The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board’s general secretary recently said that the Muslims of India are going through a period more difficult than 1857 and 1947 ‘in terms of religious traditions’. With that statement, the AIMPLB is once again in the dock. Not long ago, the organisation struck controversy when it discouraged inter-faith marriages and called them ‘un-Islamic’.
The AIMPLB has issued several such controversial statements in the past as well. An important question arises: When India is governed by the Constitution, how valid is it to make such unconstitutional appeals (not to marry outside of your religion)? And is there a constitutional or moral basis for issuing such directions to any religion?
Before answering this question, it would be appropriate to have a look at the purpose and the context in which the board was established, mentioned in Urdu on the AIMPLB website: ‘When the government tried to scrap the Sharia law, Hazrat Maulana Minatullah Rahmani sahib organised a conference at Patna in 1963 called Tahafuz aimed at preservation of Muslim Personal Law.’
The AIMPLB’s actions directly question the Constitution and the rights of a democratically elected government and Parliament. Such actions also impinge on the rights of the Muslims who are equal under law but remain scared and confused because of AIMPLB’s diktats.
The purpose of the organisation as stated in Urdu on the website reads: “Great and broad objective is to eradicate all non-Islamic rituals and customs in Muslim community.”
Here, it is important to note that the language, custom and culture of Pasmanda Muslims are indigenous to India, which the Ashraaf Muslim Ulema labels as Hinduana rasm (custom) and non-Islamic. The Ashraafs have been trying to impose their Arabian Iranian culture in the name of Islam on Indic Pasmanda Muslims. Whereas the doctrine described in Islam — “Urf”— gives permission to follow the rituals and customs of any particular region, with the condition that they do not violate the basic principles of Islam.
Who gets to head the AIMPLB
The AIMPLB claims that it is the representative assembly of all Muslims (foreign Ashraaf and indigenous Pasmanda) settled in India, and works to look after their personal and social values as prescribed by the Sharia.
Apart from this, the board not only gives its opinion on external and internal affairs of the country on behalf of Muslims, but also implements them through nationwide agitations, seminars and meetings. And the Indian public, media intellectuals, and the government have also accepted its claim.
If we look at the organisational structure, the AIMPLB has accepted the distinction between maslaks (different groups/ideologies under the same sect) and firqas (different sects), and based on their population, given representation to ulemas (scholars) of different maslaks and firqas on the board. However, the chairman of the board always comes from the Deobandi/Nadvi school of the Sunni sect. It is well known in India that Sunnis form the largest sect of Islam, and the Deobandi/Nadvi community is the most influential, though they don’t outnumber the Barelvi Sunnis. The vice-chairman of the Board is always from the Shia sect, although Shias are fewer in number than the smallest firqa of the Sunni sect. But ideologically, Shias are considered to be equals to Sunnis.
The question that arises is: Are Indian Muslims divided into only maslaks and firqas? No. They are also divided by caste and race. Take, for instance, Saiyad, Shaikh, Pathan, Mughal, Kujda (fruit seller), Bunkar (weaver), Dhuniya (cotton carder), Darji (Tailor), Dhobi (washerman), Mehtar (sweeper), Bhatiyara, Bhakko, Pawariya, Mirasi and Nut. But the AIMPLB does not recognise these stratifications and does not give representation to any indigenous Pasmanda (backward, Dalit and tribal) Muslim castes in the organisation on the basis of their population.
It is not that the board is not aware of the caste stratification of Indian Muslims. In the book Majmua-e-Qawanin-e-Islami published by the AIMPLB, the chapter related to marriage recognises the racial-ethnic, high-low, indigenous-foreigner differentiation and calls the marriage between them unethical/ un-Islamic.
Not all Muslims
The AIMPLB also ignores the representation of women. It does not consider the appointment of women to be lawful under the Sharia. Whereas, if we look at Islamic history, it is well known that the wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) named Khadija was an established businesswoman and the Prophet (PBUH) himself worked for Khadija’s business house in his early days. His other wife named Aaisha was appointed as commander-in-chief in a battle where many other reputed and experienced Quraish (Saiyad, Shaikh) men were present. Aaisha was an intellectual, scholar and considered to be an authority in Islamic affairs.
It is also known that Caliph Umar had appointed a female sahabi (companion of Muhammad), Shifa bint Abdullah al-Adawiya, as the public commerce administrative officer of the Medina market. She was the first teacher and physician in Islamic history.
Although the AIMPLB has now included women (not in important positions), these women belong to the upper-class Ashraafs. Among non-Aalims (non Islamic scholars) too—businesspersons, educationists, lawyers and politicians—the Ashraaf class dominates.
There is a complete lack of democracy and election on the board. Office bearers are appointed on the basis of heredity and race. The term of the office bearer is also usually life-long. The son is usually appointed after the death of the father, and in the absence of the son, preference is given to close relatives or Muslims of Arab-Iranian race. This is strongly against the Quranic teachings. The Quran encourages Muslims to decide their affairs in consultation with each other in the form of a council or a referendum.
Even important issues are acted upon immediately by the chairman or secretary of the board without calling a meeting or discussing.
It is obvious that the claim of the board to represent all Muslims does not have a constitutional, moral or Islamic basis. The AIMPLB’s goal is to just maintain the sovereignty and interests of the Arab-Iranian ruler class—Ashraaf Muslims—under the guise of Islam and Muslim Personal Law.
Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie is author, translator, columnist, media panelist, social activist, and medical doctor by profession. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)