Proposed changes in Indian Muslim Personal Laws

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With a few exceptions, no group of humans has ever jumped and yielded to the demands of the rulers or majorities to change. There is a strong record of resistance to such a change, however, changes have come to be accepted and sustained through persuasion and referencing scriptures.

No one likes a change, not even you, the reader of this article. You will tell me to go to hell if I told you to change the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the smile you have on your face or the way your talk. If we allow anyone to dictate changes, it amounts to forcing everyone in the society to change by the one who holds the laathi (the one who owns the Cain), owns the water buffalo.

There are plenty of stories of brave men and women in just every religious, ethnic, and nationalistic group where they fought the proposed changes valiantly and at times committed suicide en masse rather than surrender to the rulers. The exceptions are also there in China and Russia where religions were suppressed but when Russia splintered, religion surfaced right back.

The banishment of Sati, a practice where a Hindu widowed woman would throw herself into her husband’s funeral pyre and immolate to death, succeeded not because of the Mogul and British rulers, but because of the wisdom and persuasive Hindu leadership presenting alternate meaning of the scriptures.

The dawn of the 19th century produced two great Hindu thinkers and reformers; Swami Sahajanand who argued that the practice of Sati was not Vedic but a product of 4th century kings, and Raja Rammohan Roy, who saw his own sister-in-law forced to commit Sati, which prompted him to take up the issue strongly and go on a campaign of writing and quoting scriptures. Finally the practice was outlawed in 1829 and it is rarely practiced since then.

Now coming to the Muslim personal laws, the scriptures do not support triple Talaq in one sitting, it is suppose to be three periods of waiting to make sure the woman is not pregnant and more importantly, it gives the time for a couple to rethink and re-align before they make that final decision. Hilla, a docudrama illustrates the point well.

Indeed, in the United States, which is more Islamic than most Muslim nations, it takes 90 days to finalize the divorce proceedings after it is filed, just as the Qur’aan calls for it.

Permitting a man to marry four wives was rather a severe restriction at a time when men were marrying and divorcing women with no restrictions, this was the norm in most societies. Indeed, the restriction was a sign of change, a move to adapt to the needs of the society when Men to women ratio was lopsided. In the Indian context there are reports showing more Hindu men having a second woman than Muslim men having two wives.

The second part of the equation was prompted by the need for social justice, where women were forced to be single through wars and deaths of their spouse, father, brother or other financial supporter. A thousand years ago, women were dependent in all societies and in such cases, they only option dumped on them was to sell their flesh, as men in all societies look at a single women with ill-intent. It was to uplift the dignity of woman, that polygamy was permitted, it was for social justice and not lust.

Muslims are as open to change as any one, so we have to take steps and quote the scriptures in support of the change.

I suggest the Muslim organizations to hold symposiums, debates and conferences, and give a genuine room to people who have opposing views. We are holding a Sharia symposium in Dallas and inviting the nation’s foremost anti-Sharia activists along with the scholars. Let’s sincerely table the issue and find lasting solutions; when we bring the yes men who support our views, we fail in our integrity and our obligation to find the truth. We need to be inclusive of opposing views to find genuine solutions.

Prophet Muhammad has set a variety of examples in handling different situations. When he asked an opinion on an issue, he asked it to be different than what prevailed at that moment. There is a difference when you ask for support and ask an opinion, in the former you ask them to say yes to your opinion, in the latter you want to know if there is another point of view. Indeed, he accepted opinions of his associates even though they were different than his own during the battles of Trench and Uhud.

Let’s bring a closure to this gnawing problem that is constantly biting Muslims every few years.

Response to the Editorial in Indian Express

Mike Ghouse is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a speaker, thinker and a writer and his work is linked to thirty blogs and four websites indexed at

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