While some Muslim clerics have disagreed with a recent Indian Law Commission report saying bigamy is against the “letter and spirit” of true Islam, many Indian Muslim women, both single and married, say bigamy and polygamy should not be accepted in any society.
In the report presented to government last week the commission said: “We fully agree with the fact that traditional understanding of Muslim law on bigamy is gravely faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law in letter and spirit.”
Even though the commission stopped short of recommending reforms, fearing it could trigger an “unhealthy controversy”, a powerful clerical body said that it could not tolerate any criticism of Islamic law, or Sharia.
“Justice is the basis of bigamy. The commission should also know that this issue is outside its purview,” Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, the spokesperson of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said in an interview.
Some Muslim women, however, believe married men commit bigamy or polygamy out of lust and take advantage of Sharia to justify their behaviour.
“My husband suddenly married a younger woman and began living with her some months ago without divorcing me. I could not get any action taken against him simply because of the Muslim law, which allows him to keep four wives,” Azra Begum, the first wife of a Muslim butcher in West Bengal, said. “I have been forced into miseries since he was the sole breadwinner for our family. His new marriage has also been humiliating and embarrassing for me and my daughter.”
The commission report was prepared in connection with a legal case in which a Hindu man converted to Islam to be able to marry a woman without divorcing his first wife.
Earlier this year, the Delhi-based Allama Rafiq Chariatable Trust conducted a survey among Muslim women in Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh and found that 96 per cent were against bigamy.
“Very surprisingly, except for just five women, all of them said that they did not approve that their husband, father or brother married more than once,” said Maqsood Ahmed, the president of the trust.
Ms Begum said until a woman experiences what she went through, it is impossible to fathom the repercussions that a husband’s additional marriages can have.
“People in our village called us ideal lovers, until my daughter was born. Then, suddenly, 15 years after the marriage, he fell in love with a younger woman and dumped me last year,” said Ms Begum, who recently joined a bulb-making factory as a labourer.
“He has taken a second wife illegally. I loved my husband, I was healthy and I was able to perform all duties that a wife is supposed to do. But I know I cannot get justice now simply because he is Muslim and has the so-called right to keep up to four wives. I am devastated.”
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