The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), in a controversial move dissolved its women wing last week, later adding that the wing has only been “temporarily suspended” and will be back soon with a newly formulated set of guidelines. While the members who were part of the women wing have been accomodated in various other sub-committees of the AIMPLB, the move has nonetheless garnered criticism from various quarters and is being seen as an attempt to stifle women’s perspective within the board.
The AIMPLB has a total of 251 members, of which only 30 are women; the working committee of the board has 51 members, of which there is a reservation of five seats for women.
While the board’s general secretaries say that this step was taken because the wing was overstepping in some areas, the women wing insists that the actual reason behind the suspension is the Karnataka hijab ban — and the difference of opinion between the board’s top office bearers and the women wing on how to approach the matter, is what led to the eventual dissolution of the wing.
'Women's Wing Was Overstepping': AIMPLB
In a letter dated 11 October, the AIMPLB general secretary Khalid Saifullah Rehmani, wrote to the AIMPLB women wing’s convenor Dr Asma Zehra, informing her that the wing is being dissolved for the time-being. The letter, accessed by The Quint, referred to a meeting of the board that took place in Lucknow on 27 March 2022, wherein “many members expressed their views about the women wing.”
The letter doesn’t expound on the said views, but says that a five-member committee, headed by AIMPLB executive member Qasim Rasool Ilyas was formed to take a call on the future of the women wing. The committee then met and decided that the women wing should be dissolved and Zehra was asked to delete all social media accounts titled ‘AIMPLB women wing’ and also asked her to not put out any statement from the wing here onwards.
Speaking to The Quint, Ilyas said that the women's wing was taking certain steps that aren’t part of the board’s mandate.
“Many members of the board felt that the women's wing often takes up issues that don’t come in the board’s purview. The AIMPLB’s primary job is to protect shariat, and that too the shariat concerning Muslim family laws and related matters. There are many Muslim bodies working for economic and social empowerment of Muslims, ours isn’t one of those. We haven’t been such a body since the inception,” Ilyas told The Quint.
Shariat is broadly understood as certain religious norms and ways of leading ones life, informed by Islamic principles.
Ilyas did not elaborate on what were the lines that the women wing was crossing, but said that certain guidelines need to be set in order to delineate the women wing’s mandate. “All committees have very specific guidelines. Unfortunately, the women's wing didn’t. We will fix that,” he said. The women's wing was formed in 2015, around the same time as the beginning of the Triple Talaq controversy and calls for implementation of a Uniform Civil Code.
'We Should Have Fought For Karnataka's Hijabi Students': Women's Wing
However, Zehra alleged that the actual reason behind the board’s decision is their disagreements on the Karnataka hijab ban matter. “When the hijabi students in Udupi were first told to not enter their class with the hijab, I felt very moved by the matter and urged the board to fight in their support. I felt that if we (the board) fights for the Muslim personal law to be protected, then we should come out when these hijabi sisters are being targeted for wearing the hijab. But they felt that the board should not intervene in a local matter as it might politicise the matter further,” Zehra told The Quint.
“The girls (hijabi students) were sandwiched between the clergy and the college administration. I felt they needed our support. I wanted to go meet the girls, but the board didn’t allow me to. I asked them if I can go in my personal capacity, but I was told not to do that either,” she added.
In February 2022, days after the Karnataka high court passed an interim order upholding the hijab ban, Zehra had written a letter addressed to various Muslim bodies, including the general secretary of the AIMPLB, the Jamat-e-Islami Hindi, Jamiat-e-Ulama, and a few others.
The letter spoke of the challenges that the hijabi students in Karnataka are facing. The letter said: “But the struggle of Muslim girls students was their lone struggle with hardly any guidance or support from any organisation within the Muslim Community. It may sound as a surprise or a “an allegation” but throughout this issue unfolding, there was a complete “distancing” of Muslim leadership standing and supporting these Girl Students (sic).”
Zehra’s letter then proposed an 8-point action plan, with suggestions such as meeting the President of the country to discuss this matter, address the issue of “hate crimes against Hijabi girls across India”, meet and thank all the CMs and secular parties standing by the hijabi students, among other things.
“If we fail to act now, then we have missed the bus. We have left our community orphaned and we are answerable to Allah and to Muslims of India,” the letter concludes.
Ilyas conceded that there was a disagreement on the hijab matter, but that it didn’t have anything to do with the suspension of the women's wing. “We felt that since the hijab issue was confined to Udupi at the time, prominent local bodies were trying to resolve the issue. We didn’t want to make it a national issue because with elections taking place in Uttar Pradesh (at that time), giving this matter over-emphasis would have been counter-productive. Nonetheless, this disagreement is not why the women wing was suspended. These are separate issues,” Ilyas said.
'All Women Accommodated In Various Committees'
A woman member of the AIMPLB, who wasn’t part of the women wing, defended the suspension. “The women wing would often act unilaterally, without including other members of the board or even the other women members. So despite there being a women wing, many women (who were not in the wing) felt disconnected from the decision making,” a woman member of AIMPLB said on condition of anonymity.
On 17 and 19 October, the AIMPLB circulated two statements, both trying to clarify that this is merely a 'temporary move'. "It is unfortunate that an internal matter of the board...had led to people saying baseless things about the board," the 19 October statement says.
It also says that a separate women sub-committee be formed within the AIMPLB's 'Islah-e-Muashara' (reformation) committee, of which Zehra be made the convenor. It also said that all the members of the now-suspended women's wing have been accommodated in various committees of AIMPLB as per their expertise.