April 11: Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, vice-president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has declared the board would end the practice of triple talaq within 18 months, stirring a controversy within the Muslim community.
Like most Muslim bodies, the board has publicly opposed the Narendra Modi government's move to outlaw the triple talaq, petitions against whose legality will come up before a five-judge Supreme Court vacation bench on May 11.
While saying the triple talaq was unfair to women yesterday, Sadiq, a highly respected Shia cleric who often makes controversial remarks, however, opposed the idea of Union government intervention. Reactions from law board members were divided today.
"I cannot understand why Maulana Sadiq made such an observation," Qasim Rasool Illyas, a senior member of the board, told The Telegraph.
"We at the board are unanimous in taking a stand against the Union government. The triple talaq may be a corrupt practice but it has been there for 1,400 years, having roots in various Islamic schools of jurisprudence. How can he bring about a change in 18 months?"
Illyas said the only way was through persuasion and " islah-e-maashra" (reforms in Muslim society). "But that will take time."
The government has argued the practice is discriminatory towards women and recently told the Supreme Court that gender equality was non-negotiable.
During the recent Uttar Pradesh polls, the BJP had made abolition of the triple talaq an election plank. After the results, it claimed to have earned sizeable votes from Muslim women.
Sadiq's comments came before reporters in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh. "It (the triple talaq) is an internal matter for the community and we'll solve it among ourselves between a year and one-and-a-half years. The government shouldn't interfere," he said.
Contacted, he declined to elaborate. "I'm travelling and I have said whatever I had to say," he said.
He insisted that he had spoken in Bijnor as personal law board vice-president and not as an individual.
Not many from within the board were willing to go on record contradicting Sadiq, but a source close to board chief Maulana Rabey Nadvi said the triple talaq was not just a social issue.
"It has deep religious roots which can't be overturned. Any practising Muslim adult pronouncing talaq three times knows its implications and consequences," he said.
"We too oppose the triple talaq but when it is pronounced, the deed (divorce) is done and in that sense, it becomes irrevocable."
He said the board had collected more than 3 crore signatures opposing the Centre's stand on the triple talaq.
Arif Masood, a Bhopal-based member of the law board and a reformist, welcomed Sadiq's statement.
"We need to curb and even discontinue the practice. But it's an internal matter of the Muslim community and should be left to us," he said.
"I understand that Maulana Sadiq is trying to unite the various sects that have varying interpretations of the triple talaq."
For instance, Masood said, the triple talaq is not pronounced among Shias, with all the divorce cases settled by two qazis, one representing the bride and the other, the groom.
The community is divided. Several law board members representing the Shia, Barelvi, Salafi and other Islamic sects have been opposing the triple talaq. They feel that like child marriage and dowry, the triple talaq should be labelled a "social evil".
But an influential section of the board feels the community leaders should not be seen as buckling before the Centre but should defend Muslim personal law at any cost.
Today, Mufti Abu Qasim Nomani, rector of the Darul Uloom in Deoband, issued a press statement asking Muslim scholars, women and other community leaders to boycott all TV channels debating the triple talaq and Muslim personal law.
Board chief Nadvi, a moderate, has himself been advocating reforms within Muslim society.
The Bhopal city qazi, Maulana Mushtaq Nadvi, said that as a practice, the dar-ul-qazha (informal Sharia court that solemnises and registers Islamic nikahs) does not encourage the triple talaq.
"Whenever an individual or couple approach us, we first advice conciliation and offer counselling," Nadvi said.
He, however, said that when the triple talaq is pronounced unilaterally or without the knowledge of the dar-ul-qazha, he finds himself helpless.
"The key point is about making Muslim men aware of the wrong they may be committing. The only way to cub the triple talaq is by getting the men to voluntarily stop pronouncing it," he said.
That may take a lot of time, feel many women and community leaders sensitive towards gender-based rights.
Sadiq wants the Muslims to voluntarily give up eating beef, too, although the law allows the practice in some states. He cited religious texts to claim that beef consumption was not advised.
Sadiq said that if the Centre enacted a law banning cow slaughter and beef eating across the country, Muslims should welcome it. He, however, condemned the unlawful activities of cow vigilantes and demanded that these be stopped.