The historic fast track special hearing in the Supreme Court on instant triple talaq – as practiced amongst Sunni Muslims in India – has already exposed the double standard and irrational audacity of the Muslim clergy that is being represented by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). That the instant triple talaq is not one of fundamentals of the faith and without it being in practice, the lives of the Muslim believers shall be no less meaningful, is the moot point on which the entire case turns.
I have a premonition here; the moment things will start falling in place in court, the board is going to put forward its decades-old defence that “any interference in the Shariat (as prescribed by the board) will not be tolerated”. Though times have changed, the herd mentality through which they have been exercising their sway on the mostly uneducated Sunni masses have made them experts in arm-twisting the state machinery through successive governments at the Centre.
As far as this particular dare of the board is concerned, let me remind both the government and the Supreme Court that in all the translations or interpretations of the Holy Quran, approved and accepted by the board or any other renowned seminary in India, the mullahs have conclusively declared that the Quran permits a husband to beat his wife in case she is disobedient. Their creative translation of Sura 4:34 is this:
Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great.
Beyond doubt this is a matter between husband and wife and therefore Shariat is applicable here. Nevertheless, when the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 came into being, no maulana had the guts to ask the government to exempt Muslim women from the security of this law.
Here, it is pertinent to state that globally, Islamic feminists do not translate or interpret the line from the above mentioned sura as ‘then hit them’; on the contrary, the preferred translation is:
‘As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing).
It is pertinent to remember here that the same AIMPLB has been audaciously demanding an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act to exempt Muslim girls from it. Under the Shariat Application Act, marriage is one subject where the Sharia should be applicable, as per the board. Clearly, the board is in favour of child marriages, which may also be termed as forced marriages of minors. The board has not given up this demand yet but has been keeping mum on the ‘right’ of Muslim husbands to beat their wives – again a ‘personal matter’ within the four walls of the home.
The board and the obscurantist patriarchy of the community in India have been choosing their mitigable issues very carefully. There is no resistance to secular legal measures curbing anything that is in-your-face oppression of women – the beating of wives is clearly too unpalatable to be brought on board – but the tools of systemic oppression are adhered to.
Thus while (a) the possibility of a girl child fully realising her full capabilities through education, professional training and maturing of personality may be stunted through child marriage, (b) the terror tool of instant triple talaq must continue as a measure to achieve total submission of wife before husband and (c) the fear of husband-sharing due to unrestrictive polygamy may continue – all in violation of the Quran – the ‘right’ of a husband to beat his wife, which the AIMPLB actually brings on record in all the interpretative literature it publishes and circulates, is not pressed.
If a suggestion of wife-beating from the Quran can be taken away by the law of the land, then surely a mere ‘practice’ that is neither approved by the Quran nor is part of Sunnah, or the Prophetic tradition, may also be banned, without causing any harm to the fundamentals of the religion.
It’s over to you now, dear judges of the Supreme Court.
Sheeba Aslam Fehmi is an Islamic feminist writer, journalist and activist.