JOURNEY OF NIKAAHNAMA – MUSLIM WOMEN’S INITIATIVE SINCE 2005
How did this journey begin for BMMA?
The journey began when the All India Muslim Personal Law Board released a nikaahnama, even before BMMA [Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan] was launched formally. This nikaahnama of the Board did not take into account the immense difficulties which Muslim women were facing due to triple divorce. While the AIMPLB’s nikaahnama had asked the husband to take a moral oath to avoid triple divorce, it did not abolish the practice. The Board in fact had said multiple times, that however draconian triple divorce may be, it cannot be wished away and in fact can be beneficial also at times. A quick break can at times prevent physical abuse and trauma, it seems. On a high mehr amount, they Board said, the men should not be burdened beyond his capacity. Not only this but the nikaahnama insisted that the woman must be obedient to her husband and it is ok for him to be violent with her if she disobeys. So the journey began with a reaction to the regressive nikaahnama of the Board but did not end there.
How did the Muslim women react to this nikaahnama?
Muslim women had already organized themselves into an organization called the Hukook-e-Niswaan [H-e-N] which comprised of 30 community based Muslim women’s organisations and mahila mandals in Mumbai. A young member of H-e-N, Muskaan Shaikh took the lead and tore off the nikaahnama of the Board in a press conference. She said, the Board’s nikaahnama was discriminatory. She also said that it is a common misconception that the Board is the law making body of the Muslims and this notion is given air by political parties and the media. In reality it is an NGO like any other enjoying no state or community privileges or sanction. The Board, time and again, in the name of protecting women’s rights, have made remarks or passed fatwas which actually harms the Muslim women. There is no place for such regressive, patriarchal groups in a secular democratic country. They have time and again proved how harmful they are to the Muslim women and to the larger Muslim community.
Khatoon Shaikh of the H-e-N said during the press meet that they do not need the maulana-qazi who listen to the woes of Muslim women but do nothing. Now we don’t need them anymore, we will make our own laws, she said. She not just said it but took the lead and two of her sons got married under the new nikaahnama. She always believed that the change must begin from home.
What were the objections to the Board’s nikaahnama?
1. The Board did not care to understand that nobody was insisting on abolishing divorce itself, but simply wanting the instant method to be done away with. But they did not do away with instant divorce. For them it did not matter that scores of women who were simply driven out of their homes on mere three words and legally abandoned. Saheli, an organization which was part of H-e-N shared that the Board is completely oblivious to the fact that men, who go abroad, sent divorce papers or simply call up their wives and divorce them on the phone. What should such a woman do? Also women do not have a right to give divorce the way men give, making a woman extremely vulnerable. The Board even said, triple divorce is a sinful but a valid form of divorce. This contradiction is something which only they can explain!
2. The Board’s nikaahnama also said that the wife should also be obedient and should not leave the house without her husband’s permission. She can meet her parent’s only if the need arises.
3. The Board’s nikaahnama also took away the right of Muslim women to approach the courts. This was a dangerous move, taking Muslim women away from those structures over which she has a right as a citizen. This would further ghettoize the Muslim community and Muslim women.
What else did H-e-N do?
H-e-N is collaboration with other organisations formulated an alternative nikaahnama. Having rejected the nikaahnama of the Board, Muslim women felt that they should not simply protest but also create an alternative and use it for conducting marriages which will protect a woman’s interest. As per this alternative nikaahnama, new provisions were made and they were:
1. Woman and a man were equal partners in a marriage. Also, if a couple takes a decision to get married under the new nikaahnama, the husband will not be able to give triple divorce to his wife.
2. Moreover, it laid down in the nikaahnama itself, the Quranic method of divorce which is applicable to both men and women. In this process, arbitration is mandatory and a period of reconciliation of a minimum of 3 months must be followed before the marriage is dissolved.
3. Polygamy is not allowed for a man who marries under this nikaahnama.
4. It also insisted on a high mehr amount as financial security for a woman who leaves her home and family to start life in a new home. A high mehr amount ensures that she has something in her hand as she enters a new phase of her life. It gave the right to women to decide her mehr amount and also made provision for her share in the husband’s property.
What was the concrete step taken other than simply tearing away the Board’s nikaahnama?
The alternative nikaahnama was created but as said it did not end here. Many couples came forward to get married under this new nikaahnama which did not allow polygamy and triple divorce and which insisted on a high mehr amount for the bride. Many couples who wanted tasdeed-e-nikaah, renewal of their marriage contract with their own spouses, came forward. H-e-N strongly felt that we must not stop ourselves simply by criticizing the Boards nikaahnama.
In fact, in May 2005, 7 couples solemnized their marriages under the new nikaahnama prepared by the Muslim women. H-e-N was part of a larger group that took the initiative in the Navpada community of Bandra east.
What benefits did women get after the renewed their marriage contract with their husbands?
Through this new nikaahnama, Aga willed his house to his wife, Noorjehan, as mehr, so that she has a roof over her head after his death. She also got 11,000 as mehr as well. Reshma got her house in her own name as mehr as well as an increased mehr amount from Rs. 786 to Rs.25,000. Razia got his life insurance policy of 40,000.
Who solemnized these marriages?
The very courageous, Qazi Abdul Alim Rizvi, was not just brave but also very honest in his commitment to women’s rights, and very happy that Muslim women have taken this initiative. He agreed to solemnize the 7 marriages of couples on the new nikaahnama made by Muslim women. He said, it is not Islam but the interpretation of Islam that has caused the ill-treatment of women. The 7 couples who took the lead were, Suraiya and Razzak Shaikh, Noorjehan and Aga, Fatima and Ibrahim Qureishi, Reshma and Hamid Shaikh, Bilquis and Hussein, Akhtari and Khalil-ur-Rahman and Razia and Abdul Rahman. Although some couples from amongst them were already married to each other, they decided to renew their marital vows under the new nikaahnama to ensure their rights.
What was the response of some of the grooms who renewed their marriage contract?
Razaak, one of the groom, said that he did not want a marriage in which a woman is subordinate to a man. He vehemently opposed the Board’s nikaahnama and said we have to stop treating women like slaves.
What happened after BMMA was formed in 2007?
When BMMA was formed, we took the same nikaahnama which we had drafted in 2005 and worked on it again to make it more women-friendly. We got it printed in large numbers so that it can be spread out in the communities where we worked.
In 2008, Naish Hasan and Imraan set another benchmark and got married under the BMMA nikaahnama. Many firsts happened in this marriage.
1. First, it was solemnized by a woman, that too a Shia woman while the couple were Sunni.
2. The couple married on a nikaahnama which was prepared by BMMA, a national organization of Muslim women, of which the bride was a member and had taken active part in its drafting.
3. This nikaahnama forbade oral divorce and polygamy.
4. Another unique part of this marriage was that it was solemnized in English and not Arabic.
5. To add to this, all 4 witnesses to the marriage were women.
6. It was solemnized in a jam-packed hall of both women and men.
All present in this marriage, truly believed in the message of equality in Islam. Neither the Quran nor the shariat stops women from solemnizing a marriage. Just because it has not happened earlier, does not mean it cannot happen now.
What happened in 2010? Did the process continue?
This process of solemnizing marriage on the nikaahnama made by Muslim women, continued. In 2010, Farheen Syed, daughter of Khatoon Shaikh, went ahead and renewed her marriage vows with Muzammil Syed. She got protection against triple divorce, polygamy and the added advantage of an increased mehr amount. Muzammil Syed and another groom, Mohammed Ismail, were more than willing to remarry their wives with a better mehr amount and a legal contract to not indulge in polygamy or use the method of triple divorce. A rare but emerging breed of Muslim men, indeed!
Was this process confined only to Mumbai and Lucknow?
Not at all. In 2010, Noorjahan Dewan, BMMA state leader of Gujrat solemnized 35 marriages under BMMA’s nikaahnama in Ahmedabad. She took great pains to educate the couple as well as other stake holders for the need to come forward and protect the interest of women. She explained how nikaahnama is an instrument which brings a woman closer to her rights which are ensured in Islam by making it binding on the husband.
What was the next step after formulating the nikaahnama and conducting so many marriages?
These incidents led from one to the other and finally in 2015, BMMA decided to launch its own school, called the Darul Uloom-e-Niswan, which is a registered organization, training women to become qazis. The syllabus and the training module was prepared completely by Muslim women. The first batch of 15 women were certified as qazis by DUN. The next batch happened in 2019 when 5 more women became qazis in Mumbai.
Please name these qazis so that it gets recorded as an important milestone?
Qazi Hakima Khatoon, Qazi Jamila Lashkar, Qazi Nasreen Metai, Qazi Basheera Banu, Qazi Nishat Hussain, Qazi Safia Akhtar, Qazi Humaira Khan, Qazi Jeibunnisa R, Qazi Saramma, Qazi Jahanara, Qazi Zubeda Khatoon, Qazi Suraiya Shaikh, Qazi Heena Siddiqui, Qazi Afroz Shabbir, Qazi Hasina Shaikh, Qazi Nargis Tariq, Qazi Gulshan Khan, Qazi Zarina Khan, Qazi Yasmin Shaikh,
These qazis were certified by Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman who also certified each other for the same. So in all 22 qazis exist in the country today trained by BMMA.
The qazis were spread out in different states of the country. Qazi Zubeda Khatoon, became the first to undertake and finalize a khula where the divorce was initiated by the woman.
Followed by Qazi Zubeda Khatoon was Qazi Hakima Khatoon who became the first woman in India who solemnized a marriage after being formally trained by BMMA/DUN and certified by an all-women group. This set the ball rolling and Qazi Noorjehan Safia Niaz, became the second one to undertake a khula proceeding.
What was different about these women qazis?
All the three qazi above followed the protocol laid down by BMMA. For khula, a mandatory three months of arbitration was undertaken with the purpose of arriving at a reconciliation. Before the final khula proceedings, all give and take of the couple’s belongings and jewelry happened. The final khula document was also notarized with the advice to the couple to get a court decree for the same. 2 original copies of the khulanama was given to each party.
Similarly for the marriage, Qazi Hakima Khatoon had a series of meetings with the couple and the protocol for the same were followed. All necessary documents were collected from the couple, mehr amount of groom’s annual income was fixed. All provisions of BMMA’s nikaahnama were explained to the groom. In fact this marriage happened only because the bride insisted that she would have her marriage solemnized by a woman qazi only.
We are here, the community needs to now come forward. The more confidence women and men repose in women qazi, the more easy it will be for us to reach out to women who need the protection of a good nikaahnama in the absence of a good law. They must see their own benefit in this process.
By formulating the nikaahnama and solemnizing marriages and divorce, Muslim women have done an important work of reclaiming the religious space which rightfully belongs to them. Being equal human beings and being equal before the eyes of the creator, it is important that women spread themselves out in those spheres which have been forbidden to them just because they are women.