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Indian Muslim apex body gets new chief
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Maulana Muhammad Rabey Nadwi

New Delhi, June 23: Maulana Muhammad Rabey Nadwi, rector, Nadwat-ul-Ulama, Lucknow, was on 22 June unanimously elected president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) at a meeting held at Hyderabad in south India. The election was necessitated by the death of the previous chairman, Maulana Mujahidul Islam Qasimi last April.

According to M.A. Raheem Quershi, convenor of the three-day 16th session of the board, it was decided that the present executive will run its full term. The new AIMPLB chief will hold the post for three years. More than 300 religious scholars, theologians and intellectuals from all over the country participated in the meeting.

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 although the body has failed to rise to their hopes so far. Muslim personal laws are the first target of extremist Hindus 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 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 challenge the community faces now has gone up several folds. Everything seems to have gone upside down. The unimagined destruction in Gujarat has affected the community very badly. Now the person taking over the board should be able to tackle everything from religion to politics" says a senior AIMPLB member. 

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.

All these years the AIMPLB tried to counter overt and covert efforts to interfere in the Shariah or through parallel legislation. On the other hand, it tried to introduce Islamic family laws in the Muslim society. Islamic Fiqh Academy was founded in Delhi under Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasimi for precisely this purpose. 

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 Gandh, 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 and an item was added to section 127 which said that if the divorcing husband has paid the necessary Shari'ah dues or if the wife has pardoned these dues (mehr), the decree obtained under section 125 will be considered as null and void.

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. At that time when nobody could speak out a word against the government, a meeting of the AIMPLB executive committee was held on 17-18 April 1976 in Delhi. 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 in the Muhammad Ahmad Khan vs. Shah Bano case. 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 government position has been since Independence that no changes will be introduced in the Muslim personal laws without the approval of the Muslim community.

The AIMPLB took the issue head on and started a historic movement throughout the country. A delegation led by the Board chairman met the the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, on 30 July 1985. During 1986 Board members met the prime minister three times and tried to apprise and convince him of the stand taken by Muslims. Finally, 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 confronted the Board 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. Syed Minnatullah Rahmani and Dr Yousuf Najmuddin met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi along with a delegation and were successful in convincing her 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 responsibilites 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.

23 June 2002

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