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19 April 2015

Muslim Truth Denied By Muslim Men

Other men are found wanting in protest, too. Support for emancipation of Muslim women from unfair marital laws of the Shari’ah comes mostly from victims of the patriarchal regime and women of other faiths.

umera was sick of this life. It was as if she was continuously tightrope walking, balancing herself like a skilled acrobat so that she would not fall down. Every time she did something that displeased her husband, he pronounced ‘talaq’ once. The next month would pass with her praying that the second pronouncement would not come. The month would pass and if he did not repeat it, she would heave a sigh of relief and begin praying that he would not utter it again. Thrice, he was so angry that he kept count of the days and right on dot repeated the ‘talaq’. How she had prayed that the third pronouncement would not come and the talaq would not materialise.”

Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Vitasta Publishing
Author: Zaheer, Noor
Released: 2015
Pages: 160
Price: Rs 250
This excerpt from Denied by Allah by leftist author Noor Zaheer brings forth the pathos of women’s subjugation under an Islamic regime where the power of calling off a marriage is equally bestowed upon the man and her wife on paper — the religion’s apologists might argue — but in practice it is a snap for the man and a Herculean task for the woman. And the book is not just about the man’s ease of pronouncing triple talaq and the woman’s fear of being used and disposed of. It deals, with the help of extensive surveys, as much with halala, mut’ah and khula.
What happens in reality in case of halala is the most inhumane of all. A couple cannot remarry until the divorced woman marries another man, gets divorced by him and then comes back to her first husband. Islamic scholars say the provision ensures that divorce is not taken lightly; the woman cannot go back to this husband who has divorced her thrice, unless she marries another person who, out of his own free will, divorces her. In practice, a sincere man would never marry a woman under a plan that it was only to divorce her after some time. This implies that only those who view the poor woman as an object of lust would agree to such an arrangement of second marriage. And then, there is no guarantee that her first husband would embrace her in his household again. Zaheer lists a whole lot of real-life instances where the promise of halala by the first husband has, in effect, reduced the victim to a prostitute.
A woman subjected to mut’ah faces the same fate. “I had been married for a hundred days, at the end of which my marriage stood dissolved without a divorce,” narrates Bilquis, a real-life character in the book. She was led into this temporary arrangement by her father through an unceremonious function that did not look like nikah (normal Muslim marriage). Her husband then made her live in a rented house with two servants for help, away from the house where he lived with the rest of his family. In those more-than-three months, he never took Bilquis to that house. And one fine morning the 16-year old girl’s father came to her and asked her to pack all her belongings and accompany him back to her parents’ house. On telling her father that she needed her husband’s permission for the purpose, she was told that man was no longer her husband!
But does anybody care? In an interview to this columnist, author Zaheer shared her dismay about the fact that her supporters have largely been victims from her community and women from others, while men have mostly looked on as mute spectators. When the issue came up for discussion last Saturday at the Constitution Club, New Delhi, it was again women whose protests were more vociferous. A young student from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, rising from a section of the audience, pleaded rightly that these weird marital provisions must be seen as a human rights issue affecting women.
On the last occasion when Zaheer had tried to bring forth the issue at the International Book Fair in Pragati Maidan in the national capital a concerted mob of Muslim radicals disrupted the session of idea exchange and even resorted to mild violence. The book launch had to be abandoned. This time, it was not left to the publisher. Debating India Foundation headed by Swarajya columnist Sudesh Verma organised it at the Constitution Club, inviting members of leftist student unions from JNU, journalists and members from a cross section of society. The name of politician-turned-scholar Arif Mohammed Khan as the main speaker attracted the people in large numbers to the jam-packed Deputy Speaker Hall.
(From L to R) Publisher Renu Kaul, author Noor Zaheer, Islam-to-Hinduism convert Mahendra Pal Arya, scholar Arif Mohammad Khan, Mufti Maqsood ul Qasmi and (not in the frame) feminist Annie Raja
But Khan — who had turned a darling of the progressive masses in 1985 following his resignation from Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet in protest of the legislative reversal of the Shah Bano verdict — disappointed us on Saturday. While he interpreted Islamic tenets in the spirit that they were purportedly laid down, he, like a mufti who spoke later, virtually denied the problem exists. He said what came across as the man’s power was actually his added responsibility. As a saving grace, he also blamed the conduct of Muslims across the world and mullahs’ extreme interpretation of the Qur’an, Hadith and Shari’ah for bringing a bad name to Islam. He said on Yawm al-Qiyamah (the Judgement Day in Islam), Allah would ask him whether he had been true to His word and not to the interpretation by the clergy. This, he said, was his reason for not following the so-called ulema (experts in fiqh — Islamic jurisprudence). But he spoke nothing about the four controversial ways of ending a marriage in Islam.
Mahendra Pal Arya, a rare follower of Vedic traditions who was once a Muslim cleric — Mahboob Ali, Imam of Badi Masjid, Baraut, Bagpat — was the next speaker. He spoke of marriages in his own faith so much that the audience got bored and irritated. How we could solve the problem in hand was on nobody’s agenda. And then Arya referred to Islam so offensively — dumping the Qur’an and some books on Islam on the table during his speech — that the mufti waiting for his turn to speak got infuriated. The issue was yet to be addressed.
And it could not be addressed by the mufti either. He continued with the narrative typical of Muslims that Khan had already familiarised us with: Living in denial.
Mufti Maqsood ul Hasan Qasmi used the word “farzi” (fictitious) to describe the accounts of author Zaheer, and wondered whether the author was dying for fame “like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen”. He sought to defend his faith by saying
  • Khula was akin to bestowing women an equal right to divorce;
  • Mut’ah happened only in Shi’ahs (but was not wrong in any case), and
  • There was no provision for halala!

The audience howled in protest as did the author. Under pressure, the mufti said if at all such things were happening in society, they were wrong.
Qasmi, in a bid to shift the onus from Muslims to reform the community, questioned how other communities were allowing live-in relationships. Since the liberals in the crowd protested all at once, making it unclear who was saying what, I requested the moderator to allow me to speak from the dais. When on stage, I told the mufti that the bond between two individuals was not secured by marriage alone; that it was natural of us to feel for anybody who spent some days with us and then departed; that it was not easy to walk in and out of a relationship at the drop of a hat, and so the clerics should not vilify live-in relationships.
I also told the mufti that his statement that halala was not sanctioned by Islam could not stand even theological scrutiny because there were five schools of Islamic jurisprudence: Hanafi, Maliki, Shaafi’i, Hanbali and Zahiri. Then there are Muslims who go by the Ahadith and those that agree to nothing but the Qur’an. Therefore, if he denounced something following one school of thought, adherents of other schools could easily defy him. He fumbled to insist live-in relationships were instances of ayyashi (lust), and had no answer to the second question.
What was funny, when the panellists were requested to unveil the book, the mufti did not join the rest of the people on the stage to hold aloft Zaheer’s work.
To be fair to Muslim clerics, in each type of Islamic marriage, the bride’s consent is indeed sought. The problem is, this ‘approval’ often turns farcical in practice. Bilquis, for example, kept questioning her father why her wedding was not looking like a nikah. Every time her father just gestured to make her follow the rituals the qazi was leading her through without questioning anything. Finally, even on the day she was dragged back to her parents’ home, when she asked when she was divorced and how, her father said, “All that shall be explained to you later; just begin to collect your things.”
The plight of these hapless women is underscored caustically by Bilquis’s words. At the end of her Mut’ah, she says, “I still had to undergo the period of iddat, just in case I had conceived. Not a chance of that though. My mother had advised me to be on pills from the menstrual cycle before I got married. Both my mother and father had planned it well — my sale.”
Annie Raja, general secretary of NFIW
and member of CPI
The evening was saved by Annie Raja, general secretary, National Federation of Indian Women, who lent her support to the author and chided the anchor for introducing her as “wife” of CPI’s D Raja, and not as a distinct personality in her own right. She sought pride in the fact that she had been living with the politician for 26 years without marriage, and that the couple also had a loving daughter who was proud of her parents.
This is Zaheer’s second book after My God Is A Woman. Her literary activism for reforming Islamic society is especially creditworthy given her political affiliation — she introduces herself every time as a leftist. This political camp in India is known to ridicule Hinduism for the wrong practices in sections of the population (rightly) but turn silent when they are asked to critique the wrongs Muslims indulge in. Zaheer is thus an exceptional leftist. At the end of Saturday’s programme, she told me her attention could not be deflected by the accusation that she was defaming Islam, which she insists she is not. She says this is her area of expertise and, hence, she would speak only about the flaws in Islamic community. She would, of course, support initiatives to reform other communities as and when their experts come up with solutions.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.