“Look! What he is saying – triple talaq will effect only a single revocable divorce – he is guilty of insulting the sacrosanct law of Islam.”

This is how a religious scholar of the Darul Uloom of Deoband reacted to my statement carried by the Urdu media on April 28 that the abominable practice of triple talaq is un-Islamic. Another Deoband scholar called my statement “an attempt to inflame sectarian differences” among Muslims and a “conspiracy to encourage judicial tampering with the sacred Shariat law.”

Two days later noted academic Badar Kazmi, also of Deoband, deprecated the response of both the critics saying that there is no “rahbaniat”, or monasticism, in Islam so as to clothe the clergy with a monopolistic role as exponents of the Quran.

Who has the cheek to say that Badar Kazmi is wrong?

No interpretation required

“We have certainly made the Quran quite easy for anyone to understand” ordains God in the Quran [LVIV: 17]. Defying him, the Muslim theologians claim: “No! Only we can understand the Quran and everyone else must blindly follow our interpretation.” Faithfully accepting the claim of these self-proclaimed exclusive interpreters of God’s words, the community calls them maulanas, or our lords, rejecting God’s assertion in the Quran that only He is the Lord of all human beings.

The language of the Quran is indeed so clear and lucid that for anyone who knows Arabic, it does not even need interpretation. But since the Holy Book was not revealed for the Arabs only, others have to read it in their own languages. In the Quran itself, God describes a multiplicity of human languages as one of “His signs”. How could he have used words that are difficult to be translated? So, read in Arabic or in any other language, the Quran is easily comprehensible. Thank God I know Arabic, and can check for myself whether the translation of any Quranic word is inaccurate, as the maulanas often claim.

This is what the Quran says about divorce: “al-talaqu marratan” (divorce twice) – and after that “either cohabitation as per the law or parting of ways in kindness.” In pre-Islamic society, men used to torment their wives by pronouncing and revoking talaq again and again. The Quran abolished the mean practice by proclaiming that a talaq can be revoked only twice, and that it should be pronounced the third time only if the marriage has irretrievably broken down and must be dissolved in the interest of both parties.

God alone knows how this humane Quranic law could be interpreted to mean that the word talaq uttered by a man thrice, even though unintentionally, will effect an instant dissolution of the marriage. And that the triple talaq will have such an effect that even if the man repents or pleads ignorance of law – and if the husband and wife want their relationship to continue – the woman must first face the indignity of a false marriage to another man followed by its pre-planned termination.

Courts and the Constitution

It was my exposition of this misinterpretation of the noble Quranic law that one Deoband maulana dubbed as “insult to the sacred law of Islam” and another saw as a conspiracy on my part to encourage the courts to interfere in sacred Islamic law. One of them also asserted that my statement about the abolition of triple talaq in Muslim countries is “haqiqat ke baraks”, or contrary to reality, since Saudi Arabia has not done that. It seems the rest of the countries which have abolished triple talaq – Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen – are not Muslim enough for this purpose. I have in my possession the texts of all these laws and will be happy to supply them to my learned Deoband friends.

The problem for the maulanas is that I do not need to encourage the courts to “interfere in the sacred Islamic law” – if that law is a part of the Indian legal system the courts have to do that in any case. The Constitution of India protects each citizen’s right to follow religious practices but also empowers the courts to ascertain if any such practice is actually an essential part of the concerned religion – especially if it is clearly repugnant to constitutional ideals of equal protection of laws and gender justice. And the Constitution most certainly does not exclude Muslims from the scope of this judicial obligation.

Tahir Mahmood is a professor of law and former chair, National Minorities Commission.