Addressing Indian Muslims

“Meri suno jo gosh-e-naseehat niyosh hai” (Mirza Ghalib)

In an earlier article published in a leading English newspaper, I had stated that the result of the recent Lok Sabha elections had made most Indian Muslims despondent, but, in fact, it was a blessing in disguise for them.

Firstly, I must clarify that I am not against Islam. Rather, I have often praised it for its great message of equality, which socially emancipated the suppressed sections of society in many parts of the world. I have often referred to the Prophet’s statement that one should seek knowledge even if one has to go to China, which (even if it is a weak hadees as some allege) shows the emphasis on rationalism in Islam.

However, like in all religions, there are some negative features, which the members of that religion should get rid of if they wish to progress. I am referring to them as follows:

(1) Sharia

Laws in ancient and medieval times were not made by a Parliament. They were simply the prevalent customary rules, which were recorded in writing. Thus, the Manusmriti prevailing in parts of India about 2000 years earlier was not a law made by the legislature, but only the customary rules recorded in writing. Similarly, the Sharia was made up of the customs prevailing in Arabia in the seventh century, which were recorded in writing. It is, therefore, wrong to say that it was a creation of Allah, and there is nothing sacred about it.

When society changes, the law, too, must change. How could a law made in the seventh century apply today, when society has changed in these 1400 years? Can Manusmriti be applied today?

For instance, monogamy represents equality between men and women, and this is the age of equality. So the sharia rule permitting men to marry up to four wives must be abolished, just as polygamy was abolished among Hindus by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. The disgusting rule of nikah halala must also be abolished.

In fact, sharia was largely abolished by our British rulers. The sharia criminal law has been entirely replaced by the Indian Penal Code, 1861, and so a woman cannot be stoned to death for adultery, nor could a thief’s hands be chopped off, as prescribed by sharia.

The land laws include section 171 of the UP Zamindari Abolition Act, 1951, following the UP Tenancy Act, 1939, prescribes a uniform law for all communities for the inheritance of rural landed property.

The abolition of personal law does not amount to the abolition of religion. Almost the entire old (non-statutory) Hindu Law was abolished by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, but that did not result in the abolition of Hinduism.

The Uniform Civil Code, which should be enacted in India, will basically deal with divorce and inheritance, not with marriage (except to enforce monogamy).

Burqa is an outdated and feudal custom, which puts Muslim women in a cage

Thus, even after its promulgation, marriages may be performed in accordance with the customary religious rites of each community (unless the couple wants a civil marriage). The rules of divorce for all communities will be broadly laid down in chapter six of the Indian Special Marriage Act (the law which provides for civil marriages). Daughters will get an equal share in inheritance as sons, and not half as much as laid down in sharia.

(2) Burqa

Burqa is an outdated and feudal custom, which puts Muslim women in a cage. When I called for its abolition, many people said that it should be left to the women whether they wish to wear it or not, but I don’t agree. Backward and feudal practices must be suppressed if the country is to progress. Too much freedom is also bad. Indian Muslims should follow the path shown by the great Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal, who suppressed burqa, sharia and madrasas and modernised Turkey.

The heavy fine should be imposed on a woman wearing it, as in France.

Some Muslims said that Christian nuns wear a veil, so what is wrong with burqa? They forget that nuns do not cover their faces and nuns are priests. So, there is no analogy.

Some people say that since I am a Hindu (in fact, I am an atheist), I have no right to speak about Muslims. But why not? Muslims are also Indians, and I have a right to speak about all Indians, not just Hindus. Muslim women are also my sisters.

(3) All India Muslim Personal Law Board

This body, consisting of mostly reactionary clerics and others, should be abolished. It has greatly harmed Muslims, for example, by opposing the progressive and humanitarian Shahbano judgment of the Supreme Court. It was set up in 1973 in the time of Indira Gandhi, who treated Muslims as only a vote bank. The Justice Sachar Committee Report showed that under the governments of the so-called “secular” Indian political parties, Muslims have suffered. These “secular” political parties were not really interested in benefiting the Muslims but only wanted their votes. Since most Muslims were under the grip of the maulanas, who were mostly feudal reactionaries, these political parties developed a nexus with the Muslim clerics to get Muslim votes. This kept most Indian Muslims backwards and poor.

The 2019 Parliamentary elections have shown that a government can be formed in India, even without Muslim votes. This has made many Indian Muslims despondent, but to me, it is a blessing in disguise and a wake-up call for them. They should now get rid of the shackles and fetters placed upon their mindsets by the reactionary clerics (who were hand-in-glove with certain crafty politicians posing to be champions of Muslim interests) and modernise by following the path shown by the great Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge, Supreme Court of India

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