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Published in the 16-31 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

'Model nikahnama': a victim to the ego of Muslim activists 

By M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: During the last two months Mumbai saw a series of seminars, discussions, and press conferences on the issue of model nikahnama.

Muslim Intellectuals, Law practitioners, activists, and Ulema participated in the debate to discuss the launch of the model nikahnama and banning of Triple talaq. A slew of meets were also held in other cities to build a tempo, for the release of the model nikahnama.

Ironically all these gatherings were organized by like-minded Leftist groups. This writer got the opportunity to attend a few of such gatherings. The pattern was nearly the same in most of these meetings.

First these leftist groups extend invitation to a few of the female Muslim activists and through them they invite Muslim intellentsia and Ulema.Through exaggerated account of how Triple Talaq is making the life of Muslim women miserable, sympathy is gained and favorable comments regarding nikahnama are generated which gets wide publicity in the national media, a couple of times on the front page. 

Lets look at the Times of India report of September 12."Muslim activists from across the state came together in the city on Saturday to condemn the practice of unilateral verbal talaq (divorce), and demanded a legal ban on it. Addressing a state conference of nearly 200 delegates, organised by the Progressive Muslim Front and the Muslim Satyashodhak Samaj, noted film lyricist Hassan Kamaal argued, "The Holy Koran does not sanction triple talaq. No wonder, it is not followed even in Islamic republics like Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia." 

The report elaborated,"All we are asking the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the priests (mullahs and moulvis) to do is to delete these un-Koranic and un-Islamic parts from the British-formulated personal law. It is spoiling the image of the community." Activist Raziya Patel, however, thundered, "Why should we request the exclusion of triple talaq, we demand it. It is inhuman, unfair and false. No religion would support it. Those who support it, know it fully well. They cannot be trusted to abolish it. Only the courts or the government can. The AIMPLB has agreed to decide talaqs before shariat courts, but Muslim women will settle for nothing less than the courts, as far as talaq is concerned." 

"Triple talaq is a poison, it's a black label," lamented Ghulam Ahmed Peshmam, a Mumbai-based member of Muslims for Secular Democracy, just like Kamaal. 

Through these efforts fiqh is made to look anti-women. Triple talaq practice and its supporters are projected as anti Islamic. Nikahnama is projected as the only solution to the Muslim women problems and abolition of triple talaq as the only agenda of the Muslim women.

Lets do a ‘What if analysis’. What will happen if All India Muslim Personal Law Board accepts the proposed model nikahnama and also bans triple talaq? Will it change for better the status of Muslim women in India? Lets see what Dr Rafiq Zakaria has to say. "The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board is a highly respected body; but it has no enforcing authority in law. It came into existence only a few decades ago, mainly due to the efforts of its founder-President the late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, popularly known as Ali Mian. He was the rector of Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama and therefore right from its inception, the Board had a predominance of Deobandis.Brelvis are opposed to them and consequently refuse to recognise the Board. Almost 90 percent of Sunnis owe their allegiance to the Brelvis".

Thus even if AIMPLB accept the proposed model nikahnama and endorse it, as desired by a few women activists and groups, the ground reality of Muslim women is not going to change much. AIMPLB is just a federation of the Muslim organisations, groups and individuals with no cadre of its own. Thus AIMPLB is not capable of launching any reform movements nor does it have any legal sanctity for any of its resolutions.

On 25th September Maulana Abu Zafar Hasan Nadwi, while presiding at one of the meetings to discuss ‘model nikahnama’ in Mumbai said, "Condition will not change miraculously for Muslim women just by a contract clause to be signed before a nikah. Nikahnama will do nothing but act as a tranquilizer". " All this fuss about a standardized nikahnama is just being made to divert the attention from the real issues. It is not that Muslim women do not deserve sympathy, but the remedy being suggested is not what the ailment requires," he added.

Then what needs to be done? Former Attorney-General Soli Sorabji while addressing an International conference said, "For many of the society ills, we have to focus on inculcating virtues in our citizens. For this we need to take the help of the religion as only religion talks about building character".

Thus the solution suggested by Leftist groups and projected by media is just an illusion. As leftist themselves are anti-religion they will not understand that the real solution lies within Islam and not the contract paper as suggested by them.
"Thus instead of wasting time on symbolic solution like nikahnama we need to coach and train our children to understand Islam and practice it as taught to us by the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Lets us strive to build a character of Muslim as desired by the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh)", said Maulana Abu Zafar Hasan Nadwi. " We must concentrate on alleviating the sufferings of Muslim women rather than indulging in frivolous discussions" 

As far as ‘model nikahnama’ it has become an ego problem amongst various Muslim activist and groups. There is a race for getting individual ‘model nikahnama’approved from Ulema or AIMPLB.

In Islam, marriage is a contract and no marriage is valid till the bride gives her consent. Thus if marriage is a contract, the contracting parties should have a right to settle the terms of the contract. Thus making it an all-important issue is unnecessary. What can be done is to identify few of the adequate and reasonable nikahnama already in practice and make them available at the qazi office and leave the rest to the consenting parties as to which nikahnama they prefer. 

As far as the question of stopping the practice of triple talaq is concerned, the AIMPLB has recognised it, and suggested that the solution lies "only through social reform" as "legal reform is not an answer to every social evil."’
Thus what is required is serious and sustained efforts at the grass root level. First study the real social and economic issues of the Muslim women and then do long term planning to overcome these problems instead of giving speeches and conducting seminars for the intellectuals.

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