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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 27 Jul 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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God, Customs and Taboos!



By Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq

July 26, 2013

Two things that I think are essential for a woman are the Haq Mehr or dower and the ‘right of divorce’ or Talaq-e-Tafweez

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been blessed with a son. Little Prince George Alexander Louis now joins the line for the throne at number three. Anticipating a baby girl — a future queen — Britain promulgated the ‘Succession to the Crown Act 2013’ in order ‘to make succession to the Crown not depend on gender’. The new law enacted by ‘the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons’ sitting in the present Parliament and authorised by them states that ‘in determining the succession to the Crown, the gender of a person born after October 28, 2011 does not give that person, or that person’s descendants, precedence over any other person (whenever born)’. Simply stated it means that if a girl-child is born before a boy, she will not be superseded to the crown by her junior brother. As Britain waited for the 15 commonwealth countries under its realm to adopt the new law, fate sent yet another male into the queue for the crown!

The Royal couple decided not to find out the gender of their baby during pregnancy. I remember when I first discovered that I was carrying a baby girl I was elated, and most concerned about the price of gold! I mentally made notes of what I needed to stash away for her, then the need to decorate her nursery and girlie-clothes overcame the distant responsibilities. I remember when she was born...the enormity of the pain, the concern and the fear.

The woman on the bed next to me had seven daughters and was expecting her eighth child; with her husband and in-laws shadowing her like death itself, she was virtually on the edge of losing it. Threatened with divorce if she gave birth to another daughter, it looked like she was going to the gallows. As the night progressed she finally bore a much awaited male-child! Everyone in her family was jubilant; sweets were distributed, money handed out to the attending hospital staff and the baby was ‘crowned’ in a ridiculous red, embroidered and embellished hat. Finally an heir, the crown prince had been born. Happy for the woman for the fact that she had escaped execution, I was thoroughly disgusted and sorry for her seven daughters.

As I held my infant daughter in my arms for the very first time, I could feel tears of happiness streaming down my face. She was beautiful, and I was truly blessed to have her. I looked at her sleeping contentedly, oblivious of the world around her, and thanked God silently. As the minutes passed, a cold fear gripped the depths of my heart and I panicked. The words and thoughts that kept on pouring into my head were, “Oh My God! I will love this tiny thing with the core of my heart, I will protect her and raise her, nurture her, educate her, shield her from all things bad, with every ounce of my strength and life — and then one day, I will just hand her over to someone else? What if they don’t love her, respect her? What if they torture her? What if they destroy her, her being, her identity?”

Years have passed since that day and I stand at a juncture that I have feared the most in my life. As I prepare today for another life-changing experience, there is a mixed feeling of apprehension, worry and fear. I am sure, deep down, somewhere, trying to surface and overcome the more dominant emotions, happiness lurks too.

As my daughter’s friends have married one by one, their parents have asked me how to fill the Nikaahnama, how to protect their little princesses. Two things that I think are essential for a woman are the Haq Mehr or dower and the ‘right of divorce’ or Talaq-e-Tafweez. I am amazed as always that in spite of the fact that we live in an Islamic country and profess to be Muslims; we are highly reluctant to give both and take pride in the fact. Marriage in Islam is not a sacred union, it is a contract. And like every other contract, there has to be an offer, an acceptance and consideration, which is the Haq Mehr. We take pride in the fact that we believe in the oneness of Allah (yet we run to mortals for our woes); we pray five times and say ‘X’ number of non-obligatory prayers; we fast during the month of Ramzan and keep ‘X’ number of non-obligatory fasts; we give Zakat (yet we cheat while calculating its correct amount); we perform one obligatory hajj and many others because we have excess money and yet we consistently fail to regulate our conduct and dealings in accordance with the Quran. We abhor giving a fair Haq Mehr to women.

The Quran stipulates giving of ‘Haq Mehr’ to women. Years ago, I wrote: “Dower is also popularly known as Haq Mehr. It is a consideration without which no Muslim marriage is complete and the same is incorporated into the question of acceptance asked from the parties at the time of Nikah. Basically there are three kinds of dower: prompt, deferred and payable on demand.

The dower is a debt in favour of the wife, which is obligatory on the husband, and if unpaid when he dies, can be recovered out of his property. What normally happens is that an insignificant amount, ‘Sharia’ or the proverbial ‘Rs 32.50’ is written as dower, and in other cases where a proportionately higher amount is fixed, the husband ‘begs’ the wife, on their first night, to forgive or remit it. And the poor unsuspecting wife does so without realising its implications! The prompt dower becomes payable instantly and has to be paid at the time of Nikah whereas the deferred dower only becomes payable at the time of divorce or death. However the payable-on-demand has to be paid when the wife demands or asks for it, regardless of other events. Dower can be enhanced at any time during the marriage...”

The Quran mandates that a woman not be harassed or tortured so that she may relinquish her Haq Mehr and makes it unlawful for a man to take back anything, even if it is a ‘treasure’ he gave to her, in case he decides to divorce her. Qais bin Sabit had given his wife an orchard as Haq Mehr; in the absence of the delegated right of divorce she sought dissolution of her marriage from the Prophet (PBUH). She had to return the orchard and was granted Khula, the first one in Islam. The dower of the Prophet’s (PBUH) own daughter was 500 silver Dirhams, for which Hazrat Ali had to sell his suit of armour, centuries ago, and even today we are fascinated with Rs 32.50, the value of our daughters.

Sadly, we are still languishing in the depths of ignorance, superstitions and un-Islamic customs; we still abide by our clans and tribes, not the Quran. Britain has finally ensured that women succeed to the crown, whereas 1,434 years have passed and we still place mortals on a higher pedestal. We fear our Biradaris more than God; we still fail to speak up for our daughter’s rights, granted by none other than God Himself. Since when did God’s words become a taboo?

Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq is an advocate of the High Court