The ongoing hearing on triple talaq in the Supreme Court has gathered unprecedented public attention, which in itself is a step forward in the attempt to decode religions that have, unfortunately, become instruments to perpetuate dominance over women and other marginalised sections. While the judgment is still awaited, the discussion around triple talaq will allay the suspicion around Islam and the misinterpretation of the Quran. The situation is particularly threatening for the ulemas who have enjoyed unquestioned authority.
While I, to an extent, agree with critics who say that the Supreme Court and government should not interfere in religion, there is also an urgent need to address regressive social customs and keep up with the times. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board is now talking about the rights of women and their ability to also pronounce triple talaq, but it's a little late in the day. Had it made a concerted effort to educate the community about this earlier, this embarrassment could have been avoided. As the matter stands now, a judgment in favour of the abolition of triple talaq would be a historic moment for gender rights.
A blasphemous atmosphere has been created around religion, based on extreme fear of divine punishment—it has convinced women to blindly accept anything that is propagated by ulemas.
Religion is said to be the opium of masses, but it is also a weapon that has been used to control and subjugate women—regardless of what the scriptures actually say. Anyone who has read the Quran would know that there are strict rules for divorce, with rights also granted to women. The 65 Sura of the Quran, Sūrat aṭ-Talāq , for example, does not mention pronouncing triple talaq in one go and prohibits men from divorcing when the wife is pregnant or in the absence of witnesses. The question of doing it through email, SMS etc—practices that we see today—are therefore antithetical to what is prescribed. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Muslim women have received the short end of the stick.
In the absence of education and under sustained suppression, women have never gained the vocabulary to question religion, leave alone exercise the rights granted under the holy scriptures. Data from the 2011 Census of India shows that 48.1 % of Muslim women in India are illiterate. With complete financial and social dependence on men, and having been taught that disobeying will invite divine punishment, women do not have the wherewithal to invoke their rights, even in cases of extreme abuse. The scenario is slowly changing for the urban educated class, but in a very negligible proportion. Even as an educated woman, at the time of my marriage, I was unaware of my right to personalise my nikah (marriage) contract. A blasphemous atmosphere has been created around religion, based on extreme fear of divine punishment—it has convinced women to blindly accept anything that is propagated by ulemas.
I very well recall how I was repeatedly brainwashed on the kinds of clothes to wear, the need to be domesticated, undying obedience to father, husband or brothers, the one-sided responsibility to please the husband. Every attempt to make girls submissive is done on the pretext of gunaah (punishment in eyes of God). One major problem with Muslims in the Indian subcontinent is that they read the Quran but do not understand Arabic. This ignorance of language has given birth to numerous interpretations in Islam, which gets even more maligned on hearsay. Until I started studying the Quranic more deeply, I too believed in the supremacy of man over woman. On delving into the text, however, it was not difficult to see the emphasis on education, property rights and equal laws of consent and divorce for marriage, amongst the many rights granted to women.
The basic concepts of Islam have been co-opted by middlemen spuriously claiming authority. Now this status quo is heading towards an upset.
The basic concepts of Islam have been co-opted by middlemen spuriously claiming authority. Now this status quo is heading towards an upset. The guardians of religion, anxious of the demands of women, should understand that this is just the beginning. Muslim women have been generous in their demand by merely seeking what is enshrined in religion. The day women demand equality under the Constitution, male hegemony over religion would be dismantled.