The Nikahnama, a conditional marriage contract in Islam which is signed by the bride and the groom and serves as the proof of marriage for the couple, has undergone a radical change, safeguarding the rights of Muslim women in India by recognising only Talaq-e-ahsan instead of the obsolete divorce law, Talaq-e-biddah — triple talaq in one sitting.
Sensing the requirements of the current times, Uzma Naheed, the head of the South-Asian chapter of IQRA International Educational Foundation, drafted a conditional marriage contract, a new Nikahnama, with the hope that it could help minimise the victimisation of Muslim women.
The inspiration for the model Nikahnama is Al-Heelatun Najiza, a book written by the renowned Islamic scholar Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi. “Apart from serving as a marriage contract, the Nikahnama also lays down directions on how to end the marriage. It not only describes the conjugal rights in Islam, but also gives the terms and conditions that are to be agreed by the a’qid (husband) and the a’qida (wife),” Naheed said.
“The draft is in accordance with Islamic laws and has been favoured by the ulema (scholars) as well. It was presented before the renowned Islamic scholar Moulana Mujahidul Islam Qasmi who sent copies to over 300 ulema. Their opinions were collected and published by the Fiqha Academy under the title Ishtarat Fin Nikah – Conditions under marriage. No discrepancies were registered and the scholars favoured putting conditions in the marriage contract,” Naheed added.
The nine-page long new Nikahnama recognises only the Talaq-e-ahsan type of divorce. “In order to discourage husbands from giving triple talaq in one sitting, the mehr amount, which is the financial security promised to the wife by the husband at the time of marriage, has been doubled as penalty,” said Naheed. The new document also gives rights to the wife over the husband’s property to the extent of her dues and also to occupy the same till her full mehr is paid.
The Nikahnama advises defining mehr in terms of shares, bonds, gold and silver instead of cash.
“Rs 50,000 might have been a huge amount 10-20 years ago, but now it is not sufficient to sustain a family. Therefore, it is practical to define mehr in terms of things that gain value over time,” she said.
For polygamy, it requires the husband to make separate arrangements for his wives. In case of differences, the Nikahnama instructs both parties to follow the rule of the Quran and abide by the ruling of the two arbitrators, representing the husband and the wife. Talaq given without any witnesses will not be accepted.
It adds that the couple should seek the help of a reputed Darul Qaza, an Islamic court, if they fail to resolve the matrimonial issues or if there are any discrepancies in the explanation or interpretation of any of the clauses of the Nikahnama. It concludes: “In case of litigation, all such legal actions will be subject to the jurisdiction of the court where the wife lives.”
But is the Nikahnama capable of solving all the matrimonial issues? “The fact is, no law is capable of solving all the problems. We have the best laws provided by the Quran and the Hadith and yet we have so many crimes both civil and criminal. Only if the laws are enforced by the authority, the rights of the people are safeguarded. The punishment works as a deterrent. We need punitive laws to punish men who misinterpret the Sharia for their own selfish motives. The punishment that prevailed earlier is not enforceable now. As a result, the criminal goes unpunished,” said Naheed.
In Islam, the bride and the groom have the right to include their own terms and conditions in their marriage contract provided they are within the ambit of the Sharia. The new Nikahnama, despite being a progressive document which has been approved by various Islamic scholars, has not yet become popular with the Indian Muslims largely because the population is unaware of its existence. However, parts of Madhya Pradesh have accepted versions of the new Nikahnama as their standard marriage contract.