India’s Supreme Court last week ruled Triple Talaq, or instant
The Islamic practice allows instant divorce if a man says talaq – the Arabic word for divorce – three times.
In a majority ruling, three of the five Supreme Court judges ruled Triple Talaq unconstitutional, violating principles of equality, personal liberty and the protection of life.
To mark the court decision, we revisit this report from Bismillah Geelani, who explored the fierce debate that raged around the court room earlier this year.
Twenty-eight–year old Afreen Rehman is one of five Muslim women who recently took her case to India’s Supreme Court, demanding a ban on Triple Talaq, or instant divorce.
Afreen says she had been married just two months when her in-laws started harassing her about her dowry.
“My husband and other in-laws started mentally harassing me saying that he has a law degree, and any other girl would have brought a large cash dowry and a big car but you brought nothing,” she revealed.
Afreen's in-laws sent her back to her parent’s home. And then she received notice of divorce through “speed post”.
“It was in his own handwriting and was signed by two witnesses. Before pronouncing the divorce three times he had levelled such baseless allegations against me, which I can’t even repeat in front of anyone,” she said. “But the point is, how you can divorce someone like this, through speed post?”
Afreen’s husband had performed Triple Talaq. Uttering the word talaq three times, he had instantly divorced her, without her knowledge or agreement.
At first shocked, Afreen soon realised she wasn’t alone.
“This is being done to many women. It is only when it happens to you that you realize what is happening. Someone is being sent a divorce though telegram, someone through Skype, and some even through SMS,” she argued.
She decided to fight back
“So I have challenged it. Not just for myself, but for every woman, so that no woman suffers like I do. Triple Talaq is unacceptable and it should stop.”
Zakia Soman is founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women’s Movement), one of the petitioners.
She says the practice is both un-Islamic and unconstitutional, and must go.
“It is banned in several Muslim countries the world over precisely because the Quran has no mention of Triple Talaq. In fact, as per the Quran the marriage is a social contract with equal rights to the husband and wife and equal rights to the husband and wife to seek divorce,” she explained.
“But Allah wants the husband and wife to go through an elaborate reconciliation procedure lasting over a period of 3 months, failing which mediation even, before arriving at as serious a decision as Talaq.”
Muslim scholars largely agree that performing Triple Talaq in one go is prohibited, and even punishable, as it violates the divorce procedure laid down in the Quran. Talaq should be uttered on three separate occasions, they say, allowing time to resolve differences.
Mohammad Saleem is a member of the Muslim Personal Law Board, a coalition of Muslim organizations defending Triple Talaq.
“The problem is ignorance. Islam discourages divorce per se. Divorce is the most disliked among allowed things in Islam. But people do it. It is like alcohol is prohibited in Islam but still some Muslims drink it,” he stated. “And this is not something that governments or courts can intervene in and decide. It has to be resolved at the community level.”
Meanwhile the government has thrown its weight behind the women who are seeking the ban. Ravi Shankar Prasad is Law Minister.
“We have taken our stand on the basis of the constitution.” He continued, “The Indian constitution gives women the right to life, equality and dignity without discrimination and Triple Talaq does not satisfy the standards of gender equality, gender dignity and gender justice.”
Prime Minister Modi has frequently raised the issue of Triple Talaq at public rallies.
Indian law currently respects Muslim Personal Law, a set of Islamic rules governing family life and other personal issues of Muslims such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.
But with its slogan of ‘One Country, One Law’, Modi’s Hindu Nationalist BJP Party opposes Muslim Personal Laws, and favours a Uniform Civil Code that would apply to all Indians.
Mohammad Saleem of the Muslim Personal Law Board sees that as an attack on religious freedom.
“Clearly this is a ploy, they want to pave the way for a Uniform Civil Code, and create divisions among communities. But personal laws are protected by the constitution, it is a matter of religious freedom and they can’t take it away from us,” Saleem appealed.
Muslims are not united on the issue, however. Some, like author and activist Sadia Dehlavi want to ban not only Triple Talaq, but also Personal Laws.
“The reform is never going to come from the Muslim community,” Dehlavi argued. “It is time for the courts to step in and to do away with the personal laws and implement Uniform Civil Code that guarantees the same right to Muslim women as to all women in the country and there should be one law that protects all women across faiths.”