Wednesday, May 31, 2017

‘Islam gives many rights to women but most are ignorant of them’

Historian and author, Rana Safvi shares her views on the triple talaq imbroglio, and the social context in which it was allowed

Triple talaq often makes to the discussion table of the polity and society. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Muslim community to not politicise the issue and a few ministers making uninformed statements, the debate doesn’t stay on the course. There is no real understanding of the rights of married Muslim women and what exactly the Islamic faith promises them.
To understand the subject a little more clearly, we chat up Delhi-based historian Rana Safvi, who has recently authored a book called Tales from the Quran and Hadith.

What is Hadith? And, what does it say about triple talaq?
Hadith is based on the spoken word of the Prophet and wasn’t documented till as many as a hundred years after his passing away and their authenticity depends on their chain of transmission. The Hadith of the Quran says that of all the lawful acts the most detestable to Allah is divorce.

There are two types of talaq prescribed in the Quran: The first has been named Talaq e Ihsan (most preferred) where the husband pronounces talaq and for the next three months he has no physical contact with his wife. This gives him time to think. And if after three months, he changes his mind, he can go back to her and their marriage is once again valid. The second, which has been named Talaq e Hasan (preferred), is one in which the husband pronounces the word ‘talaq’ over a period of three months and in between there is every attempt for reconciliation with arbitration. If after three months that is not possible, then divorce is final. These were the two talaqs prevalent during Prophet’s lifetime and only these find mention in the Hadith.

The triple talaq we talk about is instant triple talaq, which is over in seconds by pronouncing it thrice. The practice of triple talaq came up in the caliphate of the second Caliph Umar and must be seen in the socio-historical context in which it was allowed. It was to prevent men from saying talaq in jest and then revoke it before the third month leading to insecurity in the mind of the wife as to her marital status.

What is Mehr? Can a husband withdraw it at any point?
Mehr is a mandatory payment, in the form of money or possessions paid or promised to pay by the groom, or by groom’s father, to the bride at the time of marriage, that legally becomes her property. It can be paid immediately or deferred. It is for the bride’s financial independence. In case of the wife asking for divorce (khula), the Mehr, if deferred, is forfeited.

Are economic rights of women the core issue here?
Women have been given many economic rights in the Quran but unfortunately ignorance and lack of education means that most of them are unaware of it. The patriarchal mindset of society adds to it and Muslim women often find themselves destitute after a divorce.

Does triple talaq apply to all sects of the community?
Only the Hanafi sect in India practises triple talaq.

Can a woman ask for unilateral divorce?
Islam gives many rights to women but most are ignorant of the facts. The Nikah is a contract between two parties: bride and the groom and the nikah-nama is the contract document. Both can get clauses inserted into it. One clause she can get inserted is the talaq e tafweez wherein the husband delegates the wife the right to divorce. It can be conditional (in case he remarries, etc) or unconditional. She can also insert clauses that he can’t give her instant triple talaq.

Why is Uniform Civil Code not acceptable to the majority of Muslims?
Muslims, for reasons justified or unjustified, are feeling vulnerable at the moment and are not open to the idea of a Uniform Civil Code which they feel threatens their religious identity. Also, it is not clear what all and who all will fall in its ambit. Once that is clear, there can be a debate.

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