TwoCircles.net and Radiance Weekly debate triple talaq

BY ANKITA PANDEY| IN Media Monitoring | 10/06/2017
Coverage of the issue in two publications which focus on Indian Muslims suffered from omissions and contradictions.
ANKITA PANDEY monitors them for five months

TwoCircles.net, April 10,2017

 

The Supreme Court is hearing seven petitions, including five separate writ petitions filed by Muslim women challenging the constitutionality of the practice of triple talaq. This article analyses the coverage of the debates on triple talaq in TwoCircles.net (TwoCircles) and Radiance Viewsweekly (Radiance) between January 1 and May 31. TwoCircles, an English news website launched in the US in 2007, presents itself as alternative media for issues affecting Adivasis, Dalits, Indian Muslims, Women, and Youth. However, TwoCircles is widely seen as a website focusing on Indian Muslims. Radiance, a weekly launched from Delhi in 1963, is published by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and presents itself as a periodical for Muslims. During the period of interest, Radiance published a special issue on triple talaq (“Triple Talaq or Crime against Women what should be the Topic for Discussion?” May 14). Both TwoCircles and Radiance published a wide variety of views that can be classified into three broad categories examined in this article: triple talaq is un-Islamic, triple talaq is rare and, therefore, a non-issue, and the present focus on the issue is politically-motivated.

 

The key findings are as follows:

1. The coverage in both TwoCircles and Radiance broadly suggests that triple talaq is un-Islamic. However, Radiance did not give space to those who argued against the controversial practice.

2. TwoCircles and Radiance did not ask why the practice of triple talaq continues and why there is so much opposition to outlaw it if it is un-Islamic and if everyone is against it.

3. Both used—uncritically--research studies and surveys that question the existence of triple talaq, but did not engage with testimonies of women affected by triple talaq.

"TwoCircles and Radiance did not ask why the practice of triple talaq continues and why there is so much opposition to outlaw it if it is un-Islamic and if everyone is against it. "

 

4. Neither questioned those who criticise the politicisation of the triple talaq debate but do not suggest a way out for the women affected by triple talaq.

5. Neither questioned those who assailed the integrity of Muslim women’s organisations fighting for gender justice.

6. The diversity of opinions within the community was noted without any serious engagement. Most commentators and persons whose views were covered were Muslim men, while women appeared mostly when they conformed to the traditional view.

7. Both noted that arguments for and against the practice refer to the Quran and the Hadith, but neither made an attempt to examine the claims and counter-claims in light of the scripture and diverse traditions of interpretation of the scriptures.

 

Triple talaq is un-Islamic

TwoCircles reported that the affidavit filed by the Union government in the Supreme Court argued that “‘triple talaq’, ‘nikaah halaal’ and polygamy as practiced by the Muslims in India were not ‘integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices.’ The fact that Muslim countries where Islam is the state religion have undergone extensive reforms goes to establish that the practice in question cannot be regarded as integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices” (Feb 14). However, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) claimed that “the practice of triple talaq and polygamy were a social need and a blessing and not a curse for women” (TwoCircles, Feb 14). Later the AIMPLB informed the Supreme Court “that it was going to advise Qazis all over the country to ask the bridegroom to shun triple talaq in one go, AIMPLB also annexed this resolution passed on April 15 and 16 this year at the Board’s meeting in Lucknow wherein it had said that instant triple talaq was not a correct method of divorce” (TwoCircles, May 22).

Commentator Syed Ubaidur Rahman criticised the AIMPLB for telling the Supreme Court “that Triple Talaq in a single sitting is not just Islamic but it has been sanctioned by the Quran and Hadith” (TwoCircles, March 29). He questioned the AIMPLB’s interpretation of Quranic injunctions (“Wherever Quran talks of talaq or divorce, it mentions a rather long mechanism and doesn’t give total control over it to the husband”) as well as unwillingness to learn from other Muslim societies (“the AIMPLB is not ready to take a cue from developments, including in the Arab world”).  In sum, the “arbitrary and illogical” stand of the AIMPLB and “its opaque reading of Islamic jurisprudence” are “counter-productive and give ammunition to anti-Islamic forces to target Islam and Muslim personal law.”

 Mohammed Umar, an assistant professor of law, explicitly denied the existence of triple talaq: “Be it the Quran, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad, triple divorce finds no place in Islam. The Quran has a set procedure of talaq (divorce by husband) and khula (divorce by wife) mentioned in its 2nd and 65th chapter. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) condemned this pre-Islamic practice of the Arab community and as the record goes, he stood up in anger when he heard of one such incidence of triple divorce and said: “Are you playing with the Book of Allah who is Great and Glorious while I am still amongst you?”” (TwoCircles, April 12)

TwoCircles also published statements of public figures against triple talaq. On the occasion of 805th Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Hassan Chisti, Dargah Dewan Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan said that “Triple Talaq is the non-Shariat practice which hurts the sentiments and self-confidence of Muslim women” (April 4). Salma Ansari, the wife of Vice President Hamid Ansari, said that “just saying ‘talaq’ thrice does not amount to a divorce” (April 8) and former Union Minister Arif Mohammad Khan said that triple talaq is “anti-Constitution, anti-Quran and anti-humane” (May 9).

Radiance claimed that “Giving three talaqs in one go is against the spirit of the Qur’ān” (Editorial, April 30). Similarly, in a seminar, the women’s wing of the JIH claimed that “Muthalaq (pronouncement of three-time divorces in one go) is against the text and spirit of the Qur’ān” (TwoCircles, May 2 and Radiance, May 14). Secretary General of the JIH, Dr. Engineer Mohammed Salim observed that “No one likes triple talaq in one sitting. Every one considers it against Islam” (Radiance, May 14). Prof. Jamil Farooqui, International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pointed out the existence of different opinions (practices) on triple talaq: “There is a difference of opinion among jurists. Some think that a divorce takes effect if it is pronounced three times even at a single sitting” (Radiance, January 22).

"While Radiance rejected triple talaq as un-Islamic, it did not give space to those who directly argued against the controversial practice."

 

While Radiance rejected triple talaq as un-Islamic, it did not give space to those who directly argued against the controversial practice. In fact, it also uncritically reproduced views that rule out any change in the practice of triple talaq. Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), said “the laws of Islam are impossible to change and no one has the authority to do so. The nations in the past, who have gone against the commands of Allah, have been destroyed and they have failed in the world and the hereafter. The issue of Triple Talaq is a non-issue which is projected as a big issue” (Radiance, May 14). Likewise, Radiance reported that on May 5, in a Muslim Person Law Awareness Campaign, AIMPLB’s Maulana Mufti Mohammed Ashraf Ali said “Some people are raising objections to the issue of Triple Talaq, which is not at all a big issue. People should know that the laws of Islam cannot be changed and they will remain the same till the last day.”

Radiance also published a book review (“Muslim Personal Law – Papers and Proceedings of a Seminar”) that supported the view the Sharia is immutable (Feb 14). If the last two believe that triple talaq is covered by Sharia then the immutability of Sharia means that Muslim women face considerable difficulty in finding support within their community. However, it bears noting that judiciary’s ‘interference” in Sharia has been opposed on other grounds as well. For instance, Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, expressed doubt on the benefit of banning triple talaq in a talk delivered at AMU. He said “Judiciary cannot create new crimes. We need an Act of Parliament to make an act criminal. If government is interested in reforms, it can bring in a law, but will it work?” (TwoCircles, April 17).

 

Triple talaq is rare

TwoCircles reported on an event “Muslim Women’s Movement Now: Discourse around Personal Law Reform” organized by People’s Film Collective on December 13, in which Khadija Banu, founder of Rokeya Nari Unnayan Samiti, an NGO working for the rehabilitation of women abandoned or divorced by their husband, spoke of the rising incidence of triple talaq. She advocated “change in the Muslim Personal Laws pertaining to divorce in India to protect women – explicitly those in disadvantageous economic situations – from exploitation in marriage” (January 2).

But many others claimed that triple talaq was rare, without explaining what could be done for the “rare” unfortunate women affected by the controversial divorce practice.

Mohammed Umar, an assistant professor of law, argued “If the triple divorce was such a burning legal issue, why then in 2015 only two triple divorce related cases were reported in the entire higher judiciary?” (TwoCircles, April 12) He does not ask if an average Muslim woman, given the lack of education and income, can afford to fight court cases.

The women’s wing of JIH claimed that “a few Muslim women suffered by Muthalaq” (TwoCircles, May 2 and Radiance, May 14). Dr Saba Taj argued that “divorce is not a very common practice in the Muslim community; this was supported in different reports and studies and published by media as well.” She quoted the statistics of Darul Qaza (Sharia Court), Jaipur: “out of total number of cases registered with it only 2-3% of cases are related to divorce, of which most of the cases were initiated by the women” (Radiance, May 14). However, she did not consider the possibility that many women do not approach Sharia Courts, which favour men.

"Many others claimed that triple talaq was rare, without explaining what could be done for the “rare” unfortunate women affected by the controversial divorce practice."

 

Likewise, Raqib Hameed Naik discussed the findings of an online survey, conducted by Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP) between March and May 2017 in which a total of 20671 individuals (16,860 men and 3,811 women) took part. Naik pointed out “that the cases of triple talaq are rare and in cases where they have occurred, the community by and large has strongly stood by the side of the victim and tried to rehabilitate her” (TwoCircles, May 18). Interestingly, only 18 per cent respondents were women, which is not surprising because they possibly have lower literacy and poorer access to internet, and we do not know the sampling procedure.

Some of those who questioned triple talaq numbers tried to expand the debate to include broader women’s rights. For example, Dr. Javed Jamil argued that triple talaq is unnecessarily highlighted as major issue, “which hardly affects 2-4 per cent of the women,” whereas “property rights is no issue at all despite the fact that it affects almost every woman whose parents have some property” (Radiance, May 14).

 

Triple talaq is a non-issue and the present focus on the issue is politically-motivated

In an editorial Radiance blamed the Right Wing forces for creating “a controversy around instant triple talaq, projecting a concocted narrative to impress upon the large segments of masses that the practice of triple talaq is rife in the Muslim society” and questioned the initiatives of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) saying that it was launched by the Right Wing forces “to spread their tentacles in the Muslim society” (April 23). Radiance also indirectly questioned the motives of Muslim women who went to the Supreme Court.

It quoted Supreme Court advocate M.R Shamshad, who spoke at a public meeting at the headquarters of the JIH in this regard: “the Supreme Court is examining the triple talaq case not on a petition filed by someone but the apex court itself took suo motto cognizance while hearing a case on property dispute under Hindu Succession Act. While debating this case, it has been said that there is a lot of discrimination against women in Muslim personal laws; the discrimination is dominant in inheritance, talaq and polygamy. The court decided to examine Muslim Personal Laws by registering a PIL. This is how the matter started. When media covered it, some divorced women registered PILs and requested the court to hear their cases while examining those things . . . But the media projected it as if some women had moved the court because injustice had been committed against them” (May 28, emphasis mine).

"In an editorial Radiance blamed the Right Wing forces for creating “a controversy around instant triple talaq"

 

In a seminar, the women’s wing of the JIH called triple talaq a minor issue and blamed BJP for “‘shedding crocodile tears for a few Muslim women suffered by Muthalaq or Triple Talaq,’ saying it would not allow Modi and his party to exploit this minor issue to make political gains and defame Shariah” (TwoCircles, May 2 and Radiance, May 14). Others also drew attention to the politisation of the debate. In a symposium organized on May 3, as a part of nationwide Muslim Personal Awareness Campaign, Secretary General of the JIH, Dr. Engineer Mohammed Salim argued that “a perception is being made that Muslim organisations and Muslim Personal Law Board are supporting triple talaq in one sitting. It is wrong” (Radiance, May 14).

Some of the contributors noted that triple talaq was not the most pressing problem facing Muslim women. Dr Saba Taj argued that the issues such as dowry, domestic violence, child marriage, sexual harassment, etc “need to be addressed first and more prominently rather than targeting only the Muslim community. Triple Talaq and polygyny have become political agenda. On the basis of these non-issues they want to annul Muslim Personal Law (MPL)” (Radiance, May 14).

Mohammed Umar noted that “the BJP has realized the potential political dividends of the issue.” He questioned the role of social organisations in raising the issue asCollectives like Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and Muslim Women Rights Network (MWRN) have time and again asserted that the majority Muslim population rejects the idea of triple divorce. They have even done extensive empirical studies on the subject. Contrary to the popular belief that they are fighting the patriarchy triggered by Islamic dogmas, their articulation rather claims the rights given in Islam itself” (TwoCircles, April 12).

 

 Press meeting of women leaders of JIH, Radiance Viewsweekly, May 14, 2017

 

Both Radiance and TwoCircles covered the press meeting of Atiya Siddiqua, women leader of JIH. While both reported that she suggested that Muslim women need better education and healthcare more than a law against triple talaq, TwoCircles also reported that she blamed the government for “unnecessarily blowing triple talaq and polygamy out of proportion. These practices have been in Islam since the beginning. Why was there no hue and cry (about it) so far? Why did this happen all of a sudden?” TwoCircles also noted the views of Shaista Rafat, in-charge of JIH Delhi and Haryana women wing, who said “Islamic laws were ‘divine and they are for the good of people. Those who say these practices should be abolished are unaware about the Shariah laws’” (TwoCircles, May 2). Radiance did not report the above statement, however it covered the Muslim Personal Law Awareness Campaign and reported that Atiya Siddiqua blamed government for politicizing the triple talaq and said “We want zero divorce and that is why we are running this nationwide campaign” (Radiance, May 14).

 

Conclusion

Both TwoCircles and Radiance covered the seminars and meetings of the AIMPLB, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and its women wing, where participants claimed that triple talaq in one sitting is un-Islamic, happened rarely and Right Wing forces are raising this issue to defame Muslim society. Research studies and surveys with conclusions that question the existence of triple talaq were uncritically used. While it is true that the debate has been politicised, the counter-debate cannot stop at criticism of politicisation and questioning the integrity of Muslim women’s organisations. The counter-narrative has to suggest solution for women affected by triple talaq.

"Neither made an attempt to interview women affected by triple talaq and examine their problems. "

 

TwoCircles and Radiance did not ask if triple talaq is un-Islamic and if everyone is against it, then why it continues to be in practice, why there is so much opposition to outlaw it, and why the AIMPLB did not issue its advisory to qazis before. Neither made an attempt to interview women affected by triple talaq and examine their problems. TwoCircles covered a recent case of triple talaq, in which a pregnant woman Shugufta was forced to abort her foetus and had verbally divorced by her husband pronouncing a triple talaq.

The debate on triple talaq in TwoCircles and Radiance was dominated by men. Even otherwise the diversity within the community was not given space except when the AIMPLB reacted to the stand of All India Shia Muslim Personal Law Board (AISPLB) on triple talaq: “Shia body should not talk about Triple Talaq because Triple Talaq is not in practice among Shia Muslims. AIMPLB doesn’t endorse demands of AISPLB” (TwoCircles, Feb 14). In addition, TwoCircles published the statements of the government, members of political parties such as the BJP and the JD (U), All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) and Mumbai-based NGO Majlis Manch. It also covered an event organized by People’s Film Collective demanding reforms in Personal Law. Non-Muslims are selectively referred to when they confirmed the views of the contributors, who were invariably Muslims. Last but not the least, while both TwoCircles and Radiance mentioned that arguments for and against the practice refer to the Quran and the Hadith, neither made attempt to examine the claims and counter-claims in light of the scriptures by quoting from the originals.

 

(Ankita Pandey is an independent researcher based in Bengaluru.)

 

 

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