India's top court bans instant divorce among Muslims

Judges call for a new law within six months to govern marriage and divorce in the Muslim community
India's top court bans instant divorce among Muslims

Members of a Muslim women's group stage a demonstration against triple talaq in New Delhi during May. (Photo courtesy by IANS)

India's Supreme Court has banned instant divorce among Muslims, describing it as unconstitutional, un-Islamic and a violation of women's rights.

A Muslim man was able to secure an immediate divorce simply by using the Arabic word for divorce, talaq, three times. The word could be spoken, written or even included in a text message.

So-called "triple talaq" was traditionally supposed to be done over a period of three to four months, to allow for attempts at reconciliation. However, it became common to complete the process in one go in order to obtain an instant divorce. 

On Aug. 22, five Supreme Court judges from different religions, in a 3-2 majority verdict, ruled against the practice and called for a new law within six months to govern marriage and divorce in the Muslim community. 

"It is such a historic verdict," activist and lawyer Bader Sayeed, who was one of a number of petitioners in the case, told ucanews.com.

Sayeed said that the government should draft a new law as soon as possible.

"In this age of technology, instances of Muslim women getting divorced over the phone and social media platforms have been emerging," she said. This abruptly left women at a crossroads in life, having to fend for themselves and provide for their children.

Another petitioner, Shayara Bano, aged 36, from the northern hill state of Uttarakhand, received an instant divorce from her husband of 15 years by post in 2016.

And petitioner Ishrat Jahan, 30, from the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, was divorced after her husband spoke the word "talaq" three times over the phone.

Hailing the verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it empowered Muslim women.

However, the court said "triple talaq" could be valid if done in accordance with the traditional period of separation before a couple finally agreed to a divorce.

A person would need to utter the word "talaq" in front of their family at three different times and places within three to four months, the court said.

Mohammad Junaid, a Muslim and coordinator of the interfaith forum Minhaj-ul-Quran, agreed that people had been "misusing" talaq for their own convenience. 

However, he feared the Supreme Court judgment had opened a door for external interference in Islamic religious affairs. 

Junaid said a decision on triple talaq should have been taken by the Muslim community itself, rather than leaving it up to the justice system to make a ruling.

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While the practice is banned in more than 21 Muslim majority countries, including Pakistan, it continued in India as a legally valid form of divorce for Muslim men.

India allows religion-based laws to govern marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption for Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. While Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains follow laws applicable to Hindus, those not following any religion can get married under the Special Marriage Act.

Rukaiyya Jan, a young Muslim woman from the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, said the verdict would empower Muslim women who feared being thrown out of their homes at any time.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told ucanews.com that triple talaq was an internal matter for the Muslim community. 

"It does not affect the Catholic Church," he said. "The Muslim brethren have to decide what is good for them."

The prelate said that the church did not interfere in the religious matters of others, as it would not wish others to interfere in Catholic religious affairs.

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