Vantage point

Saturday, May 07, 2005

It's just a book

After the model nikahnama was released by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), there have been protests from a lot of Muslim women about how regressive it is.

As a non-Muslim, I find these conflicts very interesting. Followers of one of the youngest religions in the world are locked in a process of reform, one that has just started, and will continue at least for a few decades. What is interesting is that despite their wishes to embrace modern thinking, justice and equality, there is still this effort to somehow find a Quranic sanction for it. This is particularly true when it comes to women's rights. Most devout Muslims will argue that the Quran actually provides for women's rights. As a result, a bulk of Muslims don't find it necessary, indeed they deem it sacrilegous to initiate a change in defiance of the Quran.

The problem is that the Quran is not all that it is cracked up to be. Sadly, there are portions of it which, in the 21st century, are downright regressive and anti-women. However reform or self-confidence in the Muslim world has not yet reached that level where they can say, OK, I reject these few verses of the Quran, but I still believe I am a Muslim.

It has happened with other religions. Christians don't take each and every word of their holy books as irrefutable. The testaments too have some pretty ugly stuff, but Christians have by and large learnt to ignore it. Hindus too don't stick by each and every thing their religion teaches. Casteism is opposed, sati is non-existent, and no one cares too much about what Manu prescribed any more. The Bible, Vedas, Geeta, Quran, all have portions which should be deleted/ignored/bypassed.

Reform will happen in the Muslim world only when the Quran is thought of as being a set of guidelines, rather than following it letter-by-letter.

So while women here may protest the nikahnama, they need to understand that when they say "women too must have the right to divorce", they are actually asking for defying the Quran. Which is a good thing, and will be more effective if it is recognised thus, rather than a compromise within the the framework of the Quran.