India: Ferment in religion, women want talaq rights, and mehar

The contentious issue of talaq dominated the meeting of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on July 4 as demand for equal rights for Muslim women to divorce their husbands gathers momentum.
WLUML adds, This interesting report contains a few errors in translation. The quote below from Naseem Ali Khan is incorrectly translated. She made the much more powerful statement that Muslim women should be given the right of talaq-e-tafwiz, also known as 'esma in many Arabic speaking countries or the delegated right of divorce. Under this concept, recognised by classical Muslim jurisprudence, the husband in effect extends his power of unilateral divorce to his wife thereby allowing her to divorce him at will and without having to establish grounds. Granting talaq-e-tafwiz to the wife in the marriage contract is an increasingly common practice in, for example, neighbouring Bangladesh, and both the Bangladesh and Pakistan official marriage contract forms explicitly have space for this to be agreed in the marriage contract. Naseem Ali Khan is therefore campaigning to have a similar provision in Indian Muslim marriage contracts.

The quote from Rukhsana Lari should read that 'In Islam women have been given many rights...', her point being to contrast the rights given to women in the texts and the realities facing women in Muslim contexts. Rukhsana Lari's quote equally does not limit these rights to Muslim women per se but implicitly includes all women living under Muslim laws - in other words including non-Muslim women married to Muslim men.

Mehar (also known as mahr, sadaq) is not to be confused with the civil law concept of alimony. It is an amount unrelated to divorce in that it is due from the husband to the wife as a consideration for the marriage itself. In some communities, it is 'deferred' or only payable on divorce or widowhood but it is always a one-off payment and is not envisaged as a form of maintenance.

The quote from Dr Safiya Naseem should read: 'Only men have the right of talaq; women have the right of khula'. Dr Safiya's argument thereby being that men's right of unilateral divorce (talaq) cannot in fact be extended to women, as Naseem Ali Khan is demanding.

LUCKNOW: The contentious issue of talaq is set to dominate the upcoming meeting of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on July 4 at Kanpur as demand for equal rights for Muslim women to divorce their husbands gathers momentum.

So far, the triple talaq and divorce obtained after three sittings with each sitting separated by three months reflected a gender bias with the husband having the right to divorce his wife. However, this position may change after the Board’s Kanpur meeting with the lone woman member in the 41-strong male-dominated executive committee, Naseem Iqtidar Ali Khan, determined to raise the issue. ‘‘Muslim aurton ko tafviz-e-talaq ka haq milna chahiye (Muslim women should have the right to divorce their husbands),’’ says Iqtidar.

A strong supporter of equal rights for Muslim women, she wants that ‘‘a clause should be inserted in the nikahnaama giving women also the right to divorce their husbands and if this is brought into practice, it would be a landmark decision.’’ She told this website's newsppaer that she would initiate discussion on this subject as, for her, this was not an unusual demand as it was within the framework of the shariat law.

This concept was first introduced at the Board’s Bangalore convention in 2000 and copies of the resolution were distributed among the members. However, it remained a non-starter after opposition by the dominant Board members.

However, this time, the issue is likely to generate a groundswell of support. As Rukhsana Lari, another woman on the Board says, ‘‘Islam mein aurton ko bahut huq mile hain, bas humko ekjut hokar ek level laana chahiye (Muslim women have been given many rights. What is needed is unanimity to obtain them).’’

But equal rights for women has rarely figured on the Board’s meeting agenda, as was evident at the three-day workshop held at Jamia Millia a couple of months back. ‘‘Vested interests should be kept out,’’ says Lari. Though not an executive member, Lari said, she may attend the coming meeting.

Opposition from the Board members on giving talaq rights to Muslim women was mainly related to the concept of khula, wherein a woman can end her marriage, but she has to forego mehar (alimony fixed at the time of nikah).

Says Dr Safiya Naseem, a woman member of the Board, ‘‘Talaq ka haq sirf mardon ko hai aur aurton ko khula ka haq hai (Men have the right to talaq, but women have to right to khula). Though both talaq and khula terminate the matrimonial alliance, the basic difference between the two is that in the former, the husband gives the mehar amount to the wife at the time of divorce, but in the latter, the wife has to forego the amount.

Says Iqtidar Ali, ‘‘If the Muslim women are given talaq rights, they would not have to forego mehar.’’

Originally published online at