Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

November 2008
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Letters

New Nikahnama: Substantive Progress
Rafia Zakaria, Attorney, United States
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com
 In August of this year, The Muslim Institute, a think-tank based in the UK, released a new Muslim marriage contract or nikahnama. The new nikahnama, which took four years of negotiations among various Islamic sharia councils, has been welcomed as the most historic advance in sharia law in Britain in a hundred years. Noteworthy changes in the nikahnama include an overt commitment to equality between men and women. This is translated into actual stipulations by: doing away with the wali requirement and enabling Muslim women to contract their own marriages, delegation of the right to divorce or talaq-e-tafweed — making it possible for either party to initiate divorce proceedings without affecting their financial rights under the contract, and forbidding polygamy both in the UK and abroad. The new nikahnama has been endorsed by several leading Muslim organisations in the UK including the Imams and Mosques Council (UK), Muslim Council of Britain, The Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK, Utrujj Foundation and The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. According to the authors, one of the purposes of the document is to bring Muslim family law in Britain in line with the advances in sharia jurisprudence that have been legislated in other parts of the Muslim world. Indeed several of the progressive interpre-tations of sharia included in the new document, which its authors are pushing to be used in every Muslim marriage in Britain, have precedent in other Muslim countries.

In Moroccan family law, the requirement for a wali has been abandoned and in Algeria it is optional. In addition, in both Pakistan and Bangladesh (which follow Hanafi jurisprudence), a woman has the right to talaq-e-tafweed and can ask for a divorce without jeopardising her financial interests as pursuant to the document. The requirement to waive the right to polygamy — a criminal offence in Britain — also follows interpretations of sharia which recognise that the perfect justice that is demanded to be applied between wives is a human impossibility thus invalidating the premise of polygamy itself.

 Currently, Islamic marriages conducted by an imam are not recognised in Britain, with the result that most British Muslims have to contract two marriages, one with an imam and another in civil court. The result has been that many Muslim marriages are not registered with civil authorities causing all sorts of problems for spouses that can be denied immigration and state benefits because of their lack of official status. The hope is that this uniform written document will make inroads towards having the British Government recognise Islamic marriages as a form of legal marriage without requiring Muslims to go through two different ceremonies. Further, it will put an end to de facto Islamic marriages that are promulgated without a written nikahnama and with little negotiation regarding the rights of the spouses or the obligations of each party in the case of divorce. The other side up in arms over this new nikahnama is conservative British clerics who see any institution of gender equality within Islam as a threat rather than a cause for celebration.  Another critique of the document has been made by Shaykh Abu Yousuf Tawfique Chowdhury, director of Al Kauthar and Mercy Mission, who insists that “the contract lowers the status and position of the husband treating him constantly with mistrust whereas the position of husband is one of tremendous right over the wife”.

In terms of substantive progress, the new nikahnama should be celebrated as a form of consensus among British Muslims that recognises the urgent necessity of reforming Sharia towards gender equality. The onus now lies with the British Government which can no longer use the argument of protecting Muslim women in its refusal to recognise Islamic marriages.
Relevant
J. Am. Abdul Kader
Tirunelveli (T.N.)
The editorial ‘The Missing Catalyst’ in the September 2008 issue is apt and relevant to the times we live in. the elite must sit, analyse deeply and initiate measures to promote social service among Muslims. Interdependence is on the increase in the world and Muslim must contribute by setting up social service institutions. The question we need to address to ourselves is whether we are contributing anything to the general welfare of the humanity.

Late Maulana Karim Parekh
Azeez Belgaumi
No. 1- 2nd floor, 3rd B Cross, Dasappa Garden, R. T. Nagar, Bangalore-560032. 0-99002-22551, email: azeezbelgaumi@hotmail.com
I am compiling a biography of later Maulana Abdul Karim Parekh of Nagpur. In order to highlight the great Maulana’s personality, message and mission, I am gathering all kinds of documents, letters, books or reports that bear any relevance to him. I appeal through your columns to people who have interacted with Maulana Abdul Karim to send me any such documents they have in possession. They are also requested to write down their experiences borne out of association with him. Memorable incidents of tours or journeys with him too would be of interest for my work. All such details could be sent to me on address given below.
Television Channel
khwaja muzammil
khwaja13mgm@gmail.com
I wish “Islamic Voice” could launch their television channel and do their job as good as they are doing with the newspaper. The paper delivery is not on time to my home. The circulation department needs to take extra care about this.

Too Elitist and Preachy
Anwar Abidi
Chennai
The elitist in every society and community get publicity and coverage in the media. The poorer lot who may be doing great work not for themselves, but for the society hardly get any media space. Islamic Voice should be different and explore new ideas where people from the downtrodden sections also get written about. I see lot of management jargons being used in some of your articles and sometimes it gets too preachy. Cut down on this drastically and get down to earth. Cover issues that interest the common man.