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Author Topic: I Should Have Read My Islamic Marriage Contract  (Read 794 times)
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« on: Feb 25, 2010 04:17 PM »

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I Should Have Read My Islamic Marriage Contract
Why didn't I? Why don't a lot of Muslim women?
By Ayesha Nasir
Posted Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010, at 9:46 AM ET

I have two master's degrees from Columbia, keep the h silent in haute couture (you'd be surprised at how few Pakistanis like me do so), and know to scour the fine print before I sign anything. But I scrawled my signature on the most important contract of my life without reading a word. And, as I later found out, many of my also well-educated female friends did the same. Why do Pakistani women agree to marriage contracts without scrutinizing them first and making sure they won't be sorry later?

For my nikah, or official marriage ceremony, in March 2008, I chose a majestic monument in Lahore, aptly known as the Badshahi or the King's mosque. It was 8 a.m., and the spring sun was strong as I sat decked out in a heavily embellished duputta (long head veil). My aunt had warned me: "You will have a headache, an ear ache, and a neck ache by the end of the day, which will be proof that your parents adorned you with a sufficient amount of jewelry."

More than the weight on my body, I was bothered by how extraneous I felt to the ceremony. My soon-to-be husband had been briefed by the religious scholar presiding. He had also read the marriage-contract papers in detail, making the additions and cancellations he wanted.

But I hadn't seen the document. When I had asked to, my mother had rebuffed my request, saying there was no need, since she had already gone through it. When I told my fiance I wanted to discuss the contract with him, he wondered why I didn't trust him to do what was best for us.

My grandmother, the stern matriarch of our family, warned me with a scowl that to read the contract would be a bad omen. But I was still eager to see the papers and began bugging my father. He initially consented, but eventually pulled back, saying he didn't want my husband's family to take offense. I burst into tears. My father patted me on the head, whispered consoling words, and said I should trust him.

Marriages in Pakistan are physically and emotionally exhausting. The rituals are designed to remind the woman that there is no turning back. Drained by the festivities and eager for a smooth end to the 14-day-long wedding, I gave in.

And so, during the ceremony, I sat a mile away from my fiance, could barely hear the words being recited, and felt as removed from the proceedings as a guest. I heard the microphone being passed to my husband. I heard him say "yes" three times, as is the tradition in Islam. I heard a round of congratulations. When my mother engulfed me in a tight hug, I protested that I had no idea what was happening.

Other women I know walked into marriage wearing similar blinders. One friend, who works as a pediatrician at one of Pakistan's largest private hospitals, described her nikah ceremony as "confusing and far too quick." She said that her father had simply thrust a sheaf of papers toward her and instructed her to sign on the dotted line. "Much later I realized I had no idea what I had signed," she said. Another friend—who is a lawyer!—said she never got to see the complete contract. "I was given this single sheet of paper and told to sign, while the rest of the contract was being vetted by my husband," she said. "Now, looking back, I don't know why I signed it at all."

Women's rights activist Rubina Sehgal has an answer. She thinks no more than 2 percent of Pakistani women are familiar with their marriage contracts, which even educated and progressive women don't view as a binding legal document, even though that's what it is. "It has to do with their upbringing," she said. "Women are brought up to believe that marriage implies submission and obedience and so, when it comes to the marriage contract, they just sign it. They forget at that time that they have the right to read it, vet it, and even suggest changes. At the time of tying the knot, a lot of importance is given to trust—trust your soon-to-be-husband, trust your parents."

The problem is that marriage contracts often take away rights women otherwise have under Islamic law. This includes the right to file for divorce: Almost all the men in my family and in my husband's family cancel this provision before handing the contract over to the woman's family. It's considered impolite, and a breach of the trust that Sehgal talks about, for a woman or the relative representing her to insist otherwise.

Women also forfeit the right to other protections. For example, in Islam, a woman is promised a certain amount of money (in keeping with her husband's income) usually given to her if she chooses to divorce. The money is meant to provide her with some degree of financial security, especially if she leaves her husband. Despite the excellent logic behind this right, most men frown upon it. They put into the contract measly amounts, such as $1 or $10, simply to fill in the blank. And women don't ask questions. An elderly aunt of mine takes great pride in saying that she agreed to 1 cent when it was time to marry off her daughter. "I had faith in Allah, so 1 cent was all I asked them to put down," she said.

But Allah is the one who gives women this right, I protested. My aunt dismissed me.

Qaisera Sheikh, vice president of the Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan, says that she has seen women suffer because of their passive attitude toward the marriage contract. "Later on in their married lives when things did not work out, these women realized they had unknowingly given up their right to divorce, for child support, etc.," she said.

In my case, as in the case of most women I know, my husband's family suggested an amount for the marriage payment. My father agreed to it. I signed at the mosque without knowing how much money I would have in the event of divorce. My husband did not cancel the provision allowing me to file for one. Still, if he had, I would have been able to do nothing about it.

And at moments when my husband and I have fiery arguments leading into spiteful fights, I find myself wishing I had added to the contract provisions like child support and financial assistance in the case of a separation or divorce.

Thankfully we have a beautiful marriage, so such regretful thinking is rare. My husband and I don't talk about the signed papers of our marriage contract lying at the bottom of a cupboard in his office. But it remains a reminder of the time when I failed, in my own eyes, to ask for my rights.

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Ayesha Nasir is a journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan. She writes for the National, the Washington Times, and other publications.

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Your heart will not truly open until you understand Surah 21 : Verse 92  (Al-Anbiya: The Prophets)

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« Reply #1 on: Feb 25, 2010 04:47 PM »

Thank you Brother.  Next time I marry I plan to have a written contract and to read it! I fell into the "I lost my brain" category with my first islamic marriage. I was disowned from my family when I chose Islam and all alone, I fell prey to a horrid situation, with a muslim man that ended up needing his greencard and was charming. he played off my loneliness and I was stupid. VERY VERY VERY STUPID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Verbal contract, no dowry, no wali, some notary who could do Islamic marriages instead of the mosque, and the whole thing later to be a secret from his family. How stupid could I have been?? I mean, good Lord! I took all my rights from Allah and threw them away. I still can't believe what I did. Alhamdulillah, everything has been done and over. This time my Imam is involved and my family has accepted me and there concept of Islam fixed after seeing all I went through. I was so scared for awhile they really were againt every Muslim man, Arab and Islam in general. My Imam and community has helped so much with this, expressing to my family this is not islam. When my father saw the Imam step in and confront Majed, he was in complete shock. They thought Islam did not protect its woman, they fell for the stupid ideas that many do, after seeing my treatment by my ex husband. But when they saw both Imams, my sisters husbands come as witnesses and the President of the Islamic Center they changed immediately. I told them, this is Islam. We don't allow unjust behavior and oppression among our brothers and sisters.

But thank you for the article. This is a very serious situation. A woman should not be shy about her lifelong companion. If you are a revert and are used to western culture where you do everything yourself; be smart and use the loving guides that Allah (swt) has given us. Use your community they are there to help you, they love you. I know.. blah blah blah. I just never want anyone to go through what I did.

I believe in Islam like the sun rising, not because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.
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« Reply #2 on: Feb 25, 2010 08:47 PM »


I don't know if this bothers anyone else, but like for someone supposedly with two degrees and for something so important as a marriage contract why wouldn't you read it? Especially as she seemed to know it was important and tried but then backed down. It's not like she was a convert that didn't know or someone extremely young and pressured by her family to marry. Why would you go ahead and have an ultra conservative marriage ceremony with absolutely no input. And she never brought up any of these issues with her fiance or parents before the nikah? Seems like she gave up everything just to get married. So who's fault is it later on when she's complaining? Also, for all the other women, how did no Imam come to them or ask them if they consent to the marriage? Is signing their consent?

It's true women aren't aware of their rights and don't understand the marriage contract concept but this article is just strangely written or maybe I'm just mad that women are so gullible.
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« Reply #3 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:08 PM »


I think you underestimate familial pressure.

She was exhausted and emotional by all the wedding rituals/parties etc, and when she asked repeatedly to see the marriage contract she was fobbed off, the only way for her to have been allowed to see it I would assume in this instrance would have been to kick up a huge fuss, and in a house where a marriage is taking place, you don't cause fuss, because the house is filled with guests and you have no privacy, moreso if you're the bride!

I would think that tradition also played a huge part here, traditionalyl in her culture, nice girls do not demand ot see their marriage contract, they do not make stipulations either....

I think we're far luckier living in the west, we can ask to read the marriage contract, and put things in, and nobody will say anything, back home, a woman has her place.... and reading her marriage contract is not it!

I vaguely remember my wedding, and my great uncle asked my permission, I do believe he read out my marriage contract when he asked my permission, but all it contained was basically do you accept x amount as your mahr to marry x person.
I do remember vividly being tired and emotional, and the whole thing passed in a blur....


PS Sr Christine, do not beat yourself up about your ex, his behaviour was atrocious, sometimes people forget that this life passes by in a blink of an eye, he will someday stand in front of his Lord and account for his actions...

And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright. Surah 2  Verse 186
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