By Shahnawaz Akhtar
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), considered as the custodian of Muslim personal law, is at the centre of an ongoing debate in India concerning triple Talaq. The body plans to take drastic action in order to save itself from being further criticised for its adamant stand on triple Talaq - that it's a divine ruling and cannot be changed.
The AIMPLB, which has just announced the setting up of a separate women wing, is now considering punishing men who opt to divorce their wives by pronouncing the word "Talaq" thrice, in one go.
“Though the use of triple Talaq is valid, we are thinking of punishing those men who pronounce it (in one sitting),” secretary of AIMPLB Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rehmani, who is busy these days attending seminars and meetings across India, said.
Rehmani was recently in Giridih, Jharkhand, to clear the air on the issue of triple Talaq. This in fact was the first-of-its-kind move by the AIMPLB to reach out to Muslims across the country in a bid to make the board’s stand clear to the masses, along with the government’s views on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
During the 45-minute conversation with Rehmani, along the sidelines of a mass meet organised by the AIMPLB in Giridih, he expressed great concern over how the government, through the Law Commission of India, was planning to implement the UCC by playing on the issue of triple Talaq.
The arbitrary use of triple Talaq has been a much debated topic since time immemorial, and of late in India, many women and NGOs have been campaigning for the abolishment of triple Talaq. However, recently this matter came to light when a triple Talaq victim, Saira Bano, moved the Supreme Court, seeking justice.
An NGO, Muslim Mahila Andolan, backed her. And soon, the Law Commission started conducting a survey on the need of UCC. It is understood that the BJP government at the Centre, which had also mentioned in its election manifesto that it will implement UCC in India, used the opportunity to have the commission conduct the survey.
Now the AIMPLB, to counter the government's moves is planning some much needed measures, with its members reaching out to common Indian Muslims - many of whom were not even aware of the AIMPLB and its functioning.
Rehmani did not mention the time-frame for the implementation of the proposed idea of punishing men but said: “We have formed a committee and all sects of Muslims, be it Barelvi, Deobandi, Ahle Hadis, have been included to suggest and decide upon the type of punishment that would be granted to men who pronounce triple Talaq in one go.”
According to Muslim history, during the period of Khilafat, any man who pronounced triple Talaq was punished with 100 lashes. However, the softer parts of the body were spared in most cases. But Umar Farooque, one of the prominent Caliphs in Islamic history, ordered lashes even on the head for, according to him, any man who pronounced triple Talaq didn't have his mind in the right place. Rehmani shared this anecdote while addressing the gathering.
So what will be the punishment for Indian Muslim men who resort to triple Talaq? “The committee is yet to decide on the punishment. I should not comment on what it would be and how it would be implemented. In my personal opinion, it should be a heavy monetary fine, which he should be paying his wife for at least five years - the period in which a divorced woman is expected to get married and settle down with another man,” suggested Rehmani.
When asked how many Islamic or non-Islamic countries were presently punishing the men pronouncing triple Talaq, Rehmani said he had no idea.
It is not clear whether the committee who will decide the punishment includes women, though the board announced the formation of its women wing on November 20, at its annual general meeting in Kolkata.
Many people term the punishment idea as too little, too late. Defending it, Rehmani said: “We do not think so. There are 300 members in the AIMPLB and 25 of them are women. Which means 8 per cent.”
He asked: “Show me a single national political party in India which has such a high percentage of women in their different bodies?”
“And before our separate women wing, we did have a separate wing of women for social reforms, so it's neither too late nor too little,” he asserted.
Besides working on the idea to punish those who pronounce triple Talaq, the board has sped up the formation of Darul Qazas or Shariat courts across the country. These courts can be approached by a woman, who does not want to stay with her husband, to seek a smooth divorce without approaching Indian courts. So far, there are 60 such courts each in Bihar and Assam.
“In these courts, couples first get counselling and after that, if they still do not want to stay married, the court proceeds with divorce according to Islamic law,” Rehmani explained.
The board has also prepared a model Nikahnama (marriage contract) in which, before Nikah, the bride and groom can mention certain conditions, indicating that if any contravention arises, they would approach the Darul Qazas.
The secretary has also charged Bano with raising issues such as polygamy and Nikah Halala along with the triple Talaq matter, as neither her husband (Rizwan Ahmed) was polygamous, nor was he interested in remarrying her.
“Bano has mostly raised wrong issues. Interestingly, other women of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) also did the same. I presume these women have been instigated by the RSS. Most of the women who are raising the issue are either married to Hindu men or haven't had a Nikah. So triple Talaq is not relevant for them,” said Rehmani.
He then quickly added: “Like Zakia Soman (BMMA founder), women who do not want triple Talaq in their life can always get married under the Special Marriage Act.”
After the implementation of the punishment initiative, its success will depend on whether it is able to stop arbitrary use of triple talaq by Muslim men.
The AIMPLB must also understand that talaq is not associated with men but women too, who are the actual sufferer, and hence they should be included in the decision-making process as well.