Talking Talaaq

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Considering that he deems the Taliban as the nearest representatives of true Islam, it is not surprising that Syed Ali Shah Geelani should have begun making an issue out of the state High Court’s recent opinion on talaaq, or divorce, in Muslim law. Nothing wrong, actually, in calling for a scholastic evaluation of the HC’s opinion, except for the fact that more than the content of the opinion, Mr Geelani seems to be exercised by its infringement on the exclusive preserve of the charmed class of clerics, or ulama (learned individuals) as they are mistakenly called. As a further tell-tale snippet of Mr Geelani’s worldview, aspirations and intellectual horizons, the self-appointed guardian of Islamic jurisprudence has stressed that “the courts are under the influence of non-religious administrations, and in no way is it (the opinion) acceptable to the ummah.” Along with the usual ghalba-e-deen rhetoric of “absence of Islamic administration” and “code of conduct provided by Islam,” Mr Geelani has made it clear that a dynamic interlocution with other systems was anathema to his vision of an insular, stultified and stagnant Muslim society ruled and ruined by half-baked mullahs. If Mr Geelani’s Islamic sensibilities have been offended by individuals in a non-Islamic system commenting on any aspect of Muslim law, should he not be scandalized by the silence of the “Islamic system” on the myriad corruptions in social practices in Muslim societies? Mr. Geelani is never known to have campaigned for the property rights Islam grants to women, or ever asserted the view that marriage in Islam was a social contract with definite rights and responsibilities accruing to both parties. Has Mr. Geelani ever voiced concern that in Muslim societies, this provision is often violated, with prejudice to the woman? Why has Mr Geelani never launched a movement, or “mobilised public opinion,” against the abhorrent practice of compulsive extravagance and ostentation in marriages in Kashmir, or the extortionist prevalence of dowry? The stickler for Islamic mores and practices that he is, why has Mr. Geelani never even mooted a reversion to the Prophetic practice of the groom providing in entirety for the wedding ceremony? Why is there such a deafening silence on the spectacular inversion of responsibility practised in Kashmir?     

The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) is on record as having described talaaq as the most hateful provision he has had to incorporate into his law. Does it not stand to reason, therefore, that this piece of legislation be accompanied by stringent and severe safeguards against abuse? All that the High Court has done in this case is to highlight that divorce in Islam is far from the arbitrary and casual affair it has been turned into under the tutelage of ulama down the centuries. The bench has underscored a number of injunctions from the Quran and the traditions to stress how Islam deems divorce almost as a measure of last resort and not a drop-of-a-hat male privilege exercised in a fit of rage or under the influence of passing fancy.  Instead of trying to literally rouse the rabble over the High Court’s observations, Mr Geelani  – and the band of clerics he has called upon to come to the rescue of the ummah  – would have done infinitely better to ponder why the all-powerful clergy has never given Muslim society in Kashmir the institutional structure  to navigate the elaborate and logical steps outlined by Islam in the run-up to divorce. One, for instance, has never heard of any clerical institution to run formal counselling cells for troubled marriages of which Kashmir seems to have more than a share. The fact is that the prevailing clerical wisdom on talaaq, as on the permission for men to have four wives, is merely to replicate the male-dominated tyrannies and women-as-chattels view of pre-Islam Arabia which the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had tried to eradicate

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