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Interview: I favour reforms, not Uniform Civil Code
Dr Asghar Ali Engineer shares his views on the Uniform Civil Code.
DR ASGHAR ALI Engineer is a well-known Islamic scholar and theologian. He heads the two organisations, Institute of Islamic Studies and Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai. He has worked for inter-religious harmony and is the author of as many as 44 books on issues such as Islam and communal and ethnic problems in India and South Asia.
What is your understanding of a Uniform Civil Code?
No one in our country, our political leaders or individuals, have ever concentrated their efforts towards defining the Uniform Civil Code. All we know is that some common law covering issues relating to marriage, succession and property is called Uniform Civil Code but what these laws would be is anyone’s guess.
Are you in favour of a Uniform Civil Code?
No. I am in favour of reforms and not the Uniform Civil Code. My objective is to empower women and give them equal status via due reforms in all the personal laws. This method is more acceptable and achievable in a country marked for an excessive plurality of religions.
Are you in favour of deletion of Article 44 from the Constitution, which says the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India?
No. I don’t see any need to delete the article. The need is to work on the existing laws in such a way that they don’t go against any particular faith or religion.
Are you supportive of gender equality?
Yes, totally. In fact I am not just supportive I am actively promoting the cause in our country.
How would you counter the view that Shariat courts are lurching in dark because of a sagging reputation?
I am not very much in favour of Shariat courts. There are secular courts in the country for all. Those who want to abide by the Shariat courts can have their way. But all Muslims should not be forced to knock the doors of Shariat Courts in case of any issue.
Muslim women are increasingly denouncing patriarchal laws that are dictated by Islam. What do you feel about it?
I don’t completely agree with what you said. It is not just Muslim women who are flouting the laws. For that matter, women of all communities, and in general, are trudging on newer territories. I would also want to clarify that Quran does not dictate a patriarchal form of society. The patriarchal interpretation of Islam should be removed. Quran is full of right-based discourses for women and not duty-based dictates. Quran is also very careful with matters like talaq with specific injunctions to a contrary effect.
Is Shariat actually sacrosanct as is generally believed to be?
No. Shariat can be reformed.
How do Western countries like the US and Europe function in terms of a Uniform Civil Code?
See, the situation varies from country to country. You cannot compare India with these countries in this context. India has a long history of personal laws and it cannot be given up easily. The reality in India is much more complex than Western societies which have been totally secularised. 
Do you think BJP has made the UCC a Hindutva agenda?
BJP is not at all serious about the Uniform Civil Code. It has been playing up the issue time and again for the sake of anti-Muslim propaganda and not for a pro-women measure. I believe there are two kinds of people, one, who believe in secularity of state and stand for gender equality and secular laws and two, who are anti-Muslim and eye political benefits resulting from Muslim resentment.
What kind of a common civil law do you recommend for a secular country like India?
To me it comes across as an extremely complex situation. Unless a broad consensus is drawn among different communities, the Uniform Civil Code can’t do much good to the country. The multifarious castes and creeds and their sets of beliefs or practices are bewilderingly confusing. I think the most workable solution in the present scenario is to let people practise their own set of laws without gender discrimination. The thrust should remain on enforcement of reforms that curb gender bias of any form.

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Interview: All Muslims not opposed to civil code

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