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The Triple Talaq


Dr. Syeda Hameed, Feminist and Islamic Scholar on Triple Talaq.

Many Indian Muslim women have had enough, challenging the men who walk the corridors of power in their mosques and madrasas, Mari Marcel Thekaekara writes.

India is in the middle of a divisive debate. Weirdly, even fundamentalist Hindu groups have jumped into an essentially Muslim debate, where fundamentalist Muslim men refuse to acknowledge the injustice of a particularly Indian Muslim problem, where Indian Muslim men divorce their wives on a whim.

To be sure it’s a very complicated issue. Not many countries like India have multiple sets of laws. Apart from the common civil laws which govern the country, we have minority laws too. Extremely progressive for the 1950's when the laws were constituted to create a truly secular country. But difficult too.

Minorities – Christians, Muslims, Parsis and others have their own sets of 'Personal Laws' governing marriages, property etc. While this undoubtedly confers special rights to these groups, it also creates problems with the majority, many Hindus, feeling that they are at a disadvantage.

In the eye of the storm is the debate about 'Triple Talaq', or the right of Muslim men to divorce their wives by pronouncing 'Talaq' – ‘I divorce you' – three times. Apparently this is done on the slightest pretext in some cases, with men using it as a threat to subdue their wives. Some men are resorting to sending the 'Triple Talaq' via emails, by phone messages, WhatsApp or telephone calls.

While many Islamic countries have banned it, Indian men, notably the patriarchs, mullahs, and old men of the tribe, use the threat, of what they deem as 'un-Islamic and treacherous', on Indian Muslim women who protest about the injustice of it all.

But many Indian Muslim women have had enough. Several have openly spoken out against it, calling the practice un-Islamic and challenging the men who walk the corridors of power in their mosques and madrasas. Having said that, Muslim women are rejecting the stereotypical image of helpless, veiled and victimised females that everyone needs to pity.

Islamic feminist scholar, Dr. Syeda Hameed is anything but stereotypical. She worked on India's Planning Commission as an advisor to the government for two terms. She has lectured on literature in a Canadian university and is herself a talented writer and author of several books.

Syeda has conducted marriages for young Muslim couples. As a practising Muslim woman cleric she has certainly raised quite a few eyebrows even in liberal Muslim circles. When I phone to interview her, she quotes from her article:

'The statement of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) that Muslim women across the country feel secure under the Sharia law and do not want Uniform Civil Code (UCC) professes to speak on behalf of 84 million Muslim women. I cannot speak for 84 million, but, as a believing and practising Muslim woman, I say with humility that they do not speak for me'.

She continues: 'Islam gave property rights to women at a time when the customary practice was to bury the girl child at birth. To legitimise instant Triple Talaq in such a religion which has given concrete rights to women (and not just deified them) is the greatest ill we can do to Islam. As a Muslim woman, I reject it.'

Dr. Syeda travelled to 18 Indian states as a member of the National Commission for Women. She produced the report ‘Voice of the Voiceless: Status of Muslim Women in India’. Thousands of Muslim women spoke to her about the Damocles sword of Triple Talaq hanging over their heads and the resultant penury in which they are thrown when they are divorced by those three words.

Syeda ends with an example quoting Caliph Umar who whipped the man who gave instant Triple Talaq to his wife. 'Let lights such as these shine so Islam’s original spirit imbues our actions,' she concludes.

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