The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Muslim board to open 'new chapter'

Oct. 6: The All India Muslim Personal Law Board will meet in Lucknow on Sunday to chalk out the agenda for its December conclave in Kochi that aims to usher in a 'new chapter' for the community.

The agenda is expected to revolve around the central role of knowledge in Islam, honesty, hard work and personal integrity, and the 'inclusive' and tolerant outward-looking character of the religion.

Under Maulana Rabey Nadvi's chairmanship, the board hopes to provide centrality to the 'Islah-e-Maishra (reforms in Islamic society)', a report by Munger-based scholar Maulana Wali Rahmani, also the board secretary.

The draft report focuses on improvement in personal conduct, reforms in marriage/divorce and a complete ban on dowry and extravagance.

Board insiders said if liberals and reformists had their way, the Kochi conclave would see the beginning of a 'new chapter' that emphasises 'wisdom, practicality and harmony' of Islam.

'Islam encourages moderation or a balanced approach to life. Yet, it does not mean straying from the fundamentals of the holy Quran and the example and sayings of the Prophet,' a board office-bearer told The Telegraph.

Call it the 9/11 or Beslan effect, the dominant mood among Muslim clergy and scholars is to shed the stereotypical image of the religion being associated with violence and extremism. So the board wants to focus on social reforms.

Asked if this would include the controversial issue of family planning, a board representative said 'yes and no'.

'Yes' because Islam asserts good parenting that ensures food, health and education to children and 'no' because the religion does not offer any 'model family size', he explained.

Board office-bearers said the Kochi meet would like to thrash out a consensus on having a 'model nikahnama (marriage contract)', an issue that has been hanging fire for almost a decade.

A model nikahnama hopes to reduce gender-based discrimination, particularly in divorce/maintenance cases. The nikahnama would carry the signature/thumb impressions of the bride, groom and the witnesses to ensure prompt payment of 'mehar (bridal price)' in case of a divorce.

Members are confident that once the board approves the model nikahnama, it will at least end divergent interpretations of the Shariat. The optimistic ones are hoping the nikahnama would end 'triple talaq'.

Once it is enforced, a quarrelling couple would have to approach the 'qaziat (civil Shariat court)', where local qazis will first explore conciliation avenues before annulling the marriage spread over three lunar cycles unless the two sides opt for a faster, on-the-spot separation.

The board may also discuss issues that have cropped up in the recent past such as the interpretation of the Shariat in the Gudiya-Arif-Taufeeq case to caution imams and muftis against acting in haste.

Two other major issues that will come up in Kochi are Muslim women's right to a share in agricultural income, and 'disputed' properties of state Waqf boards.

A board panel has already met Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav seeking amendments in law so that Muslim women can get their share of agricultural income from their ancestral property even after marriage.

Another board team will call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seek his intervention in 'disputed' Waqf properties.

The board wants the Singh regime to take up its case in the light of the Protection of Places of Worship Act, 1994.

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