Kolkata: Ahmed Ali (name changed), a senior police officer, in a fit of rage, pronounced talaq, talaq, talaq to the wife he loved dearly. Later in a bid to undo this error he changed his name and had nikaah with his wife again.
Instigated by his mother and sisters Shahryar Khan uttered the three words to his bride of a few months over the phone from the Middle East. Unable to come to terms with his own decision he returned home and coaxed an elderly man from his village to marry his ex wife, who was an orphan, with a plan to get the old man to divorce her so that he could marry her again. It is another matter that she opted to live with her second husband with dignity than test her destiny again.
Razia Bano was not happy with the way her in laws treated her and refused to go back after a trip to her parental home. She wanted a better life. Her brothers put a gun on her husband’s head and forced him to pronounce talaq.
Clearly, women are not the only suffers of the ignominy of the triple talaq. And, as weird as they sound, these are real life stories that are not rare occurrence either.
“The Quran has no provision for talaq of this kind,” says historian and scholar Dr Safoora Razeq. “You cannot give talaq in one sitting. It has to be over a period of three months or two menstrual cycles. And only when the couple cannot reconcile in the intervening period that the talaq becomes valid after the third and final pronouncement. Also, if the woman is pregnant at that time then also the talaq is void,” she explains.
Origin of triple talaq
Then why is the instant triple talaq, a common occurrence among the Muslims in India?
“There was no provision for instant talaq in the Quran. But later when Sharia laws began to be codified and four schools of jurisprudence emerged, Imam Hanifa, whose school of thought is followed in India, gave the talaq his seal of approval. However, the undeniable fact remains that our Prophet used to condemn it and such talaq never got his approval,” shares historian and social activist Md Sulaiman Khurshid.
Community divided on ban
While there is strong opposition to ban triple talaq, primarily because it is seen as an intervention into its personal affairs, the majority of women in the community are all for it. “The men and their family use the instant talaq as a threat and use it to harass and ill treat the wife. Even a woman in her 90s is not safe from this threat. Remember Shah Banu?” asks Nakahat Sultana Bano, lawyer and social activist.
There are women who oppose the idea of banning it. “It is accepted by our Sharia so even though it goes against my interest and it is a harsh view I will not support its ban,” says Tarannum Khanum. But she is quick to point out that men who give such talaq should be punished by the community, a view she shares with the well known Islamic scholar Dr Israr Ahmed.
“While debates and discussions on the topic are going round in circles no one seems to notice the safeguard against exploitation of women that is right there in practice, the nikahnama,” exclaims Ayesha Fatima.
“It is ironical that pre-nuptial agreements are getting popular in the modern world while Muslims today are readily forgoing theirs. They are talking about model nikahnama. But the nikahnama which is in use right now and which was introduced fourteen hundred years ago, can be used by women to dictate their own terms. Not only can she demand money, property and include any other clause she can also get the right to divorce!” shares Imam Walayat Hussain.
Patriarchy, the main culprit
So why are the women in this community being denied their legitimate rights? “Not only do the boy’s side of the family put social pressure on us not to put in any demands, even the girl’s side of the family prefer to keep those portions blank. So the bride ends up without getting any of her legitimate rights. Even when we try to prompt them to assert the rights we are told not to rake up the topic and let the nikah take place peacefully. In the villages at least we manage to get the sides to discuss but the situation in worse in cities. In fact the affluent and educated families are the most reluctant to let us tell the bride what her rights are,” shares Qazi Hakim Abdul Aziz.
“It is such a pity that Islam which became popular because it introduced revolutionary rights to women and promoted social equality is now either identified as a religion that suppresses women or produces terrorists,” rues aspiring actor Md Mansoor.
Dramatist and academician Zaheer Anwar puts things in perspective when he points out that this is not an easy matter. “Not all Muslim countries follow triple talaq. In fact one entire Surah in the Quran, Surah Nissa delves into the issue of women rights and their safety and security. So those having doubts would do well to read it and clear their doubts,” he says.
The good news is that now even the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is looking at the matter in light of the changing situation. “After their recent gathering in Kolkata talks are on among the AIMPLB members to re-orient the common practice because it is both legally and morally wrong,” shares Md Khurshid.
Confirming the growing acceptance for promoting the rights of women in the community AIMPLB member Kamaal Farooqui says,”While we cannot overrule triple talaq completely we definitely need to spread awareness of women”s rights that are given in the Quran and ensure that men don’t misuse their rights either.”
Question remains, will the Indian Muslim women be able to negotiate the terms and conditions of this contract or merely sign on the dotted lines?