Raziuddin Aquil, who teaches history at the University of Delhi and has written books like Sufism, Culture, and Politics: Afghans and Islam in Medieval North India and In the Name of Allah: Understanding Islam and Indian History, talked about the recent controversy over Muslim personal laws. Excerpts:
Q: A petition titled “Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality” is being heard in the Supreme Court and the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i Hind, being a party in the case, has responded that “since the spirit of Mohammedan laws flows from the Quran, they can’t be subjected to scrutiny by the SC as per principles laid down by the Constitution”. This is the basis of the current, and the oft-repeated debate on Muslim laws and their purported clash with the judiciary. How do you see it that Muslim laws cannot be interpreted by the judiciary in India?
A: The first thing that the likes of those representing the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i Hind are unable to understand is that the Muslim Personal Law or the Mohammedan Law is not in total conformity with the Quranic laws. Triple talaq in one sitting (talaq-i ba’in) is not manifested in the Quran.
The judiciary operates on the basis of legislation laid down. Mohammedan law is not a codified law. The Muslim Personal Law is an Act of 1937. Post Independence, there has been no reform or corrections in the existing lacunae. There is a need for legislation, and till that happens, judiciary cannot intervene.
It is a collective responsibility of the community to press for the much needed modification suiting the requirements of the time, which is in conjunction with the spirit of the Quran, the message of which is equality for all.
Q: The All India Muslim Personal Law Board supports the Jamiat stand on the issue and is even expected to be a party in the said case. Kamal Faruqui, an executive member of the board, has told The Sunday Guardian that since Muslim laws are the result of thorough deliberations among national and international Islamic experts, they cannot be allowed to be interpreted by the judiciary, which is largely non-Muslim. If at all, Muslim laws should be judged by Muslim judges, or through revival of the qazi system, he argues. Please comment on this.
A: It should be noted that many Muslim countries have modified the Sharia in accordance with the changing times, which has not happened in the Indian case as mentioned above. And the country cannot have parallel judicial systems catering to communal demands.
Q: Many Muslim countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Tunisia and even Pakistan and Bangladesh are said to have worked on Muslim laws to make them amenable to the changing times. In many such countries, even the hasty triple talaq has been outlawed. Why is it not being done in India?
A: Indeed, there is a need for legislation, even if it is not in the sense in which the rhetorical Uniform Civil Code is often spoken about, more as a political strategy than any real or sincere attempt at framing a truly progressive modern law.
Q: If we say that it is because of the rigidity of the conservative clerics that the Muslim laws remain archaic, why don’t we see an anti-cleric movement, especially from the Muslim academics etc?
A: Scholars and academics often try to protect themselves from getting involved in the violent language of politics, in which these critical issues are contested. Given the overall culture of intolerance, it is now difficult to even say that men and women are not treated as equal in society. Some people can try to legally justify practising polygamy and arbitrarily resort to triple talaq, but women are discouraged and even prevented from seeking divorce or khula. This is in total contravention of what the Quran and the Prophet of Islam would preach. Those who want to know can know: Quran has emphasised in no uncertain terms the value of monogamy and strongly disapproved of divorce, but who is sincerely interested to follow the true spirit of Islam these days?