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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Personal Law boards

The Milli Gazette Online

The Nikahnama issue, though inconsequential in itself, provided an opportunity to opportunists and wheeler-dealers to make another effort to harm the unity of the Muslim community. We are already suffering from another form of this onslaught on our unity by political parties to weaken the community in order to carve votebanks in the name of “backward Muslims” and various biradaris whose small-time leaders are playing in the hands of one or another political party for petty benefits.

But the fact remains that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) had it coming. It failed to read the signs far too long. There were justified complaints from Shias and Brelvis that they do not have proper representation on the board, that the board is overwhelmed by people of a certain school of thought and region, that over the years an army of yesmen has found its way into the board, that the board has started making forays into areas it was not established for. Some of these thoughts were expressed here when Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi took over as president [MG, 1-15 July 2002]. 

Board’s activities and even the full list of members are shrouded with mystery. While the board has many members whose usefulness is doubted by any standards to their community, one is surprised that an expert in Muslim personal laws like Professor Tahir Mahmood has no place within it. Even a great Islamic scholar of our time like Maulana Jalaluddin Ansar Umari is not deemed fit to be a member of the board’s working committee. The board’s composition must reflect both religious scholars and eminent intellectuals of the Muslim community in various walks of life. 

The AIMPLB itself did not split as has happened to some other Muslim organisations in recent decades like Jamiatul Ulama, Mushawarat, Ittehadul Muslimin and Muslim Majlis. The new groups have come up out of politically-motivated individuals, nonentities and tiny groups who do not enjoy support even within their own sub-communities. Both Shia and Barelvi ulama have spoken against the new boards established by individuals belonging to them. Moreover, Shia and Barelvi ulama associated with the AIMPLB have stuck to the original board despite any differences.

The very fact that so many “boards” have sprung up within a few weeks means that they will be relegated as quickly into dustbin of history and the real board will continue to lead the community as it did all these decades. But the board must not take the events of the past weeks lightly. The warning must be heeded with humility and honesty in order to prevent a greater damage in the years to come when, God forbid, the board itself may split. 

It is time the board expands its membership, say by another 50 members, especially to accommodate Shia and Barelvi ulama and intellectuals and to give better representation to the south. It should also refrain from issues which have nothing to do with its raison d’etre, like dabbling in the Babri issue which should be left to the politicians and lawyers to fight it out. Some politically ambitious members of the board have used this issue for their own interests in the past.

— Zafarul-Islam Khan

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