Maulana Mahmood Madani, a leading Islamic cleric from Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, is the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. A former member of the Rajya Sabha, Madani talked to The Sunday Guardian about triple talaq and the BJP government. Excerpts:
Q: What’s your take on the Narendra Modi government and its performance?
A: See, the Muslim community did not have a lot of expectations from this government to begin with. Muslims believe that they have been given some rights by the Constitution, which are the fundamental rights. So even if someone comes and goes, it is not going to affect us a lot. It is true that Muslims are economically, educationally and socially one of the most backward communities. There are other communities too who have been left behind. Muslims didn’t think anything will get better for them with BJP coming to power. Because they didn’t have expectations, they do not have complaints either—that my acchhe din were going to come but didn’t come… But there is one thing, which is about the interpretation of the Constitution. Their interpretation and that done by Muslims are different. So, Muslims feel cornered. Muslims were defensive earlier because they were given tags like extremist or terrorist. But now, especially the issue of triple talaq has come up. Muslims have started feeling tense. We were hopeful that no one would misinterpret the rights given to us by the Constitution and everything will work according to how we understand the Indian Constitution.
Q: How do you see the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill that deals with triple talaq?
A: I understand this as a community issue and believe that the community should solve it on its own. The government, law and the courts will not be very successful in dealing with it; they will fail. Because if we check whether talaq and legal separation are more among Muslims compared to other communities, we see that it is actually less in Muslims, percentage wise.
Q: But many Muslim women are happy since this bill has been passed in Parliament.
A: It might be that 2%-5% women are happy. But one needs to see what the majority of Muslim women want. I have said this before also, that get the Muslim women’s referendum on this and see whatever the majority says…
Q: Actually, there is no need for a referendum. What does one’s common sense say?
A: There are two things in this. What is the reality of the people in society? If it is actually so, then it should be solved. But triple talaq is uncommon among Muslims. A society that doesn’t have the system of talaq feels horror-struck that Muslims have talaq. The way Modiji and Amit Shah spoke of it, it seemed like there is nothing else happening in Muslim households but talaq. Earlier it was the idea of terrorism associated with Muslims—it was as if they kill indiscriminately. Now the notion being spread is that all Muslims are keen to divorce their wives using triple talaq. My concern is the kind of atmosphere that has been created under the excuse of passing the bill. Aren’t you seeing the reaction (from Muslim women) to this atmosphere? Lakhs of (Muslim) women are taking to the streets. In Delhi, a programme is being organised with 10 lakh (Muslim) women. We never think that a woman should be thrown out of her home. She can leave according to her own wish to study and do other things. If Muslim women are happy with the bill then how come thousands of them have gathered to speak against it? Some four-five women giving interviews in favour of the bill are not enough evidence of Muslim women being happy with it.
Q: But triple talaq is banned in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
A: But they are different from us. Our Prime Minister has said that Muslims of India are different from those of other countries because they have strongly held onto their religion. Read the research paper that has been published on ISIS; what does it say? That all those people who have gone there to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to fight are new Muslims, or are those who run bars and have no relations with Islam. They know nothing about Islam. Indian Muslims interpret triple talaq differently. Respect the interpretation done by Indian Muslims and their religious scholars. Don’t snatch that interpretation away from Muslims. Let them decide. I am saying that triple talaq is wrong. It is illegal and should not happen at any cost. But this is an internal matter and should not be corrected from outside. My son is making a mistake, so I should have the option of correcting him.
Q: But you had 70 years to take a step forward…
A: See if there is anything that affects society negatively, it should be corrected and that happens gradually. The situation is still better. There are other communities in a society where cases of marital separation are higher. Then why not correct that first? In reality, the percentage of separation is low among Muslims in comparison to other sections. So first correct that and then come to us.
Q: What do you think BJP wants?
A: They want to strangle Muslims and get votes.
Q: Hindu votes?
A: Why should I say that? They will be happy that Muslims have been troubled. This is wrong. If you really are considerate about Muslim women, you should make colleges and universities for them and give them the option to study further.
Q: If the triple talaq Act passes in the Rajya Sabha, what will be your reaction?
A: You make the rules, and we will break them.
Q: But how can we break rules?
A: We can. It is not that I will divorce my wife to break the rule. But we will break it.
Q: But this is wrong.
A: Then is what they are doing right? It will be tit for tat.
Q: then what about Muslim women?
A: We will not let any injustice happen to any woman. We will take that responsibility. We know it has been our failure and we accept it. I have said before too, it (triple talaq bill) is a political matter. It is not a matter of Muslim women’s interest. But rather a matter of interference in the name of Muslim women’s interest. No one has the right to interfere. In principle I agree it is our failure. But at least compare and see that how many cases of separation are there in Muslims and how many are there in others. It is not that every Muslim has divorced three women and has done four marriages and has 25 children. You want to defame Muslims…This is our country too and we live here in shame. Our baba—the PM is baba only, no?—he is shaming us in the whole society. First we are called terrorists. Just remember what they used to say. That not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim. He used to say that, right? Now he will say not all Muslims give talaq but those who do are Muslims. What nonsense is this?
Q: Do you think communal divide has increased in the country in the last four years?
A: Yes, to an extent. It has happened in different places. In Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand—in different places it did happen. The violence related to cow slaughter has increased fears. I had said to Rajnath Singhji as well that they should keep an eye on it. They should see why this is happening and who is behind it. Now the PM has said many things about it and even said that if you want to kill, you can kill me. He even called the gau rakshaks gundas. Hence, one cannot say that the government is behind this, but the kind of action expected is not being taken against the violence.
Q: Do you think some sections of Muslims think that in order to bring in a fundamental change in the politics of BJP, they should support BJP so that even minorities’ options increase?
A: You are right, one should think like this and even do this, but if only the opposite end needs it. What will we do if we go to them and they say we don’t need you?
Q: Has anything good happened in the last four years in the Modi rule?
A: A lot of things have been done. Recently he visited Palestine and no amount of greetings and gratitude would be enough for that. This was India’s strategy for the last 70 years, which he has taken one step forward. There are a lot of such good things…Modi’s foreign policy is good.