Javed Anand is an activist on a mission. While he campaigns against right-wing communalism, he is also against obscurantist forces within the Muslim community. Anand is the head of Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD). He spoke to S Balakrishnan on the issue of Uniform Civil Code (UCC), which has become a hot national topic. Excerpts:
When was IMSD formed and what are its objectives?
The IMSD was launched in December 2016 as a reincarnation of Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD), which we had formed in 2003. The main objectives of IMSD are: To combat within the community tendencies of religious supremacism, exceptionalism, bigotry, intolerance, extremism and terrorism; to promote gender justice; and to rejuvenate Islam’s tolerant tradition and celebrate diversity.
What is your stand on UCC?
The Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD) supports Article 44 of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy), which postulates, “The State shall endeavour to secure for all citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
In our view a bona fide endeavour must mean encouragement of nationwide discussion and deliberation on the issue aimed at evolving a national consensus and not imposing the codes of any one religion, culture, tradition on others. In all such endeavours ensuring gender justice must be the prime concern.
Where do you think the Muslim Personal Law Board is going wrong in opposing the UCC?
The Muslim Personal Law Board’s essential problem is its claim that Islamic law is Godgiven and therefore cannot be changed by any Muslim till Doomsday come. In fact they are talking about fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), which is based on human interpretation of the teachings of the Quran and Prophet Mohammed. Interpretations can and do change from time to time. That is why so many Muslim countries, including those that call themselves Islamic states, have had no difficulty in bringing about changes in the same ‘Sharia’ that our ulema consider divine and therefore immutable. What the ulema are in fact defending is nothing but medieval, patriarchal notions of gender relations in the name of protecting Islam.
Would you say that the existing Muslim personal laws are loaded against women? If yes, in what way?
Existing Muslim personal law is grossly unjust and blatantly anti-women. The practice of triple talaq has been banned by the Supreme Court and criminalised through a law passed in Parliament. But the All India Muslim Personal Law Board continues to hold the view that it is valid in Islam. Though triple talaq is now little heard of, there exists another provision whereby the husband can pronounce talaq (divorce) over three consecutive months and thus divorce his wife without having to provide any grounds. The provision for polygamy, the right of a Muslim male to marry up to four wives, is another. Then there is the shameful practice of halala. A divorced couple may not reunite even if they so wish, until the divorced wife marries another man who after consummating the marriage divorces her. There are regular ‘halala centres’ in different cities which arrange for a one-night stand following which the woman is divorced so that she may remarry her previous husband.
Has Muslim society changed since the days of Shah Bano? Is it now more open to reforms?
The process of change is very much on but is painfully slow. The basic hurdle is that ordinary Muslims have little understanding of Islam and the Islam they are taught by our ulema is steeped in patriarchal interpretations of the holy texts. Manmade laws are peddled by religious clerics as divine laws, which the ordinary Muslim is scared to violate for fear of inviting divine wrath.
However, an increasing number of Muslim men and women have started directly accessing the Quran and are able to see through the falsehood being peddled by the self-proclaimed custodians of Islam.