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Muslim women take on clergy, demand ban on triple talaq, polygamy

Asma from Jaipur left her family and converted to Islam to marry the man she loved. But instead of providing her a home, he pronounced triple talaq and tried to grab her house. Farida’s husband gave her triple talaq because she wore spectacles.
There are also instances of Muslim men divorcing their wives through letters, on telephone, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media. Women are opposing this as well as other practices like polygamy, denial of alimony, inheritance rights etc. But now women like Asma and Farida are no longer content to be wallflowers. Instead they are fighting for their rights and questioning an orthodox clergy. Muslim women activists say the clergy has done little to improve the lot of women instead perpetuating a patriarchal interpretation of Quranic law. “Illiteracy, a patriarchal social set-up, religiously sanctioned social practices and lack of awareness about their rights have kept Muslim women subjugated,” says Zakia Soman, founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). BMMA was founded in 2007 and has a presence in 15 states with about 70,000 members. Practices like oral triple talaq, polygamy, denial of alimony, inheritance rights to women have become ingrained in Muslim society through misinterpretation of the Quran, she says. She says her organization is spearheading a pan-India campaign for reforms including banning triple talaq and codification of Muslim personal law based on Quranic tenets. At another level, they are also challenging the patriarchal interpretation of the Quran and the hegemony of the male clerics. Not surprisingly her organization is facing stiff resistance from the All India Muslims Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a coalition of Muslim organizations. “The Board which has anointed itself as the spokesperson for Muslims and denies there is any problem. They are refusing to change even though Muslim women want a ban on triple talaq, polygamy and supporting codification of Muslim personal law,” says Soman. Of the 14 million Muslim population, almost 7 million are women. The literacy level for Muslim women is a dismal 41%.

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