India: Shia women too can initiate divorce

The Times of India Online via WUNRN
A new 'model nikahnama' drafted by Shia clerics may soon give a section of Muslim women in India the right to initiate divorce.
Announcing this here, All-India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) president Maulana Mirza Mohammad Athar said the new nikahnama will also ensure that details of action to be taken and the compensation to be paid at the time of divorce will be put in black and white at the time of marriage.
The draft will be put up for approval at the second annual session of the AISPLB to be held at Mumbai on November 26. Maulana Athar was confident that the nikahnama would be passed as it had received a nod from one of the most senior Shia clerics of Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani. "It is only a matter of time before the new model nikahnama comes into force,"he said.

Maulana Athar said the new nikahnama is very liberal and was formed after many deliberations and discussions with religious experts. "We also consulted legal luminaries, including high court judges, before finalising the draft,"he added.

Enumerating the salient features of the nikahnama, he said Shia women will have a right to initiate divorce proceedings against husbands who fail to live up to their duties and responsibilties.

"If the man tortures his wife mentally or physically, or leaves her for a long time, or has fooled her about his background at the time of marriage, then the woman has a right to divorce him,"said Maulana Athar.

Giving examples, he said that there are cases where married men with kids have duped girls by hiding facts and marrying a second time.

According to the model nikahnama's provisions, the procedure to be followed at the time of divorce will be decided at the time of marriage itself.

The two witnesses each from the groom and the bride's side will be asked to arbitrate with the couple in case of dispute.

All these measures will make divorce among Shias even more rare. Shias have always had a comparatively more stringent procedure for divorce than Sunnis. There are about 4 crore Shia Muslims in India.

About the controversy surrounding the fatwas, Maulana Athar said though Shias had fatwas, only a select few had the right to issue it.

"It can be issued only by Ayatollah Sistani. Only his representatives in India can interprete them,"he said. Nobody in India has the right to issue fatwa for Shias, he added. He also said that everything is not mentioned in the Koran and with the passage of time new understandings of Shariat emerge.

Among the other issues to be raised at the November 26 annual session of the AISPLB will be the demand for increasing Shia representation in government.

AISPLB feels that there should be a national policy for the Shias to prevent their exploitation by vested interests. The attitude of the government towards Muslims especially in Maharashtra came in for criticism.

6 November 2006