Dawn: by Asghar Ali Engineer: RECENTLY a conference of the Muslim Personal Law Board in India saw a huge crowd of 200,000 Muslims from all over Maharashtra.
The chairman of the board, Maulana Rabe Hasan Nadwi, made a highly emotional speech and said that Sharia is divine and no change in it can be made; even if the whole Islamic world changes Sharia, Indian Muslims will not allow any change and will keep traditional Sharia close to their hearts.
How appropriate is this stance? Today many women are agitating for certain necessary changes to issues such as triple talaq and unregulated polygamy which cause suffering to them. Some concerned people, including myself, have taken the initiative to codify Muslim personal law so as to minimise its misuse and give relief to Muslim women.
To what extent Sharia can be misused can be judged from the fact that a well-known Islamic university in Hyderabad Deccan allowed a man to marry two young girls simultaneously on the assumption that Islam allows polygamy.
All this is based on books written and fatwas issued hundreds of years ago. Our ulema do not want to deviate from these written texts. Whenever any question is asked they simply consult these texts and issue a fatwa and again, like court judgements, these fatwas become a precedent for subsequent edicts and are treated as universally applicable. Lay Muslims do not know that these fatwas are merely opinions expressed by a mufti and are not binding.