Arif Mohammed Khan Talks On Water-Shed Moments For Muslims In India

Featured India News Special

Interview with Arif Mohammed Khan who was quoted by the PM in the parliament leading to a major controversy around what he claimed 18 years back.

Parliamentarian, ex-minister, scholar of religions, advocate of inter-faith intellectual discourse Arif Mohammad Khan is one of those rare few public figures in India who strongly suggest self-reflection as a community and individual both for the challenges people are facing today. 

Arif Mohammad

At a time when the only topic that occupies public imagination in India is its Muslim citizen’s relationship with the nation-state and the majority community, it is pertinent to look into the phenomena that led to this shrill ‘otherization’ of world’s second largest Indegenous muslim population in a democracy that pledged equality of all its citizens irrespective of creed, caste and other a-priori deductions in the book of social justice. tries to locate the agents and institution responsible for the descending situation and identifies the water-shed moment for the Muslims in India in an uncut exclusive interview with the much sought after Arif Mohammed Khan, who was all over the news last week for his decades old interview where he recalled what the Congress-I leader PV Narasimha Rao said about the attitude of the Muslim clergy in India, which was quoted by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the parliament last fortnight. 

Question 1. It is said that it was Mrs Indira Gandhi who was instrumental in designing and creating the AIMPLB in India?

AMK: I do not think we need to give credence to this rumor mongering. In fact if you look into history, the Muslim rulers had developed a tacit understanding with the clergy who were charged with judicial authority and in return the clerics would provide religious argument to justify undesirable actions of the rulers. In line with this tradition, the Muslim Kings in India since early 13th century gave judicial authority to the clerics and the courts were manned by Qazis, each one of them assisted by a Pandit who was considered proficient in the law of Shastras.

Arif Mohammad Khan_Indira Gandhi

It was after 1860, that modern courts and modern laws were introduced by the British government. They abolished the office of the Qazi. When great deal of pressure was brought on the government they agreed to pass the Qazi Act with the condition that the appointment of the Qazi shall not be made by the government, but it would only give recognition to such people who solemnized marriages etc and it would have the right to recognize more than one person in a city as Qazis.

In fact the reason the Muslim clergy asked the government to enact the Shariat Application Act 1937 was that they had hoped that at least in personal law matters they would be given judicial authority to settle the disputes. But the government flatly rejected this demand. It is well documented that after the law was adopted, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi commented that enactment of Shariat Application Act without the provision of Muslim judges has worsened the situation.

The clergy had set up the Board in 1972, to usurp some judicial authority by creating an impression that this body had some official backing so that Muslims start coming to them for the settlement of marital and other disputes.

B. What is the relationship between the famous Sunni Madrasa DarUl Uloom Deoband and the Board?

AMK: Very intimate relationship. In fact the board mostly consists of clerics from various Madrasas. The clerics who are associated with Deoband and Nadwa Madrasas dominate the Board.


Question 2. What exactly is this body and its mandate? Does it bear any constitutional or legal or spiritual sanctity?

AMK: They are neither elected by any electoral college or selected by some committee of the experts. They are a self appointed body of the clerics who claim that their mandate is to protect Muslim laws from interference by the government and the judicial courts. No self appointed body has the right to claim any legal sanctity. As far as spiritual sanctity is concerned, it is well established practice in Islamic tradition that people who were spiritually inclined or evolved always kept themselves aloof from statism and legalism.

Question 3 A. There are more than 50 Muslim majority countries in the world, do any of them have conceptualized any organization similar to the AIMPLB that has over arching sway over governments and legal systems in the civil matters of the Muslim community there?

AMK: I have not come across any instance where a body of private individuals has made any such claim or has been recognized as the authoritative interpreter of the law. India is a democratic country and we have elections after every five years. Here these clerics were able to create an impression that they can arrange to deliver the votes of their community to a political party which makes a deal with them. Some parties believed them and gave them importance and started entertaining their demands as it was done in 1986.

B. How are the Muslim diaspora surviving as a religious community in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Africas without creating a Board for their religious rights?

AMK: I have myself asked this question several times in the past that if Personal Law is integral to the practice of faith then how come Muslims live in countries where no religious personal laws are in force. We all read in books that the basic pillars of faith are only five and the personal law does not figure among them. 

In fact Shah Waliullah in his famous book FIQH UMAR, has reported that Caliph Umar had written in a letter to Abdulla bin Masood who was in-charge of education in Kufa not to interfere in judicial matters and leave judicial disputes to be settled by the designated authority. So in the light of the decision of Caliph Umar it can be said that any interference in judicial matters by those who are employed as teachers in Madrasa is unacceptable.

Arif Mohammad 4

Q4. How do you think the AIMPLB affected the community life of Muslims in India?

AMK: The only achievement of Personal Law Board is the law that they got enacted in 1986 after their campaign against the Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case. They were jubilant and had celebrated the new law as their major victory. But few years later when the constitutional validity of this law was challenged and Supreme Court in its verdict clarified that the law of 1986 had only given legislative shape to the judgment given in the Shah Bano case and the law provides for a reasonable and fair provision to be made and paid within the period of Iddat (three months) and not for the period of Iddat. This judgment caused uproar and the then Chairman of MPLB admitted on 4 March 1989 at Kanpur that their historical struggle failed and it proved to be like ‘digging the mountain and finding a mouse’.

The slogan MPLB raised in 1986 was ‘MILLI TASHAKHKHUS that is  Community Identity in danger. Like Muslim League in pre-partition days they also claimed to be sole spokesman of the community. It was clear from the language and terminology they used that they were trying to revive the old separatist politics of Muslim League. Before 1947, the agitation was based on ‘Two Nation Theory’ in 1986 it was on the basis of ‘Two Identities Theory’. The communal gulf and division created by the MPLB agitation in 1986, has lasted for a period longer than the gulf created by the Muslim League in 1947.


 Q5. Certain people claim that it is a blessing that we have such an organization to look after the interests of the Muslims in India. Had there been no AIMPLB the government would have imposed Uniform Civil Code upon Muslims? What is your take on this?

Arif Mohammad 1AMK: India is a democratic country and the constitution ensures every kind of freedom including the freedom of the individual to live in his own fantasies. The government had enacted Hindu Code in early 1950s. This law is not based on Hindu religious text, instead it is a modern piece of legislation as it provides for divorce and share of daughters in father’s property. If there was any seriousness to enact a Uniform Civil Code as mandated by the Constitution then government would have come forward at least with some draft proposals. But so far no government has undertaken this exercise.

Q6. One fact intrigue me a lot is that although there are sharp divisions among Muslims on the basis of sects and school of Madhahib, and all practice their own brand of ‘Shariyah laws’ according to their faith, but whenever Sunni Muslim women demand justice within the family, all these opposing sects join hands in favor of the Sunni Board. For example Shia sect do not practice the instant triple talaq, but Shia clergy joins hands in sunni boards‘s assertion that it is a valid method of divorce in Islam. So if it is indeed a valid method, then why don’t Shia sect also practice this? Why this contradiction?

AMK: I do not think that the Shia or Ahle Hadith Ulema have ever asserted that triple divorce is a valid method to annul the marriage. What they say publicly is that their jurisprudence does not permit this method of divorce but they do not wish to oppose triple divorce as it would complicate intra-community relationship which in fact means their relationship with their Deobandi counterparts.


Q7. What is the larger effect of the AIMPLB on the politics of India? How has it shaped the electoral politics in the North Indian region particularly?

AMK: The Board through its agitation in 1986 demanding reversal of Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case has radically changed the political landscape of India. The Ayodhya dispute also received a flip as the gate of the structure was unlocked on February 1, 1986 to manage the hard blowback caused by the announcement of the decision to reverse the Shah Bano judgment on January 15, 1986. The manner in which the Board conducted their agitation, the threatening and violent language they used, revived the communal hatred and divisions of 1947. Historians like Prof. Bipin Chandra and Prof. RC Guha and many others have described 1986 as the threshold, the point from where the politics of India started changing in a big way.


Q8. Could there be life without the Board for the Sunni Muslims of India? 

AMK: The then Chairman of the Board has confessed that what they achieved after the historic campaign was a disaster. Their spokesman QR Ilyas in an article published in 2016 has admitted that government had cleverly inserted everything in the law that went against what the Board had demanded. Is this not an admission of their incompetence and leadership deficit? Now if they still desire to be in leadership seat and some people wish to follow them, then people like me can only wish good luck to both the leaders and the led.




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