India's leader has caused controversy by suggesting he will back a divorce campaign in court
The controversial ‘triple talaq’ gives Muslim men the right to end their marriage simply by saying three times that they no longer wish to be with their spouse.
Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will go on to challenge the ancient practice in court if it wins next month’s crucial state election in Uttar Pradesh.
However, despite receiving support from women all over the world, the vow to stand against tradition has angered religious and community leaders.
More than 11 million Indian women are thought to have suffered the indignity of being left without a spouse, because their husband simply decided to say the word ‘talaq’ three times, and walk away from all marital responsibility.
The word, which means “divorce” in Arabic, does not even need to be said to a woman’s face.
Many have received the ‘triple talaq’ through social media or via text.
Narendra Modi has said the BJP will back a court case to end the triple talaq
India is one of the only countries in the world where the rule still applies, but for the 170 million Muslim Indians, it is a controversial one.
Last year, a woman named Shayara Bano reached India’s Supreme Court with a bid to abolish the practice.
If the BJP wins in Pradesh, it has vowed to back the 35-year-old’s petition.
Such a move could get the party huge support from Muslim women after surveys showed 90 per cent want it abolished.
Amit Shah, the party's president and Mr Modi's aide, said: “Once the BJP comes to power, the state Government would take the opinion of Muslim women on the issue and if need be would become a party in the ongoing case.”
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Pradesh is home to more than 200 million people and a win for the BJP will put Mr Modi in prime position to sweep the polls and be re-elected in two years' time.
Modi is being accused of trying to get more supporters through backing case
Around 26 per cent of the population is Muslim and their vote is vital to Mr Modi.
The area typically votes for the Samajwadi party.
Powerful religious clerics have accused Shayara of undermining Islam – and Mr Modi of using her case to win votes.
Arshad Madani, the head of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, India’s largest Muslim group, said: “The intention of this government is suspect, this is an assault on diversity. We were guaranteed religious freedom and we will fight to preserve and practice our culture, language and religion freely."
Mufti Zulfiqar Khan Naeemi, who interprets Islamic law in Kashipur, said Shayara needs to drop the case.
He said: "We don’t regard her very well in the community. By going to the court, she has insulted Islam and ridiculed the divine law.
“In Islam, if the word is uttered three times – instantly or over time – it is final.”
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In her petition, Shayara asked the court to declare her divorce illegal.
She said: “One minute I was a married woman with two children.
“The next minute I became a divorced woman. I was not asked.
“I was not even present when he wrote the word.”
Mr Modi has called on his “Muslim sisters” to support the case but religious leaders have said it could have severe consequences.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a group that advocates for Islamic laws, responded in court that the religious laws of a community “cannot be rewritten in the name of social reform” and said abolishing triple divorce could drive some husbands to murder their wives.
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Tahir Mahmood, former chief of the National Minorities Commission, said: “The religious clerics have succeeded in making the Muslim masses believe that this practice is Islamic.
“Nothing has been done to codify the Muslim law, so the varied interpretations and distortions by clerics prevail.”