The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Marriage pact model takes shape

Lucknow, Oct. 9: The All India Muslim Personal Law Board today forged some sort of a consensus on a model nikaahnama which would come up for discussion when the board's general body meets in Kozhikode, Kerala, in December.

The board also decided to launch a campaign to create awareness about the Shariat (Islamic jurisprudence), similar to the movement in the wake of the Shah Bano controversy in the eighties, besides resolving to include land rights for women.

In a number of states, including Uttar Pradesh, Muslim women cannot legally claim their parents' property.

Sources said the board plans to meet chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and urge him to bring about necessary amendments in the law to accommodate the interests of Muslim women. However, the board sounded defensive on issues like family planning.

Abdul Rahim Qureshi, the assistant general secretary and spokesman for the board, said the model nikaahnama would contain a declaration to be signed by both the bride and the groom at the time of marriage in the presence of two witnesses. The declaration would contain specific details of meher (the money to be deposited for women who will be entitled to it on divorce), custody of children and other conditions.

'This nikaahnama is supposed to bring about some uniformity in the disparate marriage contracts that used to be signed earlier by the couples. Earlier, different regions used to have different nikaahnamas,' Qureshi said.

If approved, this would be the first time couples would have a nationwide fixed format for the marriage contract.

However, even the new nikaahnama will be silent on the right of a woman to divorce her husband. Qureshi said there was 'no wisdom' in conferring this right on women as it is the husband who has to bear the financial burden in the event of a divorce.

Inserting women's rights in a model nikaahnama has always been a contentious issue at law board meetings. While women's rights groups and liberals have been insisting on it, others like board chief Maulana Rabey Nadvi are opposed to it on the ground that it could lead to more divorces. 'No society can afford to have high rate of divorces. And certainly not Islam,' he had said while rejecting the need for a clause citing divorce options.

The reasons of divorce will thus also not have to be spelt out. 'What will be the fate of a woman if her husband divulges some (family) secret in public' Qureshi said.

He maintained that he did not foresee any difference of opinion among members over the model nikaahnama. 'If the Sunni leaders are (in a) majority in the board, (Syed) Kalbe Sadiq sahab, who is a Shia leader, was also present today at the meet. He has also fallen in line,' Qureshi said.

Sadiq, the vice-president of the board, told reporters: 'I have decided to keep mum.'

On reforms related to population control, the board has decided to oppose coercive methods. 'If running short of food stock is the fear, India's population failed to reduce the food stock,' said a member.

The board vowed to concentrate on restoring the image of the Shariat in the wake of the recent Gudia controversy, which saw the pregnant woman handed back to her first husband who returned after a prisoner swap with Pakistan.

The campaign will be the first of its kind since a similar movement in the wake of the Shah Bano case that saw the then government overturn a Supreme Court judgment resulting in denial of maintenance to the divorced woman.

The 'save Shariat' campaign will also reach out to non-Muslims to explain to them the rights for both men and women that the Shariat has laid down. 'Our task is to dispel wrong notions about the Shariat,' Nadvi said.

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