While people from every political camp debate the validity of the Muslim personal law, what people don’t realize is the lack of a historical approach to this problem. Purely by accident, I stumbled upon the Fatwa-e Alamgiri – a treatise authored by Aurangzeb wherein he outlines the ideal form of Sharia for all subcontinental Muslims and non-Muslims as well.
Now here’s where things get interesting – The Muslim personal law seems to be a perfect modern day copy of Aurangzeb’s Fatwa-e Alamgiri. Let’s see some of the things it actually comprises:
- Laws regarding inheritance – the usual Sharia law of a woman getting half of what a man gets and if a non-believer related to a Muslim should even get anything (the answer is obviously, no).
- Permission for Muslims to conduct a marriage of a daughter against her will.
- Laws granting or revoking paternity to a child which is born of an invalid marriage. This could be if a Sunni married a Shia or an Ahmadiyyah or worse – a Hindu, would the child have the right to call its own father as its father?
- The leeway for Muslim men to have as many wives as they please.
- The standard Sharia punishment of beheading, amputation and stoning to death for crimes like sex out of marriage, robbery and adultery within marriage.
- Right to have a sex slave.
- The obligation that a divorced Muslim woman should be accepted by another husband who can give her away to another man like a trophy camel after the annual camel race.
- Muslim men can ‘own’ a girl.
Aurangzeb used to knit prayer caps while he was not sitting and codifying the Sharia. To think that an Emperor actually wrote something that is usually written by clergy alone is frightening as a lot of things in Aurangzeb’s Fatwa-e Alamgiri do not even conform with the Quran. Its extreme opportunism only goes to show that the attitudes that it inspired in modern Muslim personal laws are irrational even by Sharia standards.
Now let us see the personal law of Muslims in India:
- Hadith and Quran can apply while judging cases of marriage, inheritance, divorce and child custody. Of course it is a ‘personal law’ on paper and therefore no one need fear it.
- The same Hadith and Quran as per Hanafi Sunni tradition also support these –
- That a woman is worth half a man.
- That a man’s inheritance is naturally superior to a woman’s because the man is naturally superior to the woman.
- Polygamy is wholly allowed and women although on paper get a say in it, they don’t get squat in practice.
- The age limit on marriage is practically absent, allowing the man to practice the Arab tradition of marrying even a 9 year old whilst being 60 or 70 himself. In various parts of India, this is actually practised.
- The infamous triple talaq is a case and point codified in Sharia, which gives men a sense of being able to treat women worse than domestic animals and get away with it.
- Vocal opposition to a mixed inter-religious marriage at the whim of a Qazi. As the ijma and ijtehad apply in personal law, a Sharia court judge can go about annulling a marriage at free will or anathemizing and outcasting the offspring of such a marriage.
- Outcasting communities such as Ahmadiyyas.
- The fact that Shia Muslims have the right to exercise Shia laws in personal affairs allows contract marriages – marriages wherein after a stipulated time period, the woman and man get auto-divorced and the standard pose-marriage untouchability will apply ONLY to the woman.
- The biggest after effect of allowing this personal law board to exist, has been the ability of Islamic councils such as the ones at Deoband to issue fatwas against the singing of Vande Mataram, and against Muslims participating in Hindu festivals. The leeway to apply an obscure and ill-defined ‘personal law’ has emboldened mullahs to even call for the deaths of individuals who criticized or left Islam – Salman Rushdie comes to mind.
All in all, if you compare Aurangzeb’s Fatwa-e Alamgiri to the personal law, the only difference are the names of the two. While ‘fatwa’ sounds not-so-refined, ‘personal law’ is meant to take the sting out of an otherwise divisive, vile, extra-judicial faith militancy in matters of law and human dignity. The conflation of Aurangzeb’s Fatwa-e Alamgiri with the personal law board is not a coincidence but rather an inspired one. Aurangzeb was the first man to codify the indecency of Sharia into a well decorated well worded treatise going by a seemingly harmless name. The thing about Sharia is that its definitions are so loose in nature, that boundaries are rarely if ever, defined. And therefore, while the personal law board applies only to ‘personal law’ in name, its lack of rational boundaries (which apply to rational laws) embolden imams and mullahs to issue anti-national fatwas including the one against Vande Mataram or the ones that called for the deaths of people.
How many of us even know that just last year, there was yet another fatwa floating around calling for the ban of the usage of ‘Bharat Mata’? One might ask as to how this is related to personal law, to which I could only answer – that the thing about Sharia is that it steadily encourages the Muslim community to disenfranchise itself with the nation to which it belongs. It instils a feeling of extreme slavery among its women and instils extreme chauvinism among its men, that although it is a ‘personal law’ on paper, the spirit it instils in its subscribers is nothing short of venomous.
Imagine the plight of a woman who is dumped by her husband – a husband who can actually get away by quoting Shia usooli fiqh and justify that the marriage’s contract period actually ended. Or imagine the more fortunate brother depriving his own sister of their parental inheritance. One can also consider the case wherein this free leeway to apply Sharia in personal affairs can be justified in child marriage, sex slavery, and outright prostitution. I have personally seen Muslim men on occasion boast of their ability to have as many wives as they please while their existing wife/wives had absolutely no say in it whatsoever.
In all this, an average Indian fails to realize that an almost 80% Hindu nation allowing the personal law board to exist is like Israel adopting clauses from the 1935 Nuremberg laws under the insidious banner of ‘secularism.’ The existence of this law board is not just a hazard to millions of Muslim women, but a hazard to existence of India’s unity given the venomous attitudes it encourages. In light of all this, the presence of an Owaisi or an Azam Khan seems only natural. And to think that Owaisi’s party is actually a national party is one more reason to remove the personal law board altogether.
True to its medieval inspiration, the personal law board is nothing but a modern adoption of the Fatwa-e Alamgiri – a Mughal instrument whose aim was to legitimize and make Islamist supremacism mainstream in the subcontinent. And that is one more very big historical reason for us to stamp it out of existence once and for all.