By Moin Qazi
The 22nd Law Commission of India is about to examine the Uniform Civil Code afresh as it has solicited views on UCC from the public and recognised religious organisations almost four years after the 21st Law Commission of India came out with a consultation paper stating that a Uniform Civil Code was “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”, The Commission has now asked for views from public and religious organisations within 30 days of issued notice.
The Uniform Civil Code is back in the news again. the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has called attempts by various state governments and the Centre to introduce a Uniform Civil Code in India “an unconstitutional and anti-minorities move”.
The UCC is a proposed set of laws that would replace the current system of personal laws in India. The UCC would be a single set of laws that would apply to all citizens, regardless of their religion. Article 44 of the Constitution lays down that the State shall endeavour to implement a Uniform Civil Code throughout India. Article 44, however, being a Directive Principle, is not enforceable.
The debate on Uniform Civil Code has caused much furore. 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 primary and numerous minor schools of law.
Sharia is a religious code for Muslims that covers all aspects of their life, including daily routines, 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 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 and the prevalence of pre-Islamic customs must also be considered.
A standard 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 significant obstacle to the evolution of the position of women.
The solution to gender issues in Muslim society lies less in reformation of personal laws and more in addressing the entire spectrum of issues confronting women. Islamic feminists insist that Islam, at its core, is progressive for women and supports equal opportunities for men and women alike.
Deeply religious, profoundly determined and modern in every way, these women are challenging not only the unjust restrictions placed on them by their own societies, but also the tired stereotypes and empty generalisations placed on them by the West. They are arguing for women’s rights within an Islamic discourse. Some of the leading proponents are actually men – distinguished scholars who contend that Islam was radically egalitarian for its time and remains so in many of its texts.There is a long list of hadiths (Prophet’s sayings) and Quranic verses to support women’s rights: the right to education; the right to work and their right to keep the money they earn. Women are on the frontlines of our most critical human rights struggles today, particularly in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Muslim women – and men – are driving social justice by promoting cultural change from within their own societies.
Their advocacy for women’s rights based on more progressive interpretations of Islam are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition.
Socially, culturally, economically, and politically, the future hinges on finding ways to accommodate human rights, and in particular women’s rights, with Islamic law. These reformers – and thousands of others – are the people leading the way forward.
The depressing condition of Muslim women is a phenomenon among the underprivileged. In the economically-improved strata of Muslims the sort of oppressive practices which are being talked about are a rarity.
In the economically improved strata of Muslims, the oppressive practices 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, housing, and 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 standard civil code is being oversold as a silver bullet for gender justice which it is not. It is certainly not going to produce the ideological conditions that are being promised.What is urgently required is draining the swamps of Muslim poverty, breeding unrest and frustration, leading to 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. 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 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 seek accommodation between a modern role for women and the Islamic values that more than a billion people worldwide follow.Some 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 law which jurists have lauded. Singapore and Israel accept Muslim personal law.
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. At the same time, it also evolves in conjunction with the demands of an ‘open, modern, and developed’ society. Israel’s religious courts are part of the judicial system, with applicants having the option of choosing whether to lodge cases in the spiritual or civil courts.
Reform is an unruly horse that can go berserk unless adequately saddled.The modern trend is for the acceptance of diversity.It is equally essential 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 to criminalise it and instil overtly reformist legislation with a malicious agenda.
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.