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Beside Nikahnama
By Shahnaz Begum

Who is not concerned with problems of women in the country? But will this condition change miraculously for Muslim women just by a contract clause to be signed before a Nikah? A community where people have the guts to break laws that the faithful in Islam hold divine, a people having no fear of accountability even when the basic tenet of the religion they follow talks about belief in the Hereafter as an indispensable part of faith, a society that has forgotten the high esteem Islam has for women and has adopted un-Islamic ways of oppressing and suppressing the fair sex – how can this unconscious community be expected to awaken overnight to become suddenly sincere about a piece of paper enumerating the rights and duties of husband and wife.

But why this concern only for Muslim women? Are the women of other communities in India very well off? Have their problems been addressed or status improved? Bride burning, sati, Dowry deaths, rape, molestation, child abuse, abortion of the female foetus – are these not problems deserving our attention or have they been eradicated? Daughters rarely get a share in parental property. Widow remarriage is seldom encouraged? Women are sold for flesh trade openly. Devdasi system thrives. There is no safety in the workplace, educational institutions or even at home!

So, there we are! Women still in plight, still clamoring for justice, still demanding the society to give them at least the chance to live in honour and without any shame. Yet, sympathy rests only with finding respite to the Muslim women alone.

The novel idea of including a contract clause to the Nikahnama as is being argued will revolutionize the whole slumbering community to become law abiding people and even when they did not hesitate to go against the words of the Sacred Qur'an, they would obediently follow this set of rules without any complaint. What a pity that instead of exhorting the believers to realize what is written in the Book of divine guidance, some ulama (religious scholars) have been drawn to propagate that inventing a charter of avowals will be enough to elevate the downtrodden and helpless women, whose irresponsible husband is so removed from his faith that he does not even hesitate to break his sacred commitment to God.

When decadence and deviation sets within a community, people start looking for escaping points. And the more is the pity that some Muslim women wishing for overnight fame are being cajoled to demand for amendments in the Shari'ah which is set of Islamic principles which cannot be tampered with, because they are enumerated according to Divine Authority. Even if the demand comes from educated Muslim women, it will have to be seen how scientific and reasonable their arguments are.

All this fuss about a standardized Nikahnama is just being made to put Muslim women on the wrong track. It is not that Muslim women do not deserve sympathy, but the remedy being suggested is not what the ailment requires. It is only a move to pacify those feminist groups of women who are so bogged down by the crooked logic of the West that they view everything under its influence. No wonder, they have become blind to the fact that unless an earnest move is made to reform the community, not much can be achieved by enactment alone. There is no end to rulings and enactment for the protection of women in our country and have been passed with extreme favour. But rarely is an accused convicted of any crime. On the contrary, when a case goes up for hearing in the court of law, the victim, always a woman, must undergo more trauma and torment, more disgrace and an equal chance of being abused further. At long last, after all possible humiliation, the victim is damned for life, branded as a person of lewd character, and shattered to the point that she repents forever the idea of seeking ‘justice.’ Would we like the same to happen to Muslim women too? Just imagine the condition of a women whose husband wishes to divorce her for no rhyme or reason. If he has made up his mind to divorce her, nothing can stop him. But if it is compulsory for this man to declare the reason of divorce, he can cook up any atrocious lie to achieve his aim. This can not only damage the victim’s integrity but also stigmatize her for life. Instead, would it not be saner to start a mass programme to treat the psyche of such people so that they may accept the teachings of religion and grant women their due rights voluntarily.

Nikah in itself is a solemn undertaking and when the Khutba-e-Nikah is read out before the Muslim marriage, believers are again and again exhorted to fear and revere their Creator who has power over everything. The sermon of the Nikah contains the verse from Surah Al-Nisa: "O Mankind! Fear and reverence your guardian lord, who created you from a single person. Created of like nature his mate, and from this pair scattered like seeds, countless men and women. Reverence God, through whom you demand your mutual rights and reverence the wombs that bore you, for God ever watches over you." This exhortation lays down the basis of obedience and the basis of gender-equality. Mutual rights can be respected and given only on this basis. Why don’t we start to teach our community to understand and follow those rules that have already been earmarked by Islam rather than seek to change and amend and thus enable human intervention in God’s laws which can never be allowed?

What can be achieved from persuasion and education can never be obtained form compulsion. Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him) followed exactly this procedure and in twenty-three years managed to revolutionize an entirely unruly bedouin tribe to become the most cultured and obedient people, who then readily accepted all the regulations in the Qur'an wholeheartedly, which then changed them completely.

Deviating from the norms of Islam can only be the way of the unjust, because Allah, who is the best Dispenser of this just system knows the tendency of His creatures much better than we know our own nature. Let's not be unjust and forget the wrath of Allah. Let us not misjudge the sanity of Islam and be misguided by outside influences. Despite the tall claims, no one can give women as much as Islam. It is the most pro-woman and balanced charter of rights. Let us turn our attention to getting these laws implemented in society. And for this we have to work unceasingly. We have to rebuild our society and instill in it the fear of Allah and accountability after death. 

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board has taken the right step in deferring the issue of the Nikahnama at its meeting in Bangalore. It was a step taken at the instance of the women members present there who were all (except two or three) of the same mind and presented their arguments most logically and scientifically. It is a matter of great satisfaction that AIMPLB has such women members who are unrelenting where Islam is concerned and unflinching in their faith to be influenced from any quarter. They do not follow what the ‘majority’ does but make an in-depth study of their own and this shows their sincerity to Allah. The AIMPLB should become all the more active and work according to the lines suggested by these women members for the betterment of the Muslim community, which would go a long way to improve the whole human race.

Dr Shahnaz Begum is member of the All India Muslim Personal Law board

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