[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 February, 2005, 11:22 GMT
India's Muslims face up to rifts
By Sutapa Mukerjee
BBC News, Lucknow

Muslims at prayer
Time will tell how serious the splits are

The are signs of churning among Muslims in India, home to the religion's second largest population.

For one, Indian Shias recently broke away from the country's most important Muslim organisation, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).

And a group of women is also organising to get stronger representation for themselves.

Under the Indian constitution Muslims have the right to separate laws in matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance. And it is the AIMPLB that sets out those laws.

The body's main task is to "to hold the Muslims of different sects together under one banner and ensure they follow the laws of Allah and the Prophet," says AIMPLB member Khalid Rasheed.


Of the 145 million Muslims in India, about 20 million are Shias.

But now Shias are saying they have been sidelined by the Sunni-dominated law board, which was set up in 1972.

Muslim voters in Lucknow
A group of Muslim women have also formed a breakaway group

"It was time that we stood for our rights," says Maulana Mohammed Athar, president of the breakaway All India Shia Personal Law Board.

"We have formed a forum of ourselves because the AIMPLB never took interest in our well being."

Shias and Sunnis do not interpret family laws in a similar way.

The Shias say they don't believe in the controversial "triple talaq" or instant divorce - a system wherein a Muslim man can divorce his wife in a matter of minutes.

There are also differences in inheritance laws.

Among the Sunnis, a man's sister - along with his children- is entitled to a share of inheritance after his death.

When a Shia man dies, his property is only inherited by his children. No other family member has any claim.

"We also have different mosques and burial grounds", says Shia priest, Sayeed Ali.

"We abide by the teachings of the Lord and the Prophet. Later the caliphs made certain modifications to these civil laws, which were never accepted by the Shia community."

The newly formed All India Shia Personal Law Board has 69 members compared to 204 members in the AIMPLB.

The Shia body has the support of the erstwhile royal family of Lucknow - some 2000 descendants of the family claim to have extended their support.

"We can be now sure that our rights will be safeguarded," a family member said.

'Nothing but a joke'

What is unmistakable, they say, are the winds of change blowing through the world's second largest Muslim population.

It was time that we stood for our rights
Maulana Mohammed Athar, All India Shia Personal Law Board

Earlier this month, a group of women formed the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board alleging that the religion's top body of had been ignoring the rights of Muslim women.

This evoked a strong reaction from the AIMPLB.

"It is nothing but a joke. We strongly condemn it," a senior member Maulana Sajjad Nomani told reporters.

Maulana Nomani believes that community members who are forming separate bodies for resolving their issues were not familiar with the constitution of the board.

The All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board was founded with 35 members.

Its General Secretary, Parveen Abdi, says the women were forced to set up a separate body because their rights were being ignored.

"Women have gone through hell. They became victims of incest, they faced forced marriages, whimsical talaqs and biased judgments. There seemed to be no one to take up the suffering woman's cause, not the least the AIMPLB," Ms Abdi says.

Only time will tell whether the breakaway Shia group or the women's group will be able to muster enough support to become a viable and influential bodies among India's 145 million Muslims.

Indian Shias rest in hope
02 Mar 04 |  South Asia
Muslim women fight instant divorce
04 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Boxing future for Muslim women
22 Jan 04 |  South Asia
Battle over India's marriage age
05 Sep 02 |  South Asia
Pakistan's Shia-Sunni divide
01 Jun 04 |  South Asia
Who are the Shia?
03 Mar 04 |  Middle East


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific