Triple talaq, as it is commonly called, is an ancient and controversial Islamic practice where a man divorces a woman by saying the word talaq, the Arabic word for divorce, three times. Sometimes, it's even delivered by phone or text message.
In theory, it should take three months to take effect. In practice, it is often instantaneous -- the woman forced out of the house with barely a moment's notice.
India, home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, is among the few that do not ban the practice. Other countries with majority Muslim populations like Pakistan and Indonesia have outlawed the practice for years.
In Islam, marriage is a social contract with clear conditions to be noted down in a nikahnama (marriage contract). Not only this, it provides for affirmative provisions for a bride such as mehr (dower).
Triple talaq is mentioned nowhere in the Quran, and perhaps, this is the reason why it is illegal in most Muslim countries. The Quran gives equal right to both husband and wife to seek divorce.
But it nowhere allows instant divorce, for it treats marriage as a serious social relationship, entered into by two individuals. There are a number of verses in the Quran that call for attempts to reconcile in the case of marital discord.
There is a verse calling for mediators, from families of both sides, if reconciliation between husband and wife is not working out. The verses clearly call for reconciliation and mediation process to be carried out over a period of 90 days. Allah has ordered the man or the husband to carry out this process. Divorce can happen at the end of this time period if the process does not lead to any reconciliation.
So, the question of unilateral or instant divorce, does not arise. This makes the practice of triple talaq, as practiced in our country, totally un-Quranic. The Quran is the greatest source of guidance for Muslims. Besides, Muslims draw lot of inspiration and learning from the Sunnah or the life teachings of the Prophet.
There is a widely known incident when the Prophet of Islam was tremendously displeased and reprimanded a man for divorcing his wife in an instant. No wonder, world over triple talaq is not accepted by Muslims. The Shia community in India, too, does not hold it as valid.
Triple talaq, happens not because of religion but, patriarchy and power play masquerading as religion. It is important that ordinary Muslim women and men are educated about the Quranic principles of justice and fairness concerning divorce.
It is important that everybody learns about triple talaq being un-Quranic. Only then can these false notions manufactured by the conservative patriarchal bodies be exposed for what they are - un-Qurani and unjustified. Only then can the bluff of the so-called personal law boards, be called wrong, as is happening now. Prevalence of triple talaq is the most pre-eminent illustration of legal discrimination against Indian Muslim women.
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the consistent amendments to the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act which has been amended as recently as 2005, have enabled women from different communities to obtain legal justice to a considerable extent.
While it is imperative that communities move towards reform and address the concerns raised by women of the community equally, there is a need to strengthen the provisions of secular laws to address what are essentially civil matters.
It is necessary to draw a distinction between laws relating to marriage and family from what is argued to be the essence of religion and its practice.
Women especially stand to lose if they become pawns in power games especially in present times, in a context where the rhetoric of identity politics gets shriller and there is a strong possibility of it being hijacked by anti-democratic forces.
Clearly, the debates on women's life and experiences and opposition to the movement for equal rights go back a long way into history.
Constitutionally speaking, it is clear that triple talaq is a gross violation of the rights of women citizens. The right to religious freedom applies equally to women and men.
It nowhere gives male citizens the permission to oppress female citizens. Muslim women have been denied their Quranic rights owing to misinterpretations and interference of patriarchal orthodox bodies.
We are confident that the courts will make this long-pending correction and give justice to the Muslim women of the country.
- Laxmi Prasad