslim religious outfit.
The extent of its patriarchy can be gauged from the Urdu translations and commentaries of the Quran authored by well-known Ahle Hadees clerics such as Maulana Sanaullah Amritsari, Maulana Muhammad Junagadi and Maulana Salahuddin Yusuf.
In his exegesis Tafseer Sanai, commenting on verse 2:282 of the Quran, Maulana Amritsari explains that Quran’s requirement of a male and two females (when two males are unavailable) to witness a financial transaction is because of the fact that forgetfulness is dominant and memory subdued in women (“…Is Liye Ke Auraton Mein Umooman Nisyaan Ghalib Aur Haafiza Maghloob Hota Hai”).
On the same verse, similar humiliating views have been expressed by Maulana Salahuddin Yusuf in his commentary Tafseer Ahsan-ul Bayaan - now printed and distributed free of cost by Saudi Arabia under the title Quran Kareem ma’ Urdu Tarjuma wa Tafseer. His view is that,
“…Aurat Aql Aur Yaadaasht Mein Mard Se Kamzor Hai (Jaisa Ke Sahih Muslim Ki Hadees Mein Bhi Aurat Ko Naaqisul Aql Kaha Gaya Hai). Is Mein Aurat Ke Istakhfaaf Aur Fardtari Ka Izhaar Nahi Hai…Balke Ek Fitri Kamzori Ka Bayan Hai Jo Allah Ki Hikmat Par Mabni Hai…Haqaayaq-O-Waaqiyaat Ke Eitbar Se Naa Qaabil-E-Tardeed Hai.”
This translates as:
“In terms of intellect and memory a woman is weaker than man (just as a tradition in Sahih Muslim states that a woman is intellectually deficient). This [statement] does not demean or de-personalise a woman…but talks about the natural weakness [of women] which is in accordance with Allah’s wisdom… [a truth] irrefutable on the basis of facts and experience.”
Both these Ahle Hadees clerics fail to understand that the Quranic requirement of a male and two female witnesses in the absence of two male witnesses is not because of the weak memory or intellectual deficiency of women. The Quran does not give this reason at all.
A careful reading of verse 2:282 will make it clear that the second female witness is there only for the sake of convenience because of the poor education levels of women and the anti-feminist conditions that prevailed in seventh century Arabia. The Quran states that the second female witness is only there to remind the first if she makes any mistake.
It is obvious here that if the first female witness does not make any mistake, the second will not come in the picture at all thus making it possible for the case to proceed with one female and one male witness.
Far from being gender-biased the injunctions in verse 2:282 should be considered very progressive for trying to bring women into the mainstream by treating them as legal persons at a time when they were stripped of almost all human rights. Therefore, it is a shame that clerics who claim to be scholars of Islam should use this verse to further their patriarchal agenda in the name of the very Book which brought women on a par with men in all respects.
Not just that, Maulanas Sanaullah Amritsari and Salahuddin Yusuf also approve of Muslim husbands beating their wives (as per verse 4:34) if they are disobedient.
Maulana Amritsari’s words in his commentary Are Mooh Bachakar Khafeef Sa Unko Maaro (avoiding the face, beat them lightly) which are no different from Maulana Yusuf’s “…Halki Si Maar Ki Ijazat Hai, Lekin Yeh Maar Wehshiyaana Aur Zaalimaana Naa Ho” (only light beating is permitted, but this beating should not be bestial or vicious).
It may be pointed out here that such a misogynist interpretation of the gender-just Quran is the result of misunderstanding the Arabic term Wazribuhunna in verse 4:34 which, in the context of the verse, means “explain them” not “beat them”.
Without a doubt, the Ahle Hadees clerics quoted above have portrayed a shockingly regressive patriarchal mindset in their commentaries. Unless the Jamiat Ahl-e- Hadees Hind rejects such interpretations they cannot be considered “progressive on women’s issues” as claimed by Punwani’s interviewee.
In fact, the interviewee’s own progressive credentials are suspect as she feels that “instant Talaq should not be completely done away with” because “in exceptional circumstances, such as when the wife is suffering long-term abuse but does not have the guts to break away, instant Talaq can be a boon.”
This reasoning is totally wrong and baseless because neither the Quran nor any authentic Hadees mentions or justifies it. Moreover, the belief that instant Talaq can be a boon “in exceptional circumstances” is also the view of the AIMPLB as articulated in paragraph 65 of its affidavit submitted before the Supreme Court. In other words, the interviewee’s resignation - for differences with the Board on triple Talaq - doesn’t make sense.
Yet, Jyoti Punwani thought it fit to project the interviewee’s resignation as a progressive development when there is nothing progressive about the statements of the lady who resigned or the Ahl-e- Hadees school she follows. When it comes to religious issues of Muslims, women reporters like Punwani, who are not well-versed in Islamic theology or the ideology of religious movements, should be careful in choosing the persons or groups they gush about or romanticise.
Dr. Lubna Sarwath teaches at Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia and is the Editorial Assistant-cum-Referee for Humanomics, Emerald Publications, UK