Nasir’s Nikah: One Woman’s Marriage Contract

Ayesha Nasir’s recent article on Slate about signing her religious marriage contract in Pakistan tells of the family pressures that she and many of her “well-educated female friends” faced that led them to sign marriage contracts without reading them fully.

The article is generally well-written, and brings up some important points.  Nasir talks about the ways that the Islamic marriage contract can be ideally used to protect the women who sign it (through the possibility for including stipulations about child support, the woman’s right to file for divorce, or the mahr, or dowry).

More importantly for her argument, she talks about the ways that women are being denied the opportunity to include these stipulations, for reasons of honor, politeness, and not wanting to look as if they lack trust in the husband and his family, or in God.  The removal of these provisions (especially in a country where the religious marriage contract is legally binding) can make women very vulnerable, as noted by one woman that Nasir quotes:

Qaisera Sheikh, vice president of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan, says that she has seen women suffer because of their passive attitude toward the marriage contract. “Later on in their married lives when things did not work out, these women realized they had unknowingly given up their right to divorce, for child support, etc.,” she said.

Although I’m not sure how much of Slate’s audience fits into the category of people who might find themselves in situations like Nasir’s, this is an article that is probably worth reading for single Muslim women in a lot of different communities.

What I found bizarre about this article is that its title (“I Should Have Read My Islamic Marriage Contract”), as well as the introduction and conclusion, seemed to suggest that the responsibility for not having read the marriage contract lay with Nasir herself. That it was she, personally, who “failed” by not reading it, as if she didn’t try to read it, or didn’t feel that it was important.  The description of the discomfort that she felt throughout the marriage ceremony, and the appeals she made to her parents, paint a totally different picture, one that locates the failure not with Nasir alone but with all of those who refused to let her see the contract that she was asking to read before signing it.

On a broader level, the responsibility for change should belong not only to the women themselves, but also with their families, as well as their husbands–the ones who get to see the whole contract that they sign.  Assuming that the bride is the primary one at fault for not reading the contract is letting a whole lot of people off the hook.

  • Shan Shortcut

    Even the girl’s own family should take care of these things. They should make sure that the marriage contract has all the proper clauses.

    Many times, the girl’s family is too eager to “get rid of” their daughter, because they think that she will not find another marriage proposal, or simply bow down to anything the groom’s family says (something prevalent in South Asian societies). So the girl is left in a trapped position, where she has pressure form the groom’s family as well as her own.

  • Shan Shortcut

    I stress that the bride’s family should take extra care about these things, because too often the bride’s family bows down to everything the groom’s family says, because they feel like she will not find another marriage proposal or simply out of cultural practice (prevalent in South Asian societies).

    The bride’s family should make sure that they are sending their daughter to a nice household with a husband who will love her, rather than just being in a hurry to “get rid of her”.

  • Sumera

    There is a culture amongst some Pakistani’s of demonstrating trust in your spouse and his/her family via the nikah, which is why the amount of dowry requested is also usually kept low, stipulations are rarely included or discussed beforehand (the groom/bride usually do not interact prior to marriage, or if they do it is in formal settings with little scope or opportunity to discuss much with one another)

    Besides, the nikah nama in Pakistan is in Urdu (with a section in English too I think)- what do you do if you can’t read Urdu?

    Another phenomenon in Pakistan i have come across is requesting a large amount of mahr (which is not affordable by the groom and never paid to the bride anyway) as a deterrent on his part incase he considers divorcing her.

  • Ameena

    This story is a good example of how influencial is tradition on islamic matters in Pakistan. Islam gave this woman the right to read her marriage contract and accepts or rejets it. But she did not do it for fear of going against pakistani mysogynistic tradition. Her own mother, grandma are against giving her what islam grants her. Also excellent example on how women are willing participants in their own demise.
    So her intelligence, two degrees, social class and profession did not prevent her to be denied her islamic rights like any other pesants girl in rural Pakistan.
    it’s time for these educated women to wake up and stand for what their rights.

  • Shaye

    Girl power that is… The more educated women of different religions become, the better are their understanding about the rights that will empower her without appearing rude at any point. This just makes men and women equal which SHOULD BE the stand in the society.