The Supreme Court is hearing seven petitions, including five separate writ petitions filed by Muslim women challenging the constitutionality of the practice of triple talaq. This article analyses the coverage of the debates on triple talaq in TwoCircles.net (TwoCircles) and Radiance Viewsweekly (Radiance) between January 1 and May 31. TwoCircles, an English news website launched in the US in 2007, presents itself as alternative media for issues affecting Adivasis, Dalits, Indian Muslims, Women, and Youth. However, TwoCircles is widely seen as a website focusing on Indian Muslims. Radiance, a weekly launched from Delhi in 1963, is published by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and presents itself as a periodical for Muslims. During the period of interest, Radiance published a special issue on triple talaq (“Triple Talaq or Crime against Women what should be the Topic for Discussion?” May 14). Both TwoCircles and Radiance published a wide variety of views that can be classified into three broad categories examined in this article: triple talaq is un-Islamic, triple talaq is rare and, therefore, a non-issue, and the present focus on the issue is politically-motivated.
The key findings are as follows:
1. The coverage in both TwoCircles and Radiance broadly suggests that triple talaq is un-Islamic. However, Radiance did not give space to those who argued against the controversial practice.
2. TwoCircles and Radiance did not ask why the practice of triple talaq continues and why there is so much opposition to outlaw it if it is un-Islamic and if everyone is against it.
3. Both used—uncritically--research studies and surveys that question the existence of triple talaq, but did not engage with testimonies of women affected by triple talaq.
4. Neither questioned those who criticise the politicisation of the triple talaq debate but do not suggest a way out for the women affected by triple talaq.
5. Neither questioned those who assailed the integrity of Muslim women’s organisations fighting for gender justice.
6. The diversity of opinions within the community was noted without any serious engagement. Most commentators and persons whose views were covered were Muslim men, while women appeared mostly when they conformed to the traditional view.
7. Both noted that arguments for and against the practice refer to the Quran and the Hadith, but neither made an attempt to examine the claims and counter-claims in light of the scripture and diverse traditions of interpretation of the scriptures.
Triple talaq is un-Islamic
TwoCircles reported that the affidavit filed by the Union government in the Supreme Court argued that “‘triple talaq’, ‘nikaah halaal’ and polygamy as practiced by the Muslims in India were not ‘integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices.’ The fact that Muslim countries where Islam is the state religion have undergone extensive reforms goes to establish that the practice in question cannot be regarded as integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices” (Feb 14). However, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) claimed that “the practice of triple talaq and polygamy were a social need and a blessing and not a curse for women” (TwoCircles, Feb 14). Later the AIMPLB informed the Supreme Court “that it was going to advise Qazis all over the country to ask the bridegroom to shun triple talaq in one go, AIMPLB also annexed this resolution passed on April 15 and 16 this year at the Board’s meeting in Lucknow wherein it had said that instant triple talaq was not a correct method of divorce” (TwoCircles, May 22).
Commentator Syed Ubaidur Rahman criticised the AIMPLB for telling the Supreme Court “that Triple Talaq in a single sitting is not just Islamic but it has been sanctioned by the Quran and Hadith” (TwoCircles, March 29). He questioned the AIMPLB’s interpretation of Quranic injunctions (“Wherever Quran talks of talaq or divorce, it mentions a rather long mechanism and doesn’t give total control over it to the husband”) as well as unwillingness to learn from other Muslim societies (“the AIMPLB is not ready to take a cue from developments, including in the Arab world”). In sum, the “arbitrary and illogical” stand of the AIMPLB and “its opaque reading of Islamic jurisprudence” are “counter-productive and give ammunition to anti-Islamic forces to target Islam and Muslim personal law.”
Mohammed Umar, an assistant professor of law, explicitly denied the existence of triple talaq: “Be it the Quran, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad, triple divorce finds no place in Islam. The Quran has a set procedure of talaq (divorce by husband) and khula (divorce by wife) mentioned in its 2nd and 65th chapter. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) condemned this pre-Islamic practice of the Arab community and as the record goes, he stood up in anger when he heard of one such incidence of triple divorce and said: “Are you playing with the Book of Allah who is Great and Glorious while I am still amongst you?”” (TwoCircles, April 12)
TwoCircles also published statements of public figures against triple talaq. On the occasion of 805th Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Hassan Chisti, Dargah Dewan Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan said that “Triple Talaq is the non-Shariat practice which hurts the sentiments and self-confidence of Muslim women” (April 4). Salma Ansari, the wife of Vice President Hamid Ansari, said that “just saying ‘talaq’ thrice does not amount to a divorce” (April 8) and former Union Minister Arif Mohammad Khan said that triple talaq is “anti-Constitution, anti-Quran and anti-humane” (May 9).
Radiance claimed that “Giving three talaqs in one go is against the spirit of the Qur’ān” (Editorial, April 30). Similarly, in a seminar, the women’s wing of the JIH claimed that “Muthalaq (pronouncement of three-time divorces in one go) is against the text and spirit of the Qur’ān” (TwoCircles, May 2 and Radiance, May 14). Secretary General of the JIH, Dr. Engineer Mohammed Salim observed that “No one likes triple talaq in one sitting. Every one considers it against Islam” (Radiance, May 14). Prof. Jamil Farooqui, International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pointed out the existence of different opinions (practices) on triple talaq: “There is a difference of opinion among jurists. Some think that a divorce takes effect if it is pronounced three times even at a single sitting” (Radiance, January 22).
While Radiance rejected triple talaq as un-Islamic, it did not give space to those who directly argued against the controversial practice. In fact, it also uncritically reproduced views that rule out any change in the practice of triple talaq. Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), said “the laws of Islam are impossible to change and no one has the authority to do so. The nations in the past, who have gone against the commands of Allah, have been destroyed and they have failed in the world and the hereafter. The issue of Triple Talaq is a non-issue which is projected as a big issue” (Radiance, May 14). Likewise, Radiance reported that on May 5, in a Muslim Person Law Awareness Campaign, AIMPLB’s Maulana Mufti Mohammed Ashraf Ali said “Some people are raising objections to the issue of Triple Talaq, which is not at all a big issue. People should know that the laws of Islam cannot be changed and they will remain the same till the last day.”
Radiance also published a book review (“Muslim Personal Law – Papers and Proceedings of a Seminar”) that supported the view the Sharia is immutable (Feb 14). If the last two believe that triple talaq is covered by Sharia then the immutability of Sharia means that Muslim women face considerable difficulty in finding support within their community. However, it bears noting that judiciary’s ‘interference” in Sharia has been opposed on other grounds as well. For instance, Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, expressed doubt on the benefit of banning triple talaq in a talk delivered at AMU. He said “Judiciary cannot create new crimes. We need an Act of Parliament to make an act criminal. If government is interested in reforms, it can bring in a law, but will it work?” (TwoCircles, April 17).e.
Triple talaq is rare
TwoCircles reported on an event “Muslim Women’s Movement Now: Discourse around Personal Law Reform” organized by People’s Film Collective on December 13, in which Khadija Banu, founder of Rokeya Nari Unnayan Samiti, an NGO working for the rehabilitation of women abandoned or divorced by their husband, spoke of the rising incidence of triple talaq. She advocated “change in the Muslim Personal Laws pertaining to divorce in India to protect women – explicitly those in disadvantageous economic situations – from exploitation in marriage” (January 2).
But many others claimed that triple talaq was rare, without explaining what could be done for the “rare” unfortunate women affected by the controversial divorce practice.
Mohammed Umar, an assistant professor of law, argued “If the triple divorce was such a burning legal issue, why then in 2015 only two triple divorce related cases were reported in the entire higher judiciary?” (TwoCircles, April 12) He does not ask if an average Muslim woman, given the lack of education and income, can afford to fight court cases.
The women’s wing of JIH claimed that “a few Muslim women suffered by Muthalaq” (TwoCircles, May 2 and Radiance, May 14). Dr Saba Taj argued that “divorce is not a very common practice in the Muslim community; this was supported in different reports and studies and published by media as well.”