By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
Summer season of weddings in the Northern hemisphere, will soon be followed by the Winter of divorces, and so would begin the clash of the aspects for a few unfortunate couples! These are reflections on observed changes in practices influenced by cultural, educational, economic, and civil-legal pressures on Muslims.
In the social norms of marriage; innovations some good and some not so good have always taken place in all communities including Muslims. The religious rites and rituals too are getting more elaborate and colourful day by day. In invitations for “Khatm-e-Quran” – sealing of Quran- prior to the wedding, the passing of the married couple under a copy with a copy of Quran on top are new ones. (One would think a “Manual on Happy Marriage “written by an expert like Liz Taylor, as a gift would be more appropriate!).Pretty little bride’s maids leading a procession with thhaalees of lit candles, and even coconut and rice, has been added to the festivities.
But the significant one lately is the demand for Dowry – the so called ‘Groom Price’–paid by the Bride’s family, for getting their daughters married off, to an imported groom. The dowry system is clearly a contradiction. A Hand-me-down from other religions and ancient cultures.
Dowry is NOT a Quranic injunction. On the contrary, in Islam the Groom must pay, within his means a ‘Gift’ to the Bride. But now, the Meher of thousands is often promised to be paid in unspecified time later on, sometimes never!
Due to air-travel and baggage-weight limitations for newlyweds; the small print at the bottom of elaborately presented, multi-paged invitation cards, the “No boxed presents please” – catches invitees eyes. One wonders if a ‘brown paper package tied up with strings’, with currency notes is acceptable?
Marriage functions are a joyous occasion. And indeed that is how it should be, for it is generally once in a lifetime happy event. An Opening Ceremony for the new union of lives. No expense including that of the cost of the demand of Dowry—Jehez, and all the associated taboos are therefore ignored.
In Quran, marriage is given as an ‘announcement’ to the civil society at large of the contract and commitment being made by two adults, who are physically, intellectually mature and responsible woman and man, making freely and willingly, in presence of two witnesses, to be lawfully wedded and agreeing to share their lives in love and respect. The Book equates this union as being a covering garment for each other.
Most importantly, it accords a moral and legal status to the offspring that may follow from the marriage bed. It is a function also to comply with the State’s legalities. Today for this purpose in the advanced countries, marriage and divorce are Registered by the government and issued with a Certificate; unlike in olden days when the Church’s priest performed that function.
The Quranic commands are common-sense for societal and legal requirements. It is emphasised here that Islam is NOT a church based, priest lead “Religion”. It should have no part today to play in marriage/divorce Civil Legalities as an essential. A Momin believes that Al-mighty God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent and possessing all knowledge, and is “…closer to their jugular vein 50-16” so He has NO need therefore of a representative to inform HIM of the happenings! Why would He otherwise ordain the requirement of civil witnesses to give these functions a legal status? As argued, marriage and divorce are societal, legal issues and not church based rites in today’s world of established civil legal systems. Therefore, an official registrar is a must and should suffice, for “God wishes every facility for you; He does NOT wish to put you to difficulties2-185”.
As necessity is the mother of inventions; the church has joined in by providing priests who are also Marriage celebrant and act as official Registrar. The pragmatic truism of the times therefore is “If you can’t beat them, join them”
It is appreciated that this statement in some quarters will be taken as ‘liberal’ and even blasphemous, alas!
The flip side of the coin, the Divorce, which is becoming more common, particularly in the migrant communities has become more complex too. When the above agreement of marriage is annulled within the norms of the same society, it is more often than not an acrimonious and bitter separation. Though culturally, it does not have the same lifetime social stigma, particularly for the female partner as it had in the past; but is still conducted in a negative environment, tearing the same two families apart that once were joyously united in relationship of marriage.
As if property, dowry and children issues are not complex enough, the split becomes even more complicated when Religion is added to the mix, bringing the two tier legal systems that of the law of the land and the law of the Church -Sharia, an Arabic word, just to give it an added Islamic connotations!
Religious and cultural taboos not withstanding; any contract made legally; for that after all is what marriage is between adults; for it to be broken, the same process must be adopted as when making it. Paradoxically, no invitations are given out and no public declaration is made for the community to be informed. No ‘Closing Ceremony’ of any sort takes place!
It is not in jest, but for Muslim Churches which accept three shouts of “I Divorce you” as legal for divorce:-
تين طلاق کے زور پيہ گھر سے باہر گھروالی ہوگیٔ, ---the lady of the house becomes homeless;
Should not logically the corollary be accepted too?
تين نکاح کے شور پر کيوں نہ پھرگھروالی بنگیٔ؟---a woman becomes a lady of the house?
Thus drag the woman of choice by the hair, Flintstone-style and install her in the house as a wife, just as they do in Stone Age Stoneville.
Admittedly, divorce is not to be taken as lightly as that, for it is a very sad occasion for civilised people to break a solemn agreement which was generally made in good faith. Therefore it should be conducted in the same dignified manner, particularly for the sake of the children.
Significantly, in this situation, consideration necessary to be given is that for the children if any, to grow up with dignity and share the love of both the natural parents even if separated, and importantly for them both to play their responsible part equally and equitably in fostering their children, so that the kids grow emotionally as balanced human beings, well-nourished and psychologically as normal people.
This must be so because, as in adopting a child, the ‘blood relation’; according to Quran cannot be forged; conversely too with divorce the blood relations of biological parents can never be severed with one’s offspring. Unfortunately it is sometimes seen that a much heavier burden, physically, emotionally and financially, of rearing the children falls on the mother, particularly if the children are very young. Thankfully in the so called Kafir ‘West’, the material trauma for the mother is lessened somewhat!
Quran accepts the reality that two mature adults living together under the one roof to have, even after arbitration for reconciliation, irreconcilable differences. Soit accepts the separation on mutually agreed terms. Therefore the couple should be allowed to go their independent and separate ways in the most amicable, equitable and guilt free manner, for the sake of the children if any, and the families involved.
Rarely though, there are ‘ulterior motives’ in divorces these days, which are becoming common place among immigrant communities. For example, where divorce takes place soon after the ‘imported’ spouse obtains ‘permanency’ in the country! The question of economic necessity, legality, morality, and ethics of this innovation is a different issue all together, and beyond the scope here.
The irrationality of conducting human relationship of mature people, when covered under the umbrellas of religious and various cultural taboos, results in difficulties, not only to the people directly involved, but often also to the whole clan and the community. It does not have to be so in an enlightened society
The above acknowledges that the argument is only valid in the context of, enlightened and educated society that honours the laws of the land and treats humanity as “worthy of dignity 17-70” and believes that men and women belong to a nationhood in which women among Muslims in particular, belong to a ‘brotherhood’; are not ‘hooded’ in shame and condemned by the society to ‘ignominy of covered faces…-10-27’, merely for exercising their rights given by their Creator. There should be dignity, equality, and equity in separation for all those affected. All the taboos are therefore out dated and irrational.
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is an Indian-origin Engineer (Retd.) based in Australia for over forty years.