Muslim women and some challenges
The age of ignorance is long past; the age of reasoning is here
To constantly blame the scriptures for the injustices that have permeated though the ages is unfair. Knowledge and perception should play the role of the alleviator in such contexts.
Triple Talaq and its incorrect usage by both sexes once again seem to have opened the Pandora’s box of the subject of a Uniform Civil Code and the state’s disregard for Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
How does the southern part of India handle this hullabaloo? It doesn’t do it very well. The society or community we belong to does it for us — automatically. The shores of Tamil Nadu are testimony to the powers of Kannagi, and in the present times, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. We have amidst us products of learning, from the convents of the nuns who spread the need to be educated and approach all things including faith with due reason, and from the thousands of pallisat mosques, temples and village schools, which teach the wisdom of Thiruvalluvar and the courage of Bharatiar. Be it a Mallika Srinivasan, a Preetha Reddy or a stalwart like the late Fathima Akhtar, standards have been set for success in various fields, be they political, medical, educational or service to society at large.
Women in general face pretty much the same issues: gender discrimination, being taken for granted, and having to prove constantly that they have their place in the fields they choose to be a part of. Islam gives women all rights necessary for a dignified living; it also gives them the right to leave a marriage that is not conducive to her. In Islam, there is no pathi parmeshwar; neither is there a need to placate the greed for dowry. The fact that women perpetrate these malpractices as mothers and mothers-in-law, or simply fall prey to age-old practices of ritualistic traditions, is their own folly.
Taken in this context, the Muslim women of Tamil Nadu, and in particular Chennai, face all the very same challenges that other women do. There is the need to address their right to be educated, to progress and be counted as citizens in the process of policy-making. To shed the burden of eons of gender prejudice is a struggle that women face almost every day. As long as she pays obeisance to man, she is regarded as safe!
Child abuse, marital abuse and other forms of violence the people of Tamil Nadu handle with the same sense of diligence and attention for all communities within the State. The land of Periyaar does not shy away from neighbourly deeds; every neighbourhood becomes the vanguard of its dwellers. One need not belong to a particular religion for the neighbour to pick up a phone and call the authorities to warn them of wrongs happening in their locality, or simply come over in numbers and challenge the wrongdoer. Secrecy exists mostly in the upper echelons where abuse and wrongdoing are beautifully veiled in the sophistication of luxury and wealth.
Present patterns of family discord have strong connections to liquor, and Tamil Nadu has its fair share of this misery. It is mind-boggling how such a clear directive principle of state policy of our Constitution is completely sidelined. Liquor has wreaked havoc with lives and ruined many a home. Men have become addicts and there is a growing dependence on freebies — the panacea for political parties that want to stay in power. There is a palpable imbalance in that earning the hard way seems to be a thing of the past. There is more free time for the vices that corruption and laziness bring. Those women who face the added difficulty of having their men addicted to liquor only find that their struggle never gets a breather. Here, Talaq pales in comparison to the trauma of what alcohol and drunkenness inflict, on such a large scale. Why should Article 47 of the Constitution be ignored? Why don’t those who lobby for women’s justice stand for a ban on liquor consumption? There are lobbies and there are lobbies... One wonders at the justice of it all!
In terms of finances, inheritance is still not given to many women where it is their due, be it a Hindu woman or a Muslim woman. Their right to work in family owned businesses is usually usurped among the richer classes. The same fight for justice goes on in all the communities. In the middle and lower middle income category where women earn and take care of the family with little or no help from the male counterpart, the financial burden is overwhelming. Women seem to have accepted the role of being the one who must compromise, and they continue juggling various responsibilities. Raising a family, and being balanced and honest individuals and upright citizens, become challenges. The achievement of her children’s education and dreams take prime slots in her book of goals. Ensuringkhana, kapada and makaan leave little energy for any detailed understanding of the scriptures, whichever the text.
Muslims of Tamil Nadu have always felt Tamil in their veins, mostly because they are children of the soil and partly because of the weaving in of religions and communities so effectively. The beauty of ‘live and let live’ seems to give rise to the need to exist in solidarity within the tolerant and vibrant colours of the State’s secular history.
There is a Jamaath active in almost all neighbourhoods here. The TMMK, the TNTJ, the JIH, the Tableegh Jamath and the Jamiath Ahle Hadeeth are active in locales where their mosques allow them to reach out as guidance counsellors to the families they oversee. Here, the practice of triple Talaq is not encouraged. There are the usual misunderstandings, the age-old problems of mothers-in-law staking their claims, the daughters-in-law being unsoliciting of intrusive relatives, and wives who will not rest with what she has but needs more each day. The counsellors of the various mosques have so far done a fabulous job putting together families as opposed to allowing women to be wronged.
From Kannyakumari to Chennai, Erode to Karaikal, ‘Triple Talaq’ is rare, and if the practice does exist, it is dogma that is politically connected to the survival of a few who believe in ensuring a blind following without reason. Here, the Koran and the Hadeeth hold fort above the diktats of any other. Sharia is prime. The very nature of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was inclusive of all four schools of thought within Islamic jurisprudence, and on that very premise, the south will choose reason and sense over blind allegiance. In most places, triple Talaq may be pronounced as three but is (most often) considered as one. Mediation occurs and reconciliation thereafter. One doesn’t really bother if life can be simpler, problems are solved and hearts mended.
The AIMPLB, on its part, has made provisions in the contract of nikah, bringing about clauses that will in circumstances of strife, benefit women, in the Nikah-Nama booklet it has printed: a ‘pre-nup’ in many ways, being advocated all across India. To educate 180 million Muslims the Board will need coordinated planning and networking from the four corners of the nation. Stringent measures must be put in place to protect the rights of women and, where they are divorced, their walis or guardians must be checked upon. The South is already liberal in adopting the fiqh (jurisprudence) that is suited to the people. In many Muslim countries that follow the Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali fiqh, triple Talaq is banned. Here one realises the benefit of Islam’s flexibility.
Where the husband chooses to rid himself of executing responsibilities completely, he will walk away from the commitment of marriage, with or without Talaq. These individuals are to be commonly found. The reasons can be psychological, mental, physical and financial. There could be lack of commitment, or simply the need to disregard those bound to him. This malaise actually afflicts all communities, irrespective of religion.
In general, the institution of marriage itself is in danger. Live-in relationships are becoming commonly accepted in a society where marriage was once regarded as sacred. Extra-marital affairs do not help, and the tacit acceptance of such concepts is hardly shocking to the Tamil mind today. Divorce rates have risen all over India. Muslim divorces may be the least in comparison with other co-existing faiths. Family values, sacrifices, sharing and caring within the framework of marriage have taken on a very convoluted understanding of late.
Tamil Nadu is home to the Hanafi, the Shafi and the Ahle Hadith. The Ahle Hadith are those who follow all four jurists, namely Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal. To them the easier path will be the one they choose. In matters of Talaq, Maliki fiqh is adhered to. What does happen is that even if three Talaqs are pronounced, it is the equivalent of a single Talaq and there is a chance to marry by making nikah and resuming life where they left off. The Halaalah does not figure in here, at this juncture.
Making life less complicated, is what fiqh or jurisprudence does!
Hanafi fathers bring their daughters to Ahle Hadeeth scholars to receive a ruling that will allow their sons-in-law a second chance to make the marriage work. Here, Talaq will come under the Koranic injunction.
Tamil Nadu is simply literate, and therefore is an amalgam of the best.
Under Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali Jurisprudence, Talaq is done as per the Koran and clear verses are given thereunder. The 12 beautiful verses of the sixty-fifth chapter named ‘Talaq’ have elucidated the process and warned of the wrath of the Creator upon those who choose to take justice lightly. Alimony is her right and the provision for her child or children is obligatory. Verse 6 of this chapter clearly commands a home for the divorced woman as per the man’s means, where she may dwell in comfort and dignity. Islam will always stand for justice.
On the other hand, triple Talaq, which is being blown out of proportion as an issue, can actually be a boon to many an abused woman. There have been cases where the mother walks into her chamber only to find that the man she married is either molesting or raping her daughter. Cases of abuse have been reported where step-fathers malign the trust reposed in them. And in some cases, even perverted fathers have done the same. Will this mother ever want to have anything to do with such a husband?
Incidents where the husband returns from a long sojourn abroad, where he would have braved difficult conditions in order to ensure the family’s sustenance, only to walk into an unpleasant situation of having to witness his wife with another man, are also not uncommon. Where there is clear evidence of the woman having chosen to be unfaithful to the trust that marriage demands, there is no room for mediation. Infidelity is as old as relationships itself. Triple Talaq here will only annul that marriage, which the wife has chosen to do herself.
The essence of triple Talaq is that it is allowed under extraneous circumstances and is not the norm. To go on harping on triple Talaq as though it is the monster that breaks marriages and oppresses women, is ridiculous. Men and women who simply do not agree to live together break marriages. Good riddance to wife-beaters, abusers and sick-minded losers who value their women so little, that they pick up the phone in a cowardly manner and walk away with a ‘Talaq, Talaq, Talaq’.
If this is the tool the right wing will use to implement a Uniform Civil Code and thereafter perpetuate one ideology, annihilating in its path the vibrant pluralism of India, then let us bid adieu to the secularism our great nation was founded on, the freedom we so rightly earned and the sagacity of our coexistence.
(The author is a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)