KOLKATA, March 27: Muslim religious authorities have ordered an Indian couple to separate after hearing that the husband had uttered the word for divorce three times in his sleep, police said on Monday.

After Sohela Ansari told friends her husband Aftab had pronounced the word ‘talaq’ (divorce) three times while sleeping, the issue ended up before local religious leaders.

According to Muslim personal law, a man need only utter the word ‘talaq’ three times in order to be divorced, but the case has ignited a debate among scholars about a man’s intent when uttering the word.

“Muslim clerics issued a fatwa asking the couple to live separately immediately after the news reached the local mosque,” police official Bhaskar Mukherjee said.

But the couple, now legally divorced after 11 years of marriage, insist they are still in love and do not want to live apart.

The case came to light after they sought advice from a family counselling centre at the police station.

The dispute over use of ‘talaq’ was ignited after the chief religious judge of West Bengal state, where the couple live, ordered the woman to remarry if she wanted to get back together with her husband.

“The Muslim personal law says that during the 103-day separation period ... the woman has to remarry if she wants to be reunited with her husband,” Noor-ur- Rahaman Barkati said.

But Zafaryab Jilani, of the influential All India Muslim Personal Law Board, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency the pronouncement of ‘talaq’ must be intentional.

“There has to be a motive for giving talaq,” he said.

Another Islamic scholar, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahali, said: “A man is not in his senses while he is asleep and as such if he utters talaq three times while sleeping it will have no religious sanctity.”

The Indian government honours Muslim laws on marriage, divorce and property while Hindus follow a British-inherited system on civil matters. —AFP

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