Blast from the past: the “Islamic” marriage contract

A block of Swiss cheese (so as to illustrate that the contract is full of holes)The new Muslim marriage contract will help empower women | Tehmina Kazi | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

About three years ago, I wrote a response to a new “Islamic marriage contract” which had been issued by the so-called Muslim Parliament (now the Muslim Institute) and a couple of other secular-leaning “Islamic” organisations, and the three names listed as contacts regarding it were Cassandra Balchin, Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Mufti Barkatullah. I contacted the last (whose mobile number was attached to a press release) to make sure that he really did endorse it, expecting him to say no, but it turned out that he in fact did. There are a whole host of reasons why the “contract”, which has been reissued as Tehmina Kazi’s article mentions above, is redundant: it is Islamically invalid, regardless of whether a lone scholar endorses it; it is not written in legal language and is full of irrelevant boilerplate as well as vague undertakings that have no place in a legally binding contract, and so would not stand up in a court of law in the UK; besides this, there are moral objections, such as that, as Dr Tawfique Chaudhury notes, “the contract lowers the status and position of the husband treating him constantly from an angle of mistrust”.

The contract is, from any perspective, full of holes. One would think it had been put out as some sort of discussion document; as a legally-binding contract, either in a Shari’ah court or a British court, it is terribly weak and for purported community leaders to endorse it and claim that it empowers women, or anyone, is totally irresponsible. The collaboration of Barkatullah with Siddiqui and Balchin, neither of whom represent traditional Islam and neither of whom are known for their scholarly credentials, is baffling. As I have said before, Siddiqui’s whole career seems to have been spent with the Muslim Parliament, an outfit which faded from view after siding with Khomeini in the Rushdie affair and having moved more recently to a modernist position, hence their reconciliation with Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, now trustees of the Institute, who excoriated the so-called Parliament as “the Mullah’s supporters’ club” in their book Distorted Imagination. He is a community leader without a community.

As for Barkatullah, one suspects that the secularists who wrote this thought that putting his name on it would stop any traditional Muslims from objecting to it, or worse, enable them to accuse us of going against Islam by attacking this “brilliant Mufti” or whatever, but what they fail to understand is that when a scholar puts his name to something that is plainly un-Islamic, it does not mean that we accept it. It means the scholar is out on a limb, and it may lead to his rejection by the community. It is not the first time Barkatullah has come out with outlandish statements; after Abu Hamza and his friends were driven out of Finsbury Park in 2003, he went on the radio to claim that the mosque would be closed to cleanse it of “physical and spiritual filth”, alleging that the Saudi royal family had been cursed from the minbar in that mosque after having funded its construction. Perhaps he might explain where he got the concept of “spiritual filth” from, or how long any mosque that had been used by the Fatimids to curse the Sahaba, let alone the Saudi royal family, was closed for purification after it came back into Sunni hands. In our conversation in 2008, he claimed that the Hanafi madhhab allows for conditions to be included in marriage contracts and used the hadeeth about “the most deserving of conditions”, when in fact, the only madhhab that makes all conditions binding is the Hanbali, not the Hanafi, and the Hanbali school has almost no followers in the UK. The other schools makes stipulations by the wife binding only if linked to a right to a divorce, or an automatic divorce. He also made out that the overwhelming majority of Muslims (I think he meant in the UK) followed the Hanafi madhhab, as if the minority that do not (which includes the Somalis, Moroccans, east and west Africans and most converts) are insignificant.

This does not mean we should not help women to avoid being exploited or abused, but there are other ways of doing this, such as by educating Muslim women and their families about their rights. If reaching practising, orthodox Muslims is the aim, then it cannot be done without respecting the Shari’ah, let alone linked to a barely-concealed attack on it. Perhaps the latter is in fact more important to some people than the former. This contract is incredibly weak, and anyone (especially any woman) adopting it so as to protect their interests in their marriage may find themselves without any protection.

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