Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nikahnama Divides Indian Muslims

Muslim Marriage: Nikahnama not a 'religious obligation'

Mumbai: A new 12-page Sharai Nikahnama has sparked a heated debate among Indian Muslims, with some welcoming the women-drafted marriage guide and others slamming it as sensational.
"Although I have not gone through the full-text of nikahnama, it is a welcome development," Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) told
"It was a change long due."
Last week, the All-India Muslim Women Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB) released the guide drafted by its 30-member executive body.
The 12-page document says registering Muslim marriages in a marriage bureau should be mandatory, and asserts the necessity of woman's consent to marriage.

It specifically mentions that a husband is expected to provide "cooked food" and "stitched clothes" to his wife.

It rejects divorce done through SMS, e-mail and phone and video conferencing and also explicitly bars a man from declaring divorce if in rage or under the influence of intoxication.

The code also grants the wife the right to seek divorce when the husband refuses to if she is forced to indulge in unnatural sex or if her husband is having illicit relationship with other women.

"We have framed the new nikahnama strictly in accordance with the tenets of Islam, which clearly prohibit any kind of harassment or oppression of a married woman by her husband," AIMWPLB president Shaista Amber said when releasing the guide last week.

She added that the document has been prepared in Urdu and Hindi so that the common people could understand the rights and responsibilities of the husband and wife.

"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."
Muslims account for 160 million of India's 1.1 billion people, the world's third-largest Islamic population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.

Hasan Kamaal, a Mumbai-based columnist and scriptwriter, believes the move was long overdue.

"Similar nikahnamas are there in almost all Muslim countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia."

Kamaal said that whether Muslims take advantage of this nikahnama is altogether a different matter.

"It is very sad that men-dominated All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) didn’t initiate anything in this regard and women had to come forward to fulfill this."

The same view is shared by Anand, whose MSD group comprises secular and intellectual Muslims.

"I am saddened that the AIMPLB did nothing to bring such change."

AIMPLB, the single largest religious body consisting of scholars of different schools of thought, was formed in 1973 to protect and apply Muslim Personal Law in marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance.

In 2005, Shiite and women seceded to form their own separate Boards, the All India Shiite Personal Law Board & the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board.


AIMPLB has already issued a nikahnama based on the Quran and Shari`ah.

"No one has the right to include any point in Islamic law which has not been included in the Islamic scripture," senior AIMPLB member Khalid Rasheed told IOL.

"I think All India Women’s Board has no base."

But many Muslims questioned the need for a new nikahnama.

Bhiwandi-based Dr. Rehan Ansari particularly questions the need for registering marriage.
"Muslims marry in the presence of witnesses and that is enough for a valid Muslim marriage," he told IOL.

"Nikahnamamay be a country’s necessity but it is not a religious obligation. Same is the case with registration of marriage. I think there is no harm in registering the marriage with the concerned government department."

Maulana Yaseen Akhtar Mishbahi, founder-chairman of Delhi-based research institute Darul-Qalam, insists that the AIMWPLB and its leader Shaista Ambar have no Islamic background.

"Also, she does not enjoy popular support in the Muslim community which is very important for the application of the nikahnama," he told IOL.

The scholar insisted the move was only "for the sake of publicity," advising AIMPLB not to respond to these "petty things."

"Everything is there in Qur’an, Hadith and religious books. There is no need for a nikahnama."

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