The Tinderbox of the Uniform Civil Code and Gender Equality in Islam
The debate on Uniform Civil Code has caused much furore. MOIN QAZI unravels the fallacies of the argument presented in favour of the Uniform Civil Code that poses Islamic laws as a cause of all that is bad, particularly in the context of women’s upliftment.
We must all understand that Islamic Laws are far from being a rigid set of injunctions or rules set in stone. Islamic law or sharia (meaning “way” or “path”) is an immense amalgam of texts and interpretations that have evolved along parallel paths within five major and numerous minor schools of law.
Sharia is a religious code for Muslims that covers all aspects of their life, including daily routines, and religious and familial obligations, marital affairs such as marriage and divorce, and financial dealings.
Gender-just reforms are needed to help in correcting gender biases but they should be well-intentioned.
The reform backers believe that the state should undertake them, to use the words of the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke, with “the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.” And by Burke’s own words, “No man can mortgage his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity.” The state cannot expect Muslims to jettison the core tenets of their faith.
For the Muslims, changes to Islamic law have to be made within the boundaries of the Quran’s teachings if they are to be legitimate. Without the cooperation of the religious scholars, who bestow this legitimacy, the masses will not embrace change. The clerics are critical in the whole equation. The predominant hardliners among their ranks are locked in a virtual and civil war with reformers.
Islam may not always be the sole factor in the repression of women. Local, social, political, economic, and educational forces, as well as the prevalence of pre-Islamic customs, must also be taken into consideration.
A common civil code is being oversold as a silver bullet for gender justice which it is not.
In some societies, they are a pervasive influence. But, in many cases, the proper application of Islamic law remains a major obstacle to the evolution of the position of women.
Muslims are apprehensive of the state’s obsession with trying to “create” a specific type of Islam, rather than allowing them space to simply live Islam – with all its beliefs, traditions, cultures, references, and various practices.
UCC can’t Guarantee Empowerment of Women
They see the civil code as a seductively wrapped gender welfare intervention that can be a powerful salient, paving the way for further intrusion into their religious and cultural values.
This slippery slope is not lost on Muslims who see it slouching toward a pernicious future for their faith. The depressing social conditions of Muslim women are a phenomenon prevalent mostly among the underprivileged.
In economically improved strata of Muslims, the sort of oppressive practices that are being talked about are a rarity. Poverty is the root cause of obscurantism in Muslim families. Economic empowerment is one tide that can lift all the boats. It enables you to provide better education, better housing, and better healthcare.
It is a virtual cycle that transforms your worldview. The biggest problems facing Muslim women today are economic. They are not likely to be solved with civil rights remedies, but they could be relieved with public and private action to encourage economic redevelopment. More than religious redemption women need economic redemption.
A common civil code is being oversold as a silver bullet for gender justice which it is not. It is certainly not going to produce the utopian conditions that are being promised.
What is urgently required is draining the swamps of Muslim poverty that are breeding unrest and frustration, leading to both physical and mental violence.
Muslim women leaders are convinced that Islam, at its core, is progressive for women and supports equal opportunities for men and women alike.
The opponents argue that those averse to customary law have several options. There are already several laws like the Indian Marriage Act, Indian Divorce Act, Indian Succession Act, and Indian Wards & Guardianship Act, which provide a secular alternative for those who want it.
This law allows Indians to marry and be governed by secular civil laws, irrespective of the faith followed by either party. Therefore, there is no need to impose on everyone a secular civil code.
Muslim women leaders are convinced that Islam, at its core, is progressive for women and supports equal opportunities for men and women alike. They would not like to wager for a law that makes them jettison their Islamic beliefs.
Deeply religious, profoundly determined, and modern in every way, they are challenging not only the unjust restrictions placed on them by their own societies. But they also oppose the tired stereotypes and empty generalisations placed on them by the West. They are arguing for women’s rights within an Islamic discourse.
These women are combing through centuries of Islamic jurisprudence to cull out and highlight the more progressive aspects of their religion.
Muslim women leaders are seeking accommodation between a modern role for women and the Islamic values that more than a billion people in the world follow.
Some of the leading proponents are men—distinguished scholars who contend that Islam was radically egalitarian for its time and remains so in many of its texts.
Muslims are well integrated in Sri Lanka where they have their personal law which has been lauded by jurists. Singapore and Israel accept Muslim personal law.
Reform is an unruly horse that can go berserk unless it is properly saddled.
Aharon Layish wrote a paper in July 1973 on “The Sharia in Israel”. Israel’s Sharia court system is more efficient than the civil law alternative. While it is also evolving in conjunction with the demands of an ‘open, modern, and developed’ society. Israel’s religious courts feature as part of the judicial system with applicants having the option of choosing whether to lodge cases in the religious or civil courts.
Sharia courts in Israel are informed by the Hanafi legal school of Sunni jurisprudence, while laws in place since the days of the Ottoman Empire also remained in force.
Need to reassess
Reform is an unruly horse that can go berserk unless it is properly saddled.
The modern trend is for acceptance of diversity.
It is equally important for the Muslim theocracy to understand their proper role, call it religious policing, cultural policing, guardian policing, family policing, and community policing.
Their main opposition to triple talaq was to the government‘s legislative intent in trying to criminalise it and instill the overtly reformist legislation with an odious agenda.
The many names share one vision: a humane, compassionate, culturally refined system with a mindset of respect and demonstrable concern for improving the wellbeing of women. Especially when women have been assigned a very exalted position both by the Qur’an and its Messenger.
Muslims of today are now a progressive generation. They’ve very whole-heartedly embraced efforts to do away with many of their obscurantist customs and traditions that are not supported by Qurán.
Despite a large clergy being in favour of retention of the triple talaq, mainstream Muslims were never supportive of this obnoxious practice. Their main opposition to triple talaq was to the government‘s legislative intent in trying to criminalise it and instill the overtly reformist legislation with an odious agenda.
Kazi Syed Karimuddin, the key persona in the deliberations on the Uniform Civil Code in the Constituent Assembly, was a staunch opponent of the code. He was himself a very progressive and forward-looking Muslim, who saw to it that his children studied in the country’s premier institutions.
There is a connection between religious diversity, freedom, and growth. If they hadn’t found a way to live together, religious communities could have never created a society that would function as one.
And, contrary to the fears of many, religious freedom has been important as a cultural and moral force. We must understand that all divine texts share common themes to preserve human spirituality.
No concept of prosperity, social advancement, or human rights will weaken the eternal influence of divine texts. Normative deviations from divine texts are transient. But the spiritual needs that divine texts fulfill are permanent. So is the Qur’an which exerts an extraordinary moral influence in the life of an ordinary Muslim.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.
(Moin Qazi is a development professional. Views are personal.)
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.