BBC News, August 4, 2004
Muslim women fight instant
By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Delhi
For more than a decade Muslim women activists
in India have been demanding a ban on what
is known as "triple talaq" or instant
It is a system wherein a Muslim man can divorce
his wife in a matter of minutes.
The issue has been highlighted recently after
several Indian Muslims have taken to divorcing
their wives by mail, over the phone and even
through mobile phone text messages.
The practice of instant divorce is banned in
several Islamic countries including Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.
But it continues in India.
Jahanara's house lies off a narrow lane in Old
Narrow steps, barely a foot wide, take you up
to the first floor where she sits huddled in
a corner of her tiny two-room home, mourning.
Jahanara's parents got her married when she was
Now, two years later, she is back with them because
her husband has divorced her.
Saying that he was setting her free he repeated
the words "Talaq" (divorce) three
times and left.
"My life's ruined. What can I do with myself
now? I had hoped to spend the rest of my life
with him and look what he did to me,"
"I gave up everything to go with him - I
thought we'd be together through thick and
thin, but he clearly had other ideas."
Jahanara is a victim of what is known as the
triple talaq, where a husband exercises his
right to divorce his wife within a matter of
Islamic scholars say the Koran clearly spells
out how to issue a divorce.
It has to be spread over three months which allows
a couple time for reconciliation.
But today, many men use the post, the telephone
or even the short messaging service (sms) to
divorce their wives.
Rehana does not answer her mobile phone when
her husband, Akram, calls.
She has been married for 20 years and has four
grown up children.
In January this year, Akram threw her out of
their house and got married again a month later.
Rehana now lives in constant fear.
"He might say 'talaq' on the phone to me,"
"I don't answer my phone when I see his
number. I want to spend the remaining years
of my life as his wife. I don't want a divorce."
Muslim women's rights activists are outraged
by such incidents.
"There's nothing in the Koran that allows
triple, verbal, instantaneous talaq. There's
no greater anathema than the kind of talaq
that has now become the greatest black mark
against gender in Islam," says Sayeeda
There have been attempts in the past to focus
on the ills of instant divorce.
The clamour to ban the practice has forced the
All India Muslim Personal Law Board to take
up the matter at a recent meeting.
A spokesman, Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, says the
board does not have the authority to ban the
"The majority of the ulema [clergy] thinks
that it's legal, it's binding. They say it's
according to the Sharia [Islamic code].
"Now how can the Muslim Personal Law Board
take a unilateral decision? The board cannot
go against the Shariat."
"But," he says, "there's a consensus
among the board that it's a sin and we'll try
to discourage it."
To spread the word, mosques have been roped in.
During Friday prayers at a Delhi mosque, more
than 1,000 men, young and old, kneel on the
floor, listening to Maulana Jalaluddin Umri's
He devotes two-thirds of the 45-minute-long prayer
to talk about the issue.
And it appears to have made an impact on the
Naseemuddin says the clergy should find a way
to ban the practice.
"If you're Muslim, you have to follow the
Koran. We have to face the reality and tackle
it constructively," he says.
Majid Akhtar Siddiqui, a mechanical engineer,
says society must be flexible.
"I have seen real experiences in life, where
sometimes problems arise between couples. Now,
we have to sort out these problems, not create
But Sayeeda Hamid thinks an awareness campaign
is not enough.
"The first thing that should be done is
that they should completely, totally ban triple,
verbal, instantaneous talaq. They should simply
say it's cancelled, it cannot happen. So the
men cannot treat their marriage as something
that can be trifled with."
That's little consolation for women like Jahanara
For them the Muslim Personal Law Board's awareness
campaign is too little too late.
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