Male order

Liberal Muslims, men and women, must condemn the male chauvinism of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board

There are at least two good reasons why liberal Muslims, men and women, must demand that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board can retain the acronym, AIMPLB, but change its name to All India Male Privileging Laws Board. Firstly, it should be evident to any one with even a little knowledge of Islam that while pretending to defend the Shariah, or the Islamic way of life, all that this assorted body of Muslim clerics actually does is to protect the privileges of Muslim males.

One has only to do a quick comparison with laws governing family relations — marriage, polygamy, divorce, maintenance and custody — prevailing in most Muslim majority countries, including those that call themselves Islamic to realise how shockingly anti–women India’s Muslim personal laws are. (That the separate personal laws for all religious communities in India discriminate against women does not concern us here.)

Secondly, just as the Hindutva–inspired Dharam Sansad gives a bad name to the very religion it claims to represent, the AIMPLB gives Muslims and Islam a bad name. It publicly proclaims and defends social practices that millions and millions of Indian Muslims would find too abhorrent to even contemplate.

Take, for example, the decision of the AIMPLB at its recent conclave in Hyderabad to challenge the Child Marriages Restraint Act, 1929, which stipulates 18 years as being the minimum marriageable age for a girl. The moulvis say that the Shariah says marriage is permitted the moment a girl or a boy attains puberty. So they now propose taking a case before the Supreme Court of India to argue that Indian Muslims be kept out of the purview of the law against child marriages!

(It is the same worthies, remember, who in the ’80s had raised a nationwide storm forcing the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to bring in a new legislation putting Muslims out of the purview of section 295 of the Criminal Procedure Code — Shah Bano case).

To appreciate what this demand amounts to in practice, please note that for a variety of reasons, in recent decades the age at which girls attain puberty has been going down. So it is no longer unusual for a girl to start menstruating when she is barely 10 or 11. Now imagine a situation where, heaven forbid, the Supreme Court or some future government concedes the outrageous demand of the male privileges board. The moment this happens, an aged Muslim male would be at perfect liberty to marry a girl child since there is nothing either in the secular laws of India or the shariah that puts a ceiling on the age gap between a man and a woman (or girl) of marriageable age.

So what happens if a 70–year–old Muslim husband gains the ‘blissful’ company of an 11–year–old wife? In the best possible scenario, as in the case of the repugnant practice of instant talaaq, moulvi sahebs compelled to condemn it as "socially repugnant" will nonetheless have to defend it as "theologically unexceptionable." But the rest of the modern world has a different word with which to describe such a relationship — paedophilia!

The wise men from the All India Male Privileging Laws Board may not know or couldn’t care less that paedophilia is today considered one of the worst forms of child abuse and there is a growing worldwide movement against this obnoxious practice. Campaigns have been launched against paedophiles from the West who are shamefully exploiting the poverty in developing countries to satisfy their sexual lust, the hapless child’s welfare be damned. But once the ‘Islamic paradise’ the Indian mullahs dream of prevails in India, western paedophiles need only fly to India convert to Islam and, hey presto, acquire a 10–year–old wife!

My God–fearing sister Nikhat, a housewife, expresses outrage when I ask her what she thinks of the ulema’s latest agenda. Irfan Khan (24) lives in Malavni, a large colony of mostly lower middle–class Muslims in Malad in Mumbai. He cannot think of a single Muslim marriage he has attended over the years where the girl getting married was a minor.

"These moulvis are mad. Who listens to them in any case?" says Irfan. Well, Varsha Bhosle, does. To this saffro sister, who obviously has serious problems with Islam and with Muslims, the Hyderabad conclave served up a delicious headline for her weekly column in on a platter: ‘Paedophilia and the Muslim Board’.

For the last 10 years, the maulanas on the Board have doggedly stonewalled an elementary demand from Muslim women: their endorsement of a model nikaahnama that is entirely within Islamic principles and which, if popularised, could give a lot of succour to Muslim women. Amongst other things, it would put a check on the obnoxious instant talaaq practice.

It is time Muslim men and women realised that the AIMPLB, which hides behind the shariah, is a bastion of male privileges. To expect deliverance from these misogynists who have nothing but chadar and chardiwari to offer Muslim women (the Hyderabad meet also proclaimed purdah to be part of a Muslim woman’s ‘Islamic’ identity) is naivete to say the least. To go no further than the experiences of the past 15 years, it is clear that the courts of secular India remain the only forum from which Muslim women can expect some justice.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2002, Year 8  No. 79, Comment



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