The highest court in India is putting an end to the practice of instant divorce, which is a win for Muslim women. Striking down the law that allowed for the practice is widely seen as a progressive move that sides with a growing number of Muslims who frown on it. Making instant divorce illegal is a shift toward equality for women who previously had no legal recourse or support if their husband chose to do it.

instant divorce
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What is instant divorce?

Muslim men in India previously were allowed to legally divorce their wives instantly by speaking or even writing or typing the Arabic word for “divorce,” which is “talaq,” three times. Men didn’t even need to be in the presence of their wives to do it because they could do it via letter or over the phone, explains The New York Times.

NPR adds text and email to that list as well, and Al-Jazeera reports that some Muslim women have been “left destitute” after their husbands divorced them via Skype or WhatsApp. However, Muslim Indian women who wanted a divorce had to get permission from her husband or an Islamic official, such as a cleric.

Muslim men in India would abruptly throw their wives out of their homes with little or no warning, giving them no financial support or alimony. Although many Muslims around the globe see instant divorce as unethical, it has been in use in India. Muslims worldwide have been watching the case as it moved through the high court in India. Most other countries with large Muslim populations already banned the practice, according to NPR.

Indian court votes to end instant divorce

A Supreme Court panel in India narrowly voted to make instant divorce illegal in a three-to-two vote. Two of those who voted to make the practice illegal said it was unconstitutional, while the third said it violated the laws of Islam.

The case was brought by Muslim women who said that the practice went against their constitutional right to equality. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the decision, declaring it a “powerful measure for women’s empowerment.” However, some analysts who reviewed it described the commentary on the practice from the all-male panel as being “patronizing” toward Muslim women.

One law professor took to Facebook to criticize the language that was used in the decision for talking about women “as if they are in need of protection, not in terms of their rights.” According to the Times, she said that almost all of the references to Muslim women in both the dissenting and majority opinions reduce them to nothing but “suffering victims.”

Equal rights in India

India‘s Constitution grants equal rights to all of the nation’s citizens, no matter what religion they follow. However, when it comes to the issues of marriage and divorce, alimony, and inheritance, rules vary according to religion. The nation doesn’t have a set of laws governing marriage and divorce for all of its citizens, so this week’s ruling against instant divorce is certainly a landmark case in more than one way.

Most Indian citizens practice Hinduism, although data from the Pew Research Center indicates that the nation has the second-largest Muslim population in the world. Hindus praised the decision against instant divorce because they see it as insulting to women. However, a number of Islamic groups were trying to keep the practice legal because they feel it belongs to their basic religious rights.