Sep 11, 2018

A Response to ‘Role of guardians in Muslim marriages’


 


This piece is written in response to the article on ‘Role of guardians in Muslim marriages’ by Mass L. Usuf.

Rukaiyya, a 19-year old woman from Batticaloa was brought up by her mother, after the death of her father when she was a child. Societal and family pressures on a single mother earning daily wage meant that Rukaiyya was given in marriage at the age of 16 right after her O’Level exams, by an uncle who until the day of the nikah had little to do with her family.  Of course Rukaiyya knew she was getting married, but her ‘consent’ was following months of coercion, insistence and influence on both her and her mother. She herself had plans to study Commerce for A’Levels. The day of her nikah was not even decided by Rukaiyya, who was told of it by her uncle the morning that it was happening. Rukaiyya’s own husband abandoned her a year ago, after moving to another district with his second wife.

It is undisputed Mr. Mass Usuf, that the role of parents in the wellbeing of their children is of utmost importance, especially at the time of marriage. But the view of guardianship you present in your article does not take into account the diverse families that exist among Sri Lankan Muslims and the multitude of our experiences in contemporary times. It is especially blind to the roles that Muslim women play in their families beyond motherhood, and also of the negative experiences women and girls have had with male guardians.

Why are only men guardians? 

Mr. Mass Usuf, you mentioned in your article that a father will “make double sure that the security and safety of the daughter’s rights are not breached.” This maybe the case for some families, Alhamdulillah. But for some other families it is not.

Forced and coerced marriages have and continue to happen in the hands of fathers, uncles, grandfathers and brothers. Case studies around Sri Lanka show that the very people who are meant to protect the rights and interest of Muslim girls, are sometimes the ones who violate their rights. And it is for this purpose that laws exist – to stop and prevent injustices from happening, not to contain loopholes through which they can happen, like the current MMDA does.

Like Rukaiyya, my two sisters and I were raised by a single mother, who was our sole guardian for most of our lives. She was the primary breadwinner, our protector, our provider, our trusted wali in every sense of the word. Blood, sweat and tears is what it took for this hardworking Muslim woman to educate her daughters and make sure we can stand on our own two feet. So does this concept of guardianship (wilayah) that you present and so ardently advocate for, take into consideration my mother’s right to consent to her daughters marriages? Is it fair that an uncle or a male Quazi, who has had nothing to do with my upbringing, have the stronger right than my mother to give “permission” for me to get married?

It is reductionist to limit the concept of families to just those in which fathers are present and are sole breadwinners, and ignore the realities of many Muslim families where this is not the case.

The concept of wilayah that is popular and on which laws such as the Sri Lankan MMDA is framed, is based on the premise that men are the protectors and providers of women, and thus have a ‘degree’ of responsibility above them. But in the event that fathers and husbands are unwilling, unable or unavailable to protect or provide for their families and their children, and Muslim women take over this responsibility in providing maintenance (nafaqa) and protection, then does the law treat these women with the same privileges?

The answer is NO. Therefore, what we are presented with here is not a family law that considers the contemporary situation of families, but one that is patriarchal and favors men simply because they are men.

Why only guardians for women and girls? 

Surely parents also have the best interest of their sons at heart and seek to find a wife who is caring, loving and able to be a true awliya (ally) to their son? Surely they are also shedding tears for their sons on their wedding day, as an expression of deep love and concern for their boys, similar to their daughters? Shouldn’t the same principles of guardianship for grooms apply if so?

But I am sure there are many who think women are so incapable of managing affairs as men do and hence need additional protection in marriage.

Once again they are forgetting that in present day Sri Lanka and also around the world, Muslim women are emerging as educated, independent and responsible individuals, highly active in family and community life. We see Muslim women heading companies, organizations and holding positions in politics, law, business and education. A true testament to the diversity and progressive nature of Muslim communities in Sri Lanka. These women are also wives, mothers and daughters, making equal or more contributions to their families and households either financially or as primary caretakers. Many Muslim women are also heads of households. This is not only the case in urban areas, but widespread all over Sri Lanka, including in areas affected previously by the conflict.

Also the idea of ‘losing daughters’ when they get married is prehistoric and exist only in Indian advertisements. In many families there is no difference between the roles that daughters and sons play in their families. In fact a popular topic of dinner conversations these days is the opinion that when a daughter marries, the family is gaining a son, but when a son marries they are losing their own son. This may or may not be true in all cases, but I am sure you know of many families where daughters end up as primary caretakers of elderly parents and siblings.

Many of my female cousins and Muslim friends support the education and upkeep of their own brothers. So in the absence of a father, does this mean the brothers that they cared for are the ones who need to give them permission to marry?

Bad marriages don’t happen solely because women decided whom to marry, but in many cases like Rukaiyya’s also because the men in their lives decided for them. Muslim women today are, and always have been as capable as any Muslim man to decide when and whom to marry, without that decision being dependant on the permission of anyone else.







Consent with full autonomy

Whoever thinks that Muslim women demanding reform to the MMDA are asking for the abolishment of parents role in marriage, has really not taken the time to understand what is being articulated. So let us first be clear.

What is being asked is the granting of women’s full autonomy to enter into marriage as independent human beings. Muslim brides must also be able to consent to their marriages exactly as Muslim grooms, which means not requiring the PERMISSION of any male guardian or worse an unqualified male Quazi. Of course this union is celebrated  with the blessings, understanding and involvement of, and witnessing by, their parents and families. It is what makes the match and the marriage so much more compatible, beautiful and sustainable.

Islam allows women to enter into contracts as an independent party. The ‘contract’ of marriage is between a woman and man.. The fact that a woman requires the ‘permission’ of a male guardian or Quazi, completely removes  her rights as granted by her God and the State to enter into one of the most important contracts of her life in an exercise of her own free will.

‘Here comes the bride’… and the groom!

When my sisters and I get married we most definitely want our families to be part and parcel of our weddings and marriages, but the right to say yes to a man and  enter into marriage must and will rest solely on our decision to do so.

So imagine this scenario, where as we walk down the aisle, my future husband and I will enter into our marriage as equal partners in the eyes of Allah, our families and each other. We will together be protectors, providers and maintainers of our families.  We will together be caretakers of the elderly and jointly parent and bear responsibility for our children. We will nourish, support and strengthen each other in faith and with mutual love and compassion, through the good times and bad.

We will in essence, fulfill the true Islamic notion of wali, where it appears in the Quran (Surah 9: Verse 71) in plural form:

‘The believers, men and women, are Auliya' (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another, they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have His Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.


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