By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Indian Muslim women deserve congratulations for coming out with their own marriage code. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is using its clout in the media to denigrate this move. But they have yet to come out with a coherent answer to the question: after all, what is wrong or un-Islamic about the new women’s proposed code. Before criticising the women board’s effort and calling it irrelevant and useless and so on, they should come out with cogent explanations of what is wrong with it.
Our experience with ulema is not very encouraging. I am certain that if someone were to go to the ulema, at least in Phulwari Sharif, Patna, of which I have some experience, and say I dreamt of having divorced my wife thrice in one go, they would say that he is now divorced and if he wants to live with his wife now he should hand over his wife to an aalim or someone else for the dastardly practice of halala. I know of a case where a woman had been divorced during pregnancy and though there is a provision in Islamic law that such a divorce should not take effect unless the husband were to feel the same way and repeat his pronouncement even after the birth of the child, the ulema pronounced divorce as legal as per their habit. The practice of ulema’s ruling in the case of Muslim family dispute is indeed quite ridiculous. Their fatwas could indeed be termed hilarious, if they were not so dangerous. In fact any one with a modicum of sense of humour who wants to have a good laugh can do nothing better than sit down with a voluminous book of fatwas pronounced by ulema on a variety of subjects, ranging from the ludicrous - whether one should put one’s left or right foot forward first while going to the loo – to the relevant disputes in family lives that can rebuild or destroy people’s lives.
I do not have a copy of the new or old nikahnama and cannot form a very well-informed opinion in the matter. But from the reports in the media, the new one looks quite formidable and commendable and need of the hour.
The following points have been made in media reports. I am citing them below to keep them on record:
Daring the ulema and orthodox Muslims, the All India Muslim Women
Personal Law Board in its "Shariat Nikahnama" released on Sunday, March 16, 2008, has come up with a host of measures that ensures that Muslim women get their right. Not only does it recognise the right of women to seek divorce (khhula) and separation, it ensures financial settlement with an eye to the welfare of the woman and her children, advises registration of marriages and forbids forceful marriages.
The new code also rejects talaq through SMS, e-mail, phone and video conferencing. Talaq on provocation will not be considered either.
According to it, talaq to be valid should be spread over three months to give the couple ample time to reconsider the issue. "We are not scared of the mullah, but the Allah," said Shaista Amber, chairperson of the AIMWPLB. "The mullahs will never come to the rescue of destitute women. Why should the Muslim woman be scared to seek khhula when this right has been provided to her by the Allah?"
The new Nikahnama has a 17-point Hidayatnama (guidlines for marriage under the Shariat law for bride and groom) and an 8-point section on the process of talaq. The Hidayatnama declares that any forceful nikah is not acceptable. Forceful dowry has also been forbidden. Amber said the new "Shariat Nikahnama" was very different from the model Nikahnama of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
"The model Nikahnama had not taken care of the women's rights as per the Koran. The new Nikahnama maintains the equilibrium," she said. While the model Nikahnama is in Urdu, Shariat Nikahnama is available both in Hindi and Urdu so it reaches more people. Ms. Amber said it had been prepared in Urdu and Hindi so that the common people could understand the “rights and responsibilities of the husband and wife.” She said it had “three forms of which one is for registration of the ‘nikah’ at the Registrar of Marriages. The other two are for the Qazi, who solemnises the marriage, and for the bride and the groom.”
"The woman has full authority to seek khhula under Shariat law, from her husband if the husband harasses her and her children," said Amber.
She claimed that the “Shariat nikahnama” was better in many ways as “its language is easy and it contains the rights of women.” “In the old ‘nikahnama,’ there is no provision for address verification; registration of marriages has not been made compulsory and the rights of women have not been clearly laid down. Besides, it is in Urdu and everyone cannot understand it properly,” Ms. Amber said.
The woman must approach the Darul Kaza (a Shariat court) for seeking divorce under khhula. In case of talaq, all gifts received during the marriage and afterwards will be the property of the bride. In absence of a divorce, the Nikahnama says any woman can go for separation if the husband is missing for four years, has an illicit relationship with another woman or refused to disclose HIV status before or after marriage. Besides, issues like not providing food, clothes and other essentials will also be counted as grounds for separation. In case of separation, the woman has the right to mehar.
To avoid controversy, the new Nikahnama also rules that three forms should be filled in during nikah - one each for the marriage bureau, the bride and groom and the quazi. Muslim women had criticised the model Nikahnama of the AIMPLB, released in 2005, saying it failed to address the contentious issue of "triple talaq".
Unveiling the new Muslim Marriage Act drafted by a 30-member executive body, AIMWPLB chairperson Shaista Amber told a news conference in Lucknow, U. P. that it was an improvement on other ‘nikahnamas’ and “its authenticity cannot be challenged” as every provision was in accordance with the Shariat and it quoted the Koran. She said it would mitigate the “agonies and sufferings of women” arising out of divorce and gives more rights to the wife.
Senior AIMPLB member Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahali termed the new nikahnama useless and irrelevant. He said “already there is a nikahnama issued by the AIMPLB, there is no room for another one.” He said the old one was as per the Koran and Shariat and was in practice. On the compulsory registration of the Muslim marriages, he told PTI that the Board had already made it clear that it would support this only when some conditions were fulfilled. “We have said marriages should not be held invalid in the absence of registration. Besides, the ulema solemnising the marriages could be given the powers of the registrar of marriages for the purpose of registration,” Maulana Firangimahali said.