Friday, October 08, 2004

Wahhabism in South Asia: C.M. Naim

C.M. Naim attacks the Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in the latest Outlook. Not only is he correct to attack the Board, his essay is pretty interesting and informative, especially for those of us non-Muslims who are trying to make sense of things.

Among the many points he makes, Naim argues that the AIMPLB's judgments are rife with intra-Muslim sectarianism of the most predictable kind.

As is well-known to those who read Urdu, many people associated with the Nadva have long engaged in anti-Iran and anti-Shi’ah polemic and propaganda. For example Maulana Manzoor Nu’mani, who was much encouraged by Maulana Ali Mian, the former rector of Nadva and the present rector’s uncle. The latter even wrote a highly admiring introduction to the former’s most vitriolic book, Irani Inqilab, Imam Khomeini aur Shi’iyat. Thanks to Saudi patronage, Wahabism of the worst kind has spread in South Asia, and since 1979 it has included a prominent trend of anti-Iran and anti-Shi’ah sentiment. Its horrific results have been evident in Pakistan for some time. The chief reason it has not so blatantly showed itself in India is the secular stance of the Indian state, no matter how faulty the latter may seem sometimes.

The main issues on the table right now are: Muslim marriage law (the AIMPLB actually formed in response to the Shah Bano case in 1986), the use of Mosque space by women, and birth control, the use of which the AIMPLB still, unbelievably, opposes. (Also: Funny how these all involve women!)

Naim gives some helpful basic facts on Muslim marriage law:

As is well known, marriage in Islam is a legal contract and not a sacrament. It does not entail a declaration that the two persons have been ‘joined by God’ and therefore none should separate them. The ceremony requires neither the presence of a mulla nor the premises of a mosque. The only requirements are that the two parties must consent to the marriage freely, and that the groom should pay a mehr or bride-money to the bride—not to her parents—before the marriage is consummated.

Needless to say, in the name of ‘tradition’ or ‘local practice’—why do they always favour the groom?—the two requirements have been diluted beyond recognition to serve the purpose of Muslim patriarchy. Now any non-adult female can be given away in marriage by her father. In fact, even an adult female cannot now give or deny her consent directly but must have a vakil to represent her. As for the requirement of the mehr being paid directly and promptly to the bride, it can now be delayed, paid only partially, ‘forgiven’ by the wife, set too low to be of any use, set too high to be realistically payable, or simply litigated out of existence.

Also, on whether women can pray in the Mosque, Naim points out that there is evidence in the Hadith (the stories of the Prophet's life) that women did attend Mosque during his times (I gather there is no reference to this in the Quran itself). Naim speculates that the current, "severe" restrictions on women attending Mosque probably came much later. But when? And how universal are the restrictions? He doesn't say.

Naim ends with a proper dismissal:

The AIMPLB is not a representative body; nor is it a democratic body. It created itself, and its members have held on to their seats to serve their own agendas. More ominously over the years it has tried to expand its self-proclaimed authority—vide its brief flirting with the perilous idea of an out-of-court settlement of the Babri Mosque issue. In its existence the Board has done nothing to improve the lot of Muslim women who constitute roughly one-half of the community. Many of its members have little individual distinction of their own, and are there only because they gained some hereditary position. It is about time the Indian press gave Indian Muslims a break. Ignoring the Board may be best, but that may not be possible. In that case, the press should give the AIMPLB only the due it actually deserves within the secular polity of the Indian nation—one among many Muslim organizations and not one bit more authoritative than others.


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