BBC Radio 4:Professor Mona Siddiqui - 30/08/2017

Just over a week ago , the Indian Supreme Court made a historic judgement banning the triple talaq or divorce as unconstitutional. The decision came after a two year petition by several Muslim women who wanted an end to triple talaq on grounds that it goes against the Qur’an and against gender justice.

This is very welcome news. The triple talaq by which a Muslim husband can divorce his wife by saying talaq three times is outlawed in most Islamic countries but not banned in India as issues of marriage, divorce and inheritance fall under the provision of separate personal laws for all religious communities. Triple divorce is considered illegal and sinful by many yet continues to be tolerated in places. Quite simply triple talaq makes life easier for men even as it destroys marital life in one breath.

While many applaud this move, it’s also been criticized as focusing on the wrong issue – that it isn’t these divorce practices but rather poverty and lack of education which prevents women from being able to assert their rights. Others claim that to get real social transformation, it’s the cultural attitudes which have to change. While Islamic law attaches no stigma to divorce, recognising that some marriages will inevitably end, it would seem to me that we are witnessing a kind of moral blindness when some men choose to divorce in ways which give scant regard to the ethical dimensions of marriage and divorce; this includes divorce by text or phone.

The term sharia is often hurled around as defence of all kinds of practices. The word itself is in danger of being stripped of any ethical and moral impulse embedded in the Qur?an. There is no doubt that there are Qur’anic verses that are hugely problematic especially when seen through the prism of personal freedom and individual autonomy today. But it’s imperative on all Muslims to rethink the often abusive paradigms they have created in the name of Islam. We cannot say God is just but we don’t need to be just, that God is merciful but we don’t need to be merciful that that our faith can provide moral guidance and yet reduce all human relations to blind legalism.

A few weeks ago a young Muslim student who recently got married told me he had attended a marriage course where the teacher spoke for an hour on different aspects of marriage, duties and commitments between husband and wife. I asked him whether the teacher had advised ` be kind and good to your partner.’ He laughed and replied, `er no that wasn’t really mentioned.’ I took the liberty of referring him to the simplest yet most challenging Qur’anic phrase ` Do good for God loves those who do good.’

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