Caught in the religious tangle
By Madhulika Liddle | Express News Service | Published: 04th February 2017 10:00 PM |
Islam allows for a practice called Halala: if a man divorces his wife but then wants to marry her again, she must first be married to another man, then divorced (or widowed) before she can be remarried to her first husband. In its essence, it sounds logical, because divorce must not be an impulsive decision. The decision must be considered, attempts must be made at counselling, and parting should happen only if there is no other way out.
In Noor Zaheer’s Denied by Allah, the author offers several real life case studies. Sakina, for instance, married to a drunk man, finds herself divorced one night when, in a drunken fury, he pronounces ‘talaq’ thrice. The next morning, he is repentant and wants to marry her again—but it is too late. Sakina now has to go through a hundred-day period of Iddat, where she remains housebound, unseen by strange men, until she can marry another. The husband quickly finds a solution: his younger brother will marry Sakina and divorce her after one night. But the younger brother cannot bring himself to consummate the relationship with his former bhabhi. So Sakina has to marry another man (and obtain a divorce from him) before being free to marry her first husband.
And it doesn’t end at that, because Sakina’s husband, every few years, divorces her in a fit of inebriated rage. The cycle starts again, until 16 years after her first marriage, Sakina is being forced to be a Halala for the fifth time. For no fault of hers, she is tossed around from one man to another, her dignity in tatters, her wishes never taken into consideration.
Denied by Allah is an exploration of some of the major aspects of Islamic personal law that adversely affect women. Halala is one of these; the concept of Triple Talaq—a man being able to divorce a woman simply by uttering the word ‘talaq’ thrice, in the presence of two witnesses—is another. So is Mu’tah (a temporary ‘marriage’) and Khula, the granting of a divorce when initiated by a woman. Each of these aspects is discussed through a combination of case studies and quotations from the Quran, the Hadith, and surveys, and detailed analyses of the socio-political and cultural histories that have influenced Islam over the years.
The result is an eye-opener, a shocking revelation of just how ruthlessly a religion can be ruled by patriarchy, to the extent that it can reduce half of humanity to nothing more than chattels for the other, more privileged half. It is an exposé: Zaheer does not attempt to cloak her findings and her arguments, even against the Quran and its self-contradictions. She is forthright, brave, and balanced. She records stories of the rare woman who has fought the system successfully; she explains how a tenet originally more balanced (as set down in the Quran or by the Prophet) has been changed over time by men to suit their convenience.
She cites examples from not just India, but from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Britain, Pakistan and Afghanistan, touching on other aspects such as adultery, rape and female genital mutilation. She shows how Muslim women are oppressed, irrespective of their educational status and wealth, and she emphasises the need for revamping the Muslim personal law. An engrossing and extremely informative book, despite the sloppy editing that lets it down at times.