Rukhsana Nikhat Lari considers the press conference on triple talaq, organised by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in Lucknow last year, among the most awkward moments of her life. A prominent woman member of the male-dominated AIMPLB, she was forced to stay silent during it, as another member, Asma Zehra, made a case for triple talaq. But after Zehra had finished, Lari could no longer hold back. "To those who asked, I said the current practice of triple talaq has no place in the Koran," she told HuffPost India.
Lari believes it was that moment of defiance, along with her continued opposition to triple talaq, that recently led the AIMPLB to not renew her term as a member for another three years.
In 2010, she was among the four women added to the 51-member AIMPLB executive committee. While AIMPLB confirmed to HuffPost India that it has not renewed Lari's membership, it did not provide any reason for its decision. Board members said only the general secretary, Mohammad Wali Rahmani, could comment on it, but Rahmani did not respond to multiple calls and messages.
The AIMPLB, a non-governmental organisation that 'defends' the application of Muslim personal law, is facing an unprecedented backlash. Not only are Muslim women challenging triple talaq in the courts, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre is also making it a priority to end the practice.
Lari questions how a group of 200, mostly male, members can arrogate to itself the power to oppose the popular sentiment against the practice of instant oral divorce that plays havoc with the lives of Muslim women. "It is countries and men that make life so hard for women, not Islam," she said.
The AIMPLB claims to have collected 81 crore signatures, including from 2.71 crore women, in favour of following the traditional Muslim personal law that allows triple talaq. Lari said she neither signed nor distributed any material in favour of triple talaq sent to her by the board. "Many of the women who signed are not even aware of their rights," she added.
It is countries and men that make life so hard for women, not Islam.
An educationist for three decades, Lari is the daughter of Padma Shri Maqbool Ahmed Lari, a businessman and philanthropist who financed the building of the Lari Cardiology Centre of King George's Medical College in Lucknow.
Although her father did not want Lari to cover her face, he preferred her to stay close to home. He believed in the highest education for girls, but did not want her to physically go to college. So she ended up studying for her PhD in Arabic from home. Even today, Lari, who recently retired as the principal of Karamat Husain Muslim Girls P.G. College in Lucknow, wears a headscarf.
Unlike women's rights activists who want a civil law to replace triple talaq, Lari believes divorce among Muslims should be in accordance to the stipulations laid out in the Koran. In the event of a divorce, there should be a trial to ensure all the rules and obligations were followed. The Koran, she explained, does not allow for instant divorce, but rather a step-by-step separation over at least three months, punctuated with attempts at reconciliation.
Despite her middle-of-the road approach on triple talaq, Lari was sidelined by the AIMPLB, but ironically the board is now echoing her sentiments.
The AIMPLB recently issued an eight-point guide on how Muslims should divorce, which included advice that couples should try settle their differences by themselves, observe a waiting period before uttering 'talaq', and provide maintenance to the woman during it. Although it urged social boycotting of those who practice instant divorce, the AIMPLB has not outlawed instant divorce, describing it as wrong but valid under Muslim personal law.
How does the board explain retaining the option of triple talaq via WhatsApp and text messages? Zafaryab Jilani, a senior member, told HuffPost India that there are several instances, mentioned in the Hadiths, of Prophet Mohammad granting approval for instant divorce. "He was angry about it, but he allowed it. We cannot go against the practices of Prophet Mohammad," Jilani said.
In spite of the treatment meted to her, Lari admits that she gets some satisfaction from the tremendous pressure the AIMPLB must be under to issue a guide that opposes its earlier regressive justifications for triple talaq.
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