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

Personal law boards galore

By P.M. Damodaran

The Milli Gazette Online

Lucknow: In a fortnight, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), the apex body of the entire Muslim Community in the country, suffered a double jolt. Some prominent Shia leaders officially formed a parallel All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) on January 23 after nearly a month-long exercise. Nine days later, some Muslim women activists formed their own All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB). The leaders of both the newly-formed boards had a common reason for the formation of their respective boards that the AIMPLB had done nothing to solve the problems of Shias and Muslim women since its inception in 1972.

Mrs. Amber has political leanings since she is an activist of the Nationalist Communist Party. Begum Naseem Iqtidar Ali, the only woman member of AIMPLB, has termed the formation of the women’s board as “unfortunate”.

Earlier, a few months back, Barelvis, who claim to constitute approximately half of the Muslim population in India, formed their own personal law board under Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (Jadeed) claims to have the support of the Muslims from all over the country. For some time prominent Shia leaders had been planning to form their own personal law board but they succeeded in their effort only in January this year. But the formation of the personal law board by the Muslim women was sudden. 

At a meeting in Lucknow on January 23 prominent Shia clerics, intellectuals, lawyers and community leaders formed the board with Mirza Mohammad Athar as its first president. Maulana Athar’s name was proposed by Maulana Mohd. Taqi, president of Shia Ulema-e-Hind, and was elected unopposed. Later addressing the gathering, Maulana Athar announced that the board’s tenure would be three years. He said that the board would have 300 members. In the first instance he released the names of 75 members drawn from different walks of life in the country. He nominated Maulana Syed Ali Taqi of Lucknow as vice-president and Maulana Ghulam Hussain Raza Agha of Hyderabad as the general secretary. Besides, he nominated a few secretaries. He also announced that Shia leaders from 17 states had approved the formation of the new board.

At the outset, Maulana Athar made it clear that the new board was not formed as a parallel body to the AIMPLB. He remarked that the Shias had their own religious, social, educational, political and cultural problems, different from other sects, and his board would try to solve them. The board will safeguard the Shia personal laws. However, Maulana Athar criticised the performance of the AIMPLB and even alleged that the latter’s leadership had turned arrogant and hostile towards the Shia community. He was also critical of the AIMPLB’s handling of the Babri Masjid issue, and Mumbai and Gujarat riots. He, however, added that his board would cooperate with the parent body for the larger interests of the Muslims. The new board later adopted a three-point resolution which demanded the setting up of separate Shia waqf boards in each state on the lines of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and better distribution of funds given by the government to the madarsas and minority institutions. 

Several Shia organisations such as Imamaia Educational Trust, Shia Ulema-e-Hind and Madarsa-e-imam Mehndi have supported the formation of the new Shia board. On the other hand, Several Shia groups have come up against the formation of the new board. They alleged that it was formed at the instance of the fascist forces in the country. Among those who severely criticised the formation of the Shia board was a senior Shia leader and AIMPLB member, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad. The new board also does not have the support of the senior Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq. Besides, Maulana Jawwad and Maulana Sadiq, there are a few other Shias in the AIMPLB. They have also not come out in support of the new board so far. 

The beleaguered AIMPLB received another setback on February 1 when Muslim women formed their own board to protest against the step-motherly treatment given to their sisters by the former and to protect their rights. At a meeting of some prominent Muslim women in Lucknow, they formed All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB) with Mrs. Shaista Amber as its president. The board, which is committed to work strictly under the tenets of Islam, will have members from all sections of Muslim women in the country. The board will have Zakiya Jafri, wife of Congress M.P. Ehsaan Jafri, who was killed in the Gujarat riots, as its senior adviser.

Giving reasons for floating the women’s board, its general secretary, Parveen Abdi pointed out that the AIMPLB had not done anything to solve the problems the Muslim women were facing, be it the issues of triple talaq, nikahnama or inheritance since its inception. Abdi also criticised the parent body for its silence in the Gudia case when the latter faced the peculiar situation of two husbands seeking her possession. The president of the new board Mrs. Amber criticised the parent board for not giving enough representation to women in it so that they can raise the problems faced by the Muslim women. In fact, Mrs. Amber has political leanings since she is an activist of the Nationalist Communist Party. On the other hand, Begum Naseem Iqtidar Ali, the only woman member of AIMPLB, has termed the formation of the women’s board as “unfortunate” and felt that it would only create more confusion.

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