The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rights for women in model nikaahnama

Mumbai, July 25: A number of model nikaahnamas, drafted with an eye on averting a situation of triple talaq and stressing on Muslim women’s rights in case of dissolution of marriage, are doing the rounds, waiting for approval from the community.

At a stormy meeting last week, All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Uzma Naheed and advocate-activist Neelofar Akhtar spoke of the nikaahnamas they have drafted that intend to make Muslim women more aware that there are ways of divorce other than triple talaq, including a few that gives women the agency.

Both nikaahnamas — contracts the bride and groom enter into at the time of marriage — attempt to make the same point: that there are safeguards for women’s rights within the Quran.

Any Muslim who is of sane mind can draw up a private nikaahnama that will be valid for a particular marriage and in a court of law, says Akhtar. But these two nikaahnamas have been intended for adoption by the community in general. They take a moderate, liberal stand, hoping to bypass the problem of triple talaq without calling for its abolition.

The moderates, an emerging voice in the community, feel that a direct call for the ban of the practice — it has been abolished by every Islamic country and is valid in India only — may alienate certain sections of the community, as it has the sanction of Islamic law, though not of the Quran or Prophet Mohammed.

The law board has also drafted a model nikaahnama, but that is toothless and disappointing, say law board members privately. But given the authority of the board within the community, Naheed hopes that it approves of her nikaahnama or any other “forward-looking” one, because that would be essential for acceptance from the community.

Naheed had drafted the first version in 1994, but working with ulemas, she has incorporated a number of new provisions in the latest version. Her nikaahnama clearly defines the rights and duties of a husband and a wife, and demands that the husband cannot divorce the wife under certain circumstances. These include the conditions that the husband will not grant divorce in anger, or in isolation without anyone else except the couple around, or without arbitration.

The arbitration clause is the highlight of Akhtar’s nikaahnama. If there is intervention from an external source without which divorce cannot take place, it would preclude the possibility of the instant, triple talaq.

Both nikaahnamas also insist on talaq-e-tafweez, the divorce the woman is empowered to grant to the husband in case of non-payment of maintenance, cruelty, marriage to another woman or desertion.

“These provisions are already there, but because of illiteracy and lack of education, many Muslim women don’t know of these,” says Akhtar, who wants to spread awareness on these.

Naheed has already placed her nikaahnama before the law board. But the board has been accused of being tardy on moving towards giving its seal of approval. Naheed also wants the approval of other Muslim boards that command respect within the community and wants the document to finally get the stamp of the law of the land. “We are waiting for the approval of the board.”

Akhtar says triple talaq remains the most common form of divorce. Last year, she fought nine cases of triple talaq in court and won the right of maintenance for the wife in each.

But the radical voice of the community wants an outright ban on triple talaq and accuse the board of staying away from real developments in the community by stressing on social reform instead of taking legal measures.

Activist Hasina Khan, present at the meeting, charged board members to prove that they had been effective in improving the lot of the community. “We want the abolition of triple talaq and all personal laws because they are detrimental to women,” says Javed Anand, an activist working on communal issues.

The issue of triple talaq has been a tricky one for the law board and was discussed and debated at its meetings, including the one recently held in Kanpur. According to chairman Maulana Rabey Nadvi, the board or the community per se is opposed to the idea of triple talaq. “But I cannot term it illegal,” he says, adding that in a nikaahnama, the basic problem is about text and how to articulate it.

In Muslim society, Nadvi says, divorce needs to be discouraged rather than encouraged as it has been termed a “permissible but hateful act” by the prophet.

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