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EDITORIAL: 1-15 July 2002

Muslim Personal Law Board

Over the years the AIMPLB has become the most important organisation of India's 131.5 million Muslims. Originally established three decades ago to protect the Muslim personal laws in India, Indian Muslims have come to pin hopes on this body to solve many of their problems. Muslim personal laws are the first target of extremist elements in their assault on Muslims and other minorities. 

Extremist Hindu organisations have been pressing for the abrogation of constitutional guarantees given to Muslims (and other minorities) that in their personal and family lives they can continue to practice their personal laws, a practice allowed by the British after the fall of the Muslim rule in India.

The current unanimous election of the AIMPLB chief was in keeping with its tradition since it was born in 1972 when Maulana Qari Tayyib, rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, was unanimously elected. After his demise Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi was also chosen unanimously and stayed in the post until his death on 31 December 1999. After Maulana Nadwi, Maulana Mujahidul Islam Qasimi, a distinguished jurisprudent, too was elected unanimously in April 2000. For all his knowledge and the respect he enjoyed, Maulana Qasimi could not offer effective leadership due to his falling health.

The new AIMPLB chief takes over while the Muslim community seems to be facing its worst days since Independence. The community has yet to recover from the Gujarat pogroms amid overt and covert threats that "Gujarat" will be repeated all over the country to cripple Muslims economically and to convert them into second class citizens who would not dare demand any rights. 

Muslim attempts to come out of their ghettoes and to join the "mainstream" have been seriously hampered by the Gujarat events and the anti-Muslim campaign being implemented by the BJP and its sister organisations. On top of this is the campaign against madrasas (Muslims religious schools) and mosques which are accused of being terrorist dens. This totally unsubstantiated lie is being propagated by the state machinery starting from the Home Ministry led by Hindutva hawk LK Advani. Muslims have started to return to their ghettoes all over the country as a result of these developments.

The Board since its inception has taken up every issue that confronts the community. It was formed in Mumbai on 28 December 1972 with a view to consider ways to face the onslaught on Personal Law and Shari'ah. It also aimed to unite Muslims on Shari'ah issues and offer religious guidance to Muslims.

In 1972 the Adoption Bill was introduced in the the upper house of Parliament (Rajya Sabha). The then law minister, Mr Gokhle, had declared that this law will apply to all citizens as a uniform civil code. He described it as the "first step" towards uniform civil code. This bill was strongly opposed by the AIMPLB in the convention held at Bombay and was described as an interference in Shari'ah laws. The Board mobilized public opinion against this bill. Subsequently, the government re-presented this bill in Parliament in 1980 exempting Muslims from its application.

The first major test of the Board came in 1973, just a year after its inception, when the government introduced a bill in Parliament for the enforcement of a new criminal procedure code which contained a proposal for the grant of maintenance allowance to the divorced woman by her former husband for life or till her re-marriage. 

Board members met Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, and explained to her the differences and disparities between the provisions of this law and those of Shari'ah. The result was that the final reading of this bill was postponed and it was finally passed with some amendments to the satisfaction of the community.

The other major test of the Board came in 1975 during the Emergency era. Forced sterilization of males as a measure for family planning was rampant and even the expression of dissent was unpardonable. A resolution was passed in this meeting against compulsory sterilization and the Shari'ah stand was explained in detail. 

Then came the Shah Bano case in 1986. The Supreme Court of India had ordered payment of maintenance allowance by the previous husband to his divorced wife for life or till her re-marriage. What actually infuriated Muslims was the Supreme Court's attempt to re-interpret the Qur’an in an arbitrary manner and issue an advice to the government to enact a common civil code. The AIMPLB took the issue head on and started a historic movement throughout the country. Consequently, the government passed Women’s Rights Act on 6 May 1986 which scrapped court’s judgment and restored the Islamic law of maintenance. 

Another problem that confronted the Board was in the form of a new law for subjecting Awqaf’s income to tax in April 1980. The Board took a serious notice of this law and was able to convince the authorities that the application of this law to Awqaf properties will not be fair.

The AIMPLB has consistently worked for the community and taken note of every small development. Since the demolition of the Babri Mosque in December 1992, it has also assumed the responsibility of the issue and has formed a committee to follow up this case in both political and legal fields.

Today the Indian Muslim community faces tougher times than ever before. The responsibilities of the new chairman as well as the organisation are even greater in the new scenario when not only Muslim rights, even Muslim lives and properties are open to rape, arson, murder and burning alive as seen recently in Gujarat with threats of repetition elsewhere.

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