A uniform civil code is unlikely to find many takers among the youth of the Muslim community. Most of the Muslim youth this correspondent spoke to rejected the idea of India having a uniform civil code and instead supported a “modern” and “correct” interpretation of Sharia laws.
“The Sharia needs to be interpreted according to the changing times. We do not need to permit polygamy, for instance,” said Aban Usmani, a journalist. “While triple talaq has always been justified by many Sunni scholars, it is also difficult to dismiss the fact that many ulema do want it to change, to look at the law in a new light,” added Usmani, whose father has long been associated with bodies like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board or the Islamic Fiqh Academy.
The Muslim youth this correspondent talked to, are unanimous in their belief that the laws in the Sharia are just and fair and if there is a slant in favour of men, it is because of biased interpretation.
“As much as I have practised the Sharia in my life, I have not felt that it has in any way belittled me as a woman, provided that the Sharia is practised as it must be, without any political or personal agenda,” claimed Aisha Shams, a PhD scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia university. She admitted that in general these laws were applied as per convenience in favour of men. “Therefore, anyone who lacks awareness about the Sharia is fooled.”
Uzma Ahmedi, a designer based in Bangalore, agreed. “People mistake Wahhabism as Islam,” she said. Uzma belongs to a small sect of Sulaimani Bohra Muslims, who are Shias and follow the “Hadith” laws that stress on virtues like “self discipline, charity, good conduct, faith in Allah, etc. Mainly what all religions promote. It does not talk about fatwas that religious heads announce; of banning female education, wearing hijab or burkha, growing you beard, oppressing women, female genital mutilation etc.,” Ahmedi said.
‘The laws in the Sharia need to be interpreted according to the changing times. We do not need to permit polygamy, for instance.’
According to these young men and women, misinterpretations of the Sharia give rise to inhumane practices like triple talaq, polygamy and halala.
“Misinterpretation does become an issue. I would personally advocate for a ‘right’ interpretation by somebody who has a very deep knowledge of the Quran,” said Ehab Ashraf, a 24-year-old working with a health IT company.
But arriving at the “right” interpretation is a “very risky task”, according to Uzma, particularly as far as finding the right person to do so is concerned.
“In the beginning of the Islamic calendar, Sunni scholars held there could only be one single political authority for Muslims. With changing times, they had to agree on the legitimacy of many rulers governing different lands as Islam spread. The pressure of time always holds ample scope for reform, only if scholars are open to have a re-look,” said Usmani.
The uniform civil code, however, does not appeal to many. They contend that the solution to malpractices is in rescuing the Sharia from rabid clerics.
“Islam is a practising religion and for those who ‘practise’ it would be unfair to push in another set of laws for personal issues,” said Usmani.
Aisha, who recently got married and became familiar with the marriage laws under the Shariah, said, “The Shariah is a way of life. Laws dictate what can be done and what cannot be done. Religious laws do the same. If one country can have separate laws for two states, say Kashmir and Delhi, then personal laws too should remain.”
“The campaign for a uniform civil code has definitely highlighted triple talaq as a problem in India,” said Usmani. “I personally believe that the larger challenge is not that of a re-look (at the Sharia laws), but a consensus (between the various Sunni schools of thought) after the re-look. For the time being, only a re-look should do.”
Ehab, however, considers that in case of an inter-religion marriage, a uniform civil code would be desirable. Similarly, Uzma too said, “Laws are made to simplify the judiciary and to ease governance. I am okay with separate sets of personal laws governing each religion for it has not affected me in any way. But it gets very complicated in an inter-religious marriage.”
Uzma, who is married to a Jain, said, “To simplify matters, if there is one law for all, it’s easy to propagate and understand and follow. A common personal law would make more sense any day,” she said.