He would have at best written a piece for a magazine on the subject. However, when some Muslim women moved the Supreme Court two years ago seeking a ban on the practice of nikah halala, author and journalist Ziya Us Salam decided to do a bit of research himself, only to be horrified at what he discovered.
Nikah halala, like instant triple talaq, is not common in the Muslim community as many would want us to believe but what is rampant, Salam realised, are misunderstandings and misinterpretations, both deliberate and otherwise, about it.
Salam says when he stepped out in the field, he found some maulanas, in places like New Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi and Mirzapur, not only ignorant of the provisions of Islam on nikah halala but also distorting them to their advantage.
Yet, he says he would not have written the book at that juncture. What changed his mind was when he met some well-placed, educated professionals, academics and doctors, who were also practising Muslims and who were no less ignorant.
“I approached them with a spycam and the fictitious case of a girl who was given instant triple talaq. Out of their innocence and ignorance, some of them agreed to do nikah halala for a night to save the marriage of a brother in Islam. One of them, a pharmacist in Hyderabad, did not even want to touch the girl before divorcing her to make her eligible to go back to her former husband. That is when ignorance about nikah halala in our society struck me. And I decided to write this book which talks about a marriage that isn’t.”
Titled Nikah Halala, Sleeping with a Stranger, the book was published by Bloomsbury last month and is as of now available on Kindle on Amazon. Hard copies will be available once the bookstores open after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.
Salam has to his credit a number of books, including Lynch Files and Till Talaq Do Us Part, and co-authored Madrasas in the age of Islamophobia, which aim to set the record straight on a lot of myths and propaganda against Muslims. So does nikah halala, like instant triple talaq, have no religious sanction?
Yes and no, says Salam. If you try to understand nikah halala in its original Islamic form, he underlines, it is actually empowering for women, aimed at safeguarding their dignity and rights, but the concept’s gross abuse has instead resulted in disempowering them.
What does Islam and the Quran say about marriage, divorce and remarriage? Salam, as many Islamic authorities have done so many times, elaborates it lucidly thus:
“The Quran permits divorce twice. After both divorces, a husband and wife can patch up. A period of iddat (waiting) for the woman follows the first pronouncement of divorce by the husband. It is of three menstrual cycles. During this period, the husband can annul divorce through word or action, i.e. by establishing physical relations.
“If, however, the period of iddat is over, and they want to get back to each other, nothing prevents them. They can just have a fresh nikah or marriage with new terms and conditions. There is no need for any third-party intervention or consummation of marriage with another man – as is being wrongly stated widely. “If after this nikah also, things go wrong, there can be a second divorce. Here, too, the same procedure applies.
“Supposing after the second divorce/nikah they live happily, it is fine. If, however, after this, the husband divorces her for the third time, then the woman is prohibited for him. She becomes a completely independent woman, free to stay single or marry a man of her choice. The husband got three chances to make things work and exhausted them. This way, she does not become a plaything in the hands of a whimsical husband.
“After the third divorce, the woman can marry any other man after the lapse of the iddat period.
“This has to be a proper marriage with solemn commitment from both parties. If, however, this marriage fails, or the husband dies, the woman again becomes independent after the completion of the iddat period. She may choose to stay single or marry another man, including her first husband, if both agree.”
Most nikah halala cases are triggered by instant triple talaq and have more or less the same script. A headstrong man gives instant triple talaq to his wife and then regrets it. He approaches a local cleric who claims the marriage is over, and that his wife can come back to him only after doing nikah halala. For this purpose, a sham marriage is organised with a pre-decided date of divorce.
The way nikah halala takes place in our society reduces a woman to an object of ire of one man and an object of lust of another. Prophet Muhammad condemned both such men, the one who got it done, and the one who did it.
For a man, says Salam, the system of divorce while giving him enough opportunity to atone, it also gives him a sense of responsibility. “But then, not every loss of temper can be atoned.”
The two petitioners in the Supreme Court are both victims of instant triple talaq who were told to marry another man before their husbands would take them back. Both refused, saying they were the legal wives of their husbands, and moved court instead when the situation remained intractable.
The women had clubbed their petition with that of instant triple talaq — where a Muslim man divorces his wife by uttering ‘talaq’ thrice in one go — that was invalidated eventually. The SC said it would hear the nikah halala plea separately and it remains to be decided.
Salam says the abuse of nikah halala, fortunately, is not widespread and is by and large limited to Indian subcontinent; it is worse in Pakistan where people advertise their credentials for nikah halala.
Interestingly, in India, he says, he even came across some non-Muslim men, in Mirzapur, willing to temporarily embrace Islam for a quick marriage followed by a quick divorce. “If this is not a game of lust for men, what is it?” he asks.
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