Muslim women activists say the clergy has done little to improve their lot, instead perpetuating a patriarchal interpretation of Quranic law.

  • Urvashi Dev Rawal, Hindustan Times, Jaipur
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  • Updated: Nov 16, 2015 16:49 IST

 (AFP photo/For representative purposes only)

Asma from Jaipur left her family and converted to Islam to marry the man she loved. But instead of providing her a home, he pronounced triple talaq and tried to grab her house.

Farida’s husband gave her triple talaq because she wore spectacles.

There are also instances of Muslim men divorcing their wives through letters, on telephone, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media. Women are opposing this as well as other practices like polygamy, denial of alimony, inheritance rights etc.

But now women like Asma and Farida are no longer content to be wallflowers. Instead they are fighting for their rights and questioning an orthodox clergy.

Muslim women activists say the clergy has done little to improve the lot of women instead perpetuating a patriarchal interpretation of Quranic law.

“Illiteracy, a patriarchal social set-up, religiously sanctioned social practices and lack of awareness about their rights have kept Muslim women subjugated,” says Zakia Soman, founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). BMMA was founded in 2007 and has a presence in 15 states with about 70,000 members.

Practices like oral triple talaq, polygamy, denial of alimony, inheritance rights to women have become ingrained in Muslim society through misinterpretation of the Quran, she says.

Soman, who is based in Ahmedabad, says the BMMA is spearheading a pan-India campaign for reforms including banning triple talaq and codification of Muslim personal law based on Quranic tenets.

At another level, the BMMA is challenging the patriarchal interpretation of the Quran and the hegemony of the male clerics. Not surprisingly the BMMA is facing stiff resistance from the All India Muslims Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a coalition of Muslim organizations.

“The Board which has anointed itself as the spokesperson for Muslims and denies there is any problem. They are refusing to change even though Muslim women want a ban on triple talaq, polygamy and supporting codification of Muslim personal law,” says Soman.

Of the 14 million Muslim population, almost 7 million are women. The literacy level for Muslim women is a dismal 41%.

“The Quran gives rights to women but these are being denied by the Ulemas and Maulvis who interpret the religious text in a patriarchal manner,“ says Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the BMMA.

“There is a need to go beyond existing interpretations. Why hasn’t the clergy addressed problems of women nor responded to a changing society?” she asks.

“Most women can’t register a case or go to court as they don’t have nikahnamas or talaqnamas and no proof of marriage or divorce,” says Nishat Hussain, who heads the Jaipur chapter of BMMA.

“The women are fraudulently given divorce sometimes on flimsy grounds and denied any Mehr, maintenance money or property rights,” says Hussain.

Niaz says the lived reality of the women is very different and underscores the need for BMMA’s campaign.

Nagma Bano, 20, was raped by an acquaintance, Asif who assured he would marry her. He forcibly broke up her marriage but reneged on his promise. After Nagma threatened to complain to police, he tied the knot with her in 2014.

“His family threw me out,” says Nagma. After she filed a case in the police station, Asif’s family gave a stamp paper to the police saying he had given talaq to Nagma and had given her maintenance which she denies.

Asma Ansari converted to Islam and broke ties with her family to marry Akbar Ali Ansari in 1983 though he was already married.

“In 2008, he fraudulently got my home in his name, gave me triple talaq and threw me out of my house.”

Asma, 50, filed a case and the court ruled that the house belonged to her. She now lives in the same house on the first floor while her husband is on the ground floor.

Soman cites the case of Farida, 25, from Mumbai, was divorced by her husband because she wore spectacles. “The Qazi said the husband’s reason for talaq was valid.”

Maulana Abdul Raheem Qureshi, spokesperson of the AIMPLB, denied any patriarchal interpretation of the Quran and stressed there is no ambiguity regarding talaq or remarriage. “The procedures are laid down in the Quran and the Hadith. There is no need of interpretation of the Quran.”

He said the Board is in favour of one talaq. “If the husband gives on talaq, then he can later take her back if he feels he does not want to divorce her.”

Qureshi also upheld talaq on phone or through social media “Talaq is the husband’s right and is valid thorough any means.”

Salim Engineer, secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, brushes aside the survey and says, “If the BMMA is making efforts to empower Muslim women by giving them their rights as mentioned in the Quran, we support them. But if they want to defame Islam, we cannot support them.”

92% women want a ban on triple talaq: Survey

A survey by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan released in 2015 found that a majority of women favour an end to triple talaq and instead want codification of Muslim law.

The survey conducted among 4710 Muslim women from 10 states reveals that 92% women want a ban on triple talaq, 93% want a legal framework instead of triple talaq, 91.7% women don’t want their husbands to marry more than once, 44% women don’t have nikahnama so there is no proof of marriage, 82% women don’t have any property in their name. 73% of women have annual income of less than 50,000, 55% women get married before 18 years.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities)