“The ulema have made it up”: Salma Ansari, wife of VP Hamid Ansari, enters the triple talaq debate

Hamid Ansari, India's Vice-President with an influential say in Muslim affairs, has been seen as a silent onlooker on the community's matters requiring an overhaul or internal reformation. It is argued that Ansari does not concern himself with the abusive practice of triple talaq, even after the Jama'at-e-Islami Hind organised an event to tell  the Supreme Court that 'it had no business looking into triple talaq, a simple gender rights issue that should have nothing to do with religion'.

Salma Ansari
Image: Economic Times

Tellingly, Ansari reportedly participated in the golden jubilee of the All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat in September, 2015 and in his landmark keynote address, he urged the Indian Muslims, particularly the ulema section to apply the ijtihad or the creative and thoughtful rethinking of the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) in spirit of the Preamble and the values of the Constitution.

But now, surprisingly enough, the wife of the Vice-President of India, Salma Ansari has come out with a sharp rebuttal of the triple-talaq's advocates so clearly and unequivocally as this: "There can be no divorce just because someone says: talaq, talaq, talaq".

Last Saturday, shei said that just uttering the word ‘talaq’ three times does not amount to a legitimate divorce, while asking the Muslim women to engage with the thorough reading of the Qur'an instead of relying on the Muslim clerics for their views on Islam", as reported in the Hindustan Times.

While the Allahabad High Court observed in December 2016 that triple talaq is an ‘unconstitutional’ practice and thus a dissenting debate on its religious legality in Islam was reinstated,  Mrs. Ansari shows a firm conviction that women can find an answer to their questions in the Qur'an itself.

At an event in Aligarh, she exhorted the Indian Muslim women: “If you’ve read the Qur'an, then you can find the solution there itself. There is no such rule in Qur'an. They have just made it up…. You read the Qur'an in Arabic and but you don’t read the translation. You accept whatever the Maulanas (clerics) or the Mullas say. Read the Qur'an and Hadith and see what Rasool (Prophet Muhammad) had said”. Thus, Salma Ansari tried to ignite a flame of desire in the Muslim women to comprehend the Qur'an by themselves and introspect on its texts related to talaq. Notably, a complete and comprehensive chapter (Surah) in the Qur'an is named as "al-Talaq".

Significantly, the Vice-President's wife has issued her remarks in the wake of three controversial and widely discussed incidents. First, some Muslim women in Uttar Pradesh are reported to have met the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for justice in their cases of triple talaq over the phone. And it is common knowledge that the ruling party in the state has always been claiming to end triple talaq which it considers an 'irreparable damage to the lives of Muslim women'.

Secondly, on April 5, several Muslim women reportedly met the Uttar Pradesh Minister for Women and Family Welfare to express their support for the current government’s stand on triple talaq. These women also sought the practical support from the Indian Prime Minister who had taken a resolution to end the practice considering it as an 'evil'.

Thirdly, the hereditary head of the Ajmer Dargah (or the Diwan), Syed Zainul Abedin categorically stated during the recently held annual Urs of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz: "Muslim men should end the practice of triple talaq, which goes against the spirit of Qur'an".  Abedin condemned the practice of triple talaq and its prevalence in the Muslim community in the presence of chief custodians of various Sufi dargahs of the country who gathered at Ajmer Dargah. He questioned: "Why are some people in the community reluctant to give up the practice which Qur'an and Prophet Mohammed never approved" and wondered if it was comprehendible for the reasonable Muslims.

"Time has come to eschew the practice that victimises our sisters and daughters”, he said, as reported in several media outlets.

What is more catching and thought-provoking is Salma Ansari's greater emphasis that 'women should not blindly follow anyone [among the clerics], as they can be easily misguided if they don't read the Qur'an'. Clearly, She is referring to the innumerable verses in "Surah Talaq" and other chapters of the Qur'an, which are patently clear in their premises against the prevailing misconception of the Muslim clergy.

Like what she avers that uttering "talaq, talaq, talaq" is an un-Islamic custom, many authoritative commentators of the holy Qur'an have endorsed that it had a common prevalence in the pre-Islamic Arabia known as al-Arab al-Jahili (the Arabia of ignorance). Arab men, particularly in Mecca would abandon their wives simply saying this: “You are to me like my mother’s back". This is what the Qur'an reports in the verse, 58:2. But in a brazen violation of the Qura'nic viewpoint, the nasty practice of triple talaq has survived in the global Muslim society as a remnant of the pre-Islamic Arabian custom.

Ansari has put the nail right on the head by stating that Muslim women can be easily misguided if they don't read the Qur'an. These few examples from the Qur'an, even though there are a lot more, will suffice to unearth the truth:

"(O men, you must) pronounce the divorce over two occasions. Thereafter live together with your mates honourably, or part with them honourably" (2:229).
The Qura'nic commandment is that a man who intends to divorce has to formally articulate his intention at least twice over the period in the presence of witnesses. It relays it in detail:
"A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold Together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you, (Men), to take back any of your gifts (from your wives), except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah…. These are the limits ordained by Allah; so do not transgress them if any do transgress the limits ordained by Allah, such persons wrong (themselves as well as others)". (2:229)
Remarkably, scores of Qura'nic verses like this reinforce that there should be time-framing. The verse (2:231) goes like this:
"Once you divorce women, and they have reached the end of their waiting period, then either retain them in all decency or part from them decently. Do not retain them in order to harm them or to wrong them. Whoever does this, wrongs his own soul. Do not make a mockery of God's revelations".
The Qur'an recommends, in a logically tenable manner, that a three-month waiting period should be maintained for a woman undergoing the divorce process. The verse 2:228 reads:
"Divorced women should wait for three menstrual cycles; it is unlawful for them, if they believe in God and the Last Day, to hide what God has created in their wombs. Their husbands have the right to take them back within that time, if they desire to be reconciled. The wives have rights corresponding to those which the husbands have, according to what is recognized to be fair."
Going by the above verses, as long as a woman has not completed her third menstrual period, the third irrevocable divorce will not be effective. This is endorsed by the earliest companions of the Prophet Muhammad, who propounded the Muslim law. Even this is the unanimous doctrine of the early Hanafi scholars of Islamic jurisprudence (fuq'aha'), though considerable differences exist among  the Shafi'i and Maliki scholars of the past. While the Shafi'i and Maliki followers are a limited number in India, Hanafi school has the largest number of followers in the country's Sunni Muslim community.  The two largest sects of Indian Muslims — Barelvis and Deobandis —  follow the Hanafi jurisprudence. Hence, the crucial question is whether the Sunni-Hanafi clergy in India will take a fresh  reading of the Qur'an on the laws of divorce in order to rethink their position.

This writer has posed the same question to well-versed Hanafi Islamic scholars and intellectuals of different Sunni sects in India. Professor Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui of Aligarh Muslim University (Department of Islamic Sciences), an authoritative Islamic historiographer, himself a Hanafi follower, avers that the history of Sunni-Hanafi jurisprudence is replete with many instances of various practices which were strictly followed earlier by the Hanafi Muslims, but later on, were abolished by the Sunni-Hanafi imams and ulema due to changes in the socio-political contexts.

"Today's social conditions also require the Hanafi clergy to incorporate the essential reforms in the laws of talaq. The Islamic jurisprudential framework has adequate scope for reform in the divorce laws, contrary to what some traditionalist and non-rationalist Muslims might think", he said.

Maulana Waris Mazhari, a young Islamic scholar who graduated from Dar ul-Uloom Deoband and is currently a lecturer at the department of Islamic Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia opines that Hanafi Muslims must take the initiative for the reform in the talaq process by themselves. Most Hanafi Muslims, he believes, are in misconception that any reform originating from outside the Hanafi-Sunni jurisprudence is abhorrent and unlawful.

"This is why they oppose the argument for making three Talaqs in one sitting to be just one, not three. In fact, this concept has no authentic foundation in the Islamic jurisprudence", Maulana Mazhari said.

A professor at Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Urdu-Arabi-Farsi University in Lucknow, Dr. Masood Alam Falahi, who is also a graduate of Jama'at-e-Islami's seminary in Azamgarh Al-Falah, maintains: "if all efforts of reconciliation fail, the husband can give talaq once. Having given second talaq, if he feels sorry and the couple desires to live peacefully once again, then he can return to her without marriage but only before the expiration of waiting period (iddat). If after iddat period, they wish to live with each other, then they will have to re-marry. After this second marriage, if disputes arise again and all efforts of reconciliation fail, then he can give the third talaq as last option", as he wrote in his recent article on halala and triple talaq published on New Age Islam.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a regular columnist with www.newageislam.com,  scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia.

This article was first published on New Age Islam.



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