ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reforming Muslim Personal Law

The recent judgment by a Bangladesh High Court invalidating the utterance of 'talaq' thrice as a ground for divorce has sounded the death-knell for an erroneous, long held legal doctrine that has stifled a more benevolent interpretation of Muslim law. The judgment though not binding in India, is bound to have a substantial and pervasive influence on Indian courts and legislatures as both countries remain bound to the shared legacy of the colonial legal system.

In a recent judgment1 of far-reaching consequences, a division bench of the Bangladesh High Court has ruled that the utterance of the word talaq, thrice, in one sitting, by an estranged Muslim husband would not constitute a valid and legally permissible divorce. While so ruling, the court further held that the practice of issuing ‘fatwas’ (religious edicts) was illegal and unauthorised and hence the same were not binding on Muslims. The judgment was delivered in an petition by a poor woman, Sahida, whose husband, Saiful, had pronounced triple talaq on her, and, subsequently, forced her to marry his paternal cousin by procuring a fatwa from a local cleric, Azizul Huq. Annulling the divorce and directing the arrest of the cleric, the court called upon the parliament to forthwith enact a legislation to declare the practice of issuing fatwas a punishable offence.2

Although the judgment is not binding in India, it would certainly have substantial persuasive influence on our courts and legislatures, as both the countries are the inheritors of the shared legacy of the British legal system. Our courts have also precariously grappled with the contentious and sensitive issues of the interpretation of Muslim personal law, at times, leading to strong conservative backlash, like the one following the Shah Bano3 judgment of the Supreme Court in 1986.

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