The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a Muslim women’s advocacy group, has released a draft document for the codification of Muslim Personal Law. Called the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, this law, if enacted, will abolish polygamy, unilateral and orally-rendered divorces and make registration of marriages mandatory. Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder-member of BMMA, spoke with  Mohammed Wajihuddin about the need for codification, how her group withstood traditionalists — and the Supreme Court’s ruling rejecting fatwas and parallel judiciaries:

How is your draft for codification of Muslim family laws different?
Three Acts form sharia law in India — the Shariat Application Act of 1937, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act of 1939 and Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986.
All these Acts discriminate against women. These laws merely say that Muslims will be governed by sharia and various grounds on which a Muslim woman can seek divorce. It doesn’t say how a man should seek divorce. Men misinterpret and think they don’t need to follow a procedure, they just utter talaq or divorce orally on telephones, through text messages and on email.
Our law abolishes such divorce. We want compulsory registration of marriages and, unlike the existing law, our draft also says the bride and groom should be at least 18 and 21 years respectively, and neither should have a living spouse, thus banning polygamy.

This is bound to be controversial — how prepared are you to face challenges from a powerful male-dominated All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)?
Well, during our discussions too, many male participants protested against our suggestion for a complete ban on polygamy. But women activists across India complained that the polygamy option to Muslim men is a licence to harass wives. It’s used as a Damocles’ sword — it must be done away with. The Quranic injunction is that monogamy is ideal as it’s virtually impossible for a man to do justice to all his wives in a polygamous marriage.
We know the conservative clerics who call the shots in AIMPLB will not approve of our demand of codification of Muslim laws the way we want.
However, we’re sending copies to the law ministry, the National Human Rights Commission and various other stakeholders.
We want the nation to debate this.

How do you view the Supreme Court’s verdict saying sharia courts can’t function as parallel judiciary and fatwas have no legal sanction?
We welcome this judgment — the court has rightly censured sharia courts for often trampling on the rights of individuals.
The judgment will go a long way to enable poor Muslim women to get speedy justice. It will also discourage many misogynistic Muftis from issuing diktats arbitrarily.
Sharia courts must give orders which are in conjunction with the principles of justice and fairness. The Supreme Court’s verdict does give us hope that the Muslim Personal Law will be codified soon in our country — then, an Imrana-like situation will not occur.
How unfair it was for Imrana whose marriage to her husband was declared invalid by a sharia court because she was allegedly raped by her father-in-law — such a travesty of justice must stop.


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