NEW DELHI: India’s highest court on Thursday began considering the legality of a controversial Islamic practice that allows men to leave their wives instantly by reciting the word “divorce” three times.

“Triple talaq” is legal for Muslims under the Indian constitution but it has come under scrutiny with reports emerging of men divorcing their wives via letters, Skype and WhatsApp messages.

Several women divorced by triple talaq have petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the practice. “We told the court that the practice has no basis in the law or in the Quran,” said Balaji Srinivasan, a lawyer for Shayara Bano whose husband split from her by writing “divorce” three times on a piece of paper.

The practice has been challenged in lower courts but this collective appeal is the first time India’s Supreme Court will consider whether triple talaq is fundamental to Islam and therefore legally binding.

A panel of five judges from India’s major faiths — Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism — will consider the matter and is expected to deliver a verdict next week.

India allows religious institutions to govern matters of marriage, divorce and property inheritance in the multi-faith nation, enshrining triple talaq as a legal avenue for its 180 million Muslims to end unions.

But the right-wing Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has backed the petitioners in this landmark case, declaring triple talaq unconstitutional and discriminatory against women.

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long pushed for a uniform civil code to be enforced but the issue remains highly sensitive in India, where religious tensions often lead to violence. Many Muslim groups have been critical of any attempts to meddle with religious laws, arguing it curtails their constitutional right to govern their affairs.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a grouping of Islamic organisations, told the court they opposed any efforts to change the law.

“Triple talaq is reprehensible and sinful way to divorce, and we have spoken against it, but we want the court and government to stay off,” AIMPLB’s convener Zafaryab Jilani told AFP.

Some Islamic scholars say there is no mention of triple talaq in the Quran, which instead details a different process for divorce based on mediation.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2017

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