Part I, Written by Saadia Haq of The Human Lens
When I first heard of this, I was like numb for seconds until my good friend from Sindhi community proceeded to narrate how young women in her family are married off to Holy Quran under the tradition “Haq E Bakshish.” Pakistani women aren’t new to cruelty whether it comes in guide of religion or tradition but this manner of creating Muslim nuns is totally unIslamic and inhuman. Do realize that what I was told is supposedly a taboo topic but one that has recently been creating controversy within the country.
This conversation came full circle years later, as I flew to Multan also called “The City of Saints” for investigating honor crime stories. Here I met Shaista Bukhari, a young widow that runs a regional women rights organization. While we were chatting on her work on honor crimes, Shaista spoke of her blood cousin that was married to the Quran and on spot I decided to record this case study.
Shaista’s young female cousin was barely 19-year-old victim of this tradition because the elders wanted to deprive her share in family property. Shaista said, “It’s like a normal wedding, with feasts and festivities, minus the groom. The woman is dressed up as a bride and guests are invited, for the day. The family announces that their daughter is very pious and marrying her to the Quran will bring more blessings to the family. Then the bride in front of everyone present is asked to dedicate herself to memorizing the Holy Quran and places her hand on Holy Quran while taking the oath that she’s married to it until her death.
This woman is obviously pressurized to undergo such a custom. She is forcefully made to stay in a sort of hijab where she is locked indoors, act pious and morally well and nothing that could be against Islamic teachings.” Further more I asked what happens in future to the women that were married in this way and Shaista minced no words in stating, “The victim can never dress in bright-colored clothes or leave the house, she stays indoors and cannot attend family events. At the most she is allowed to do the ‘Hajj’ (pilgrimage) with a brother or blood relative.
I have seen with my eyes, how such woman becomes psychologically ill, you see these type of weddings are done at an early age of sixteen to eighteen, as soon as the girl comes of marriageable age. Since they are so young they start believing in what the elders say that it is sinful to even to talk to anyone outside the family and other ridiculous ideas.”
Such notions that are conjured up in name of religion aren’t new, this reminds of the expression “Bride of Christ” or the phenomena of married to the Church. Violence against women is not confined to poor and illiterate families only as this bizarre trend’s noted among the rich and feudal Syed families who claim direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad. It was first devised to deny women their rights of inheritance and out of fear of property being passed on to outsiders through the daughters or sisters i.e. their spouses or children. Also, like many other ethnicities in Pakistan Syed families are often reluctant to allow women to marry into non-Syed families, in a kind of caste system that sees non Syed families as being lower in status.
It is important to note that two things play an important role in keeping this custom alive, acceptance of such attitudes and feudalism for perpetuating belief systems having no validity in Islam. In part two, my co-author Papatia Feuxzar will bring forward Quran and Islamic Hadith references that highlight how Islam is not sanctioning such type of marriages and nunnery in an Islamic society.
There is no consensus in the opinions of historians that differ over the roots of this phenomenon but we note that it’s quite a prevalent practice going on behind “closed doors” in secrecy and impunity. Independent sources state that annually, some 10,000 girls are married to the Quran in Pakistan but since the victims are kept in house-confinement beyond any social interaction they cannot report or voice the injustice. The Holy Women as they are called are married with Holy Quran and therefore cannot have a normal relationship with a man or marry.
Moreover, local men fear being cursed if they have a relationship with a woman who is married to the Quran. In 2011, the topic made sensation as a young couple held a press conference, asking for state protection because the young girl being forced to marry the Holy Book, had fled with a boy of her choice and gotten married in the court. They were receiving many death threats and the family was urging the boy to return the girl. There are no updates as what was the fate of this couple since then.
Former President Pervez Musharaf has time and again spoken strongly against this phenomenon within Pakistani society and argued for proper laws for penalizing the custom which deprives women of their basic human rights. But there are other parliamentarians that openly support this autocracy, some whose own sisters are victims of this crime and kept hidden from public eye. Previously I have written on my blog on the topic, if you missed it go here.
Pakistan has made progress in women friendly laws in recent decade and under the most latest legislation, the Haq Bakshish tradition is punishable by a seven-year prison sentence, but very few cases get reported due to fear posed by influential feudal power structures. But never-the-less, Pakistani law has already criminalized haq bakshish with a seven-year prison sentence and fine for its offenders. Addtionally, the advisory religious body Council of Islamic Ideology ( CII) has outlawed the heinous practice of marrying women to the Quran, declaring it unIslamic. It stated that Muslim men and women are obliged to order their lives, individually and collectively, in accordance with the injunctions of Islam.
From a human rights frame-work, here we are speaking of two violations – one is forced marriages and secondly inheritance deprivation that adversely affect women’s situation. Due to the inability to reach out to victims of this crime, very few stories actually get reported in the media. However some positive developments are observed; Pakistani film-maker Syed Noor’s Punjabi movie “Mehndi Waley Hath” (hands with henna) that showed how a family forced their daughter to marry the Quran to get away with her share of financial assets left in her father’s will. The film did extremely well at the local box and was also nominated for 16 awards, for highlighting this sensitive social issue.
Another instance, in 2001, when Pakistani novelist Qasira Shahraz wrote “The Holy Woman” where its heroine Shahzadi Ibadat becomes the sole heiress in advent of her brother’s death. Her fate is to sustain the family’s wealth and thus a Holy Woman is created to be married off to Quran by her father – the feudal lord. The author has brilliantly captured the importance of Pakistani traditions and the realistic view of how men always have an upper hand. Islamic fairness is intertwined in the female character’s life and the fact that Islam actually liberates women which otherwise fell prey to such outdated customs.
While researching the story I spoke with many people whom were not aware of the gravity of Quran marriage menace in our society. But despite the lack of knowledge, most communities including men and women fiercely oppose this practice.
In Pakistan, the matters of property, inheritance and asset management are usually under men’s control. And the widespread patriarchal customs do not allow a possibility for women to exerting their inheritance rights as a daughter or wife. A vast majority of Pakistani women do not have any say when it comes to their inheritance rights and here we have this horrible custom taking place where families under the guise of religion are marrying their girls to the Holy Quran. Greed and male domination are two major forces that make such families justify their crimes.
But such marriages have no value in the eyes of Allah and the religion of Islam. Both Quran and Islamic institution of marriage have given Muslim women the rights in inheritance and the rights to marry but greedy relatives and family members see that family’s wealth stays in the hands of men. In Pakistan, we renew our pledge to continue raising our voice on violence against women and abolishing of archaic customs such as Haq e Bakshish that deprive women of their rights and destroy it. #Not in the name of any religion, please.
Part two on Islamic perspective on this by Papatia Feuxzar, coming soon!
Part II Written by Papatia Feauxzar of Hayati Magazine
You learn something new every day. The practice of “Haq E Bakshish” was new to me, and I had to check with my relatives, the elders, to see if they had heard of it before. And they hadn’t. There is no other way to say it; the practice of marrying women to the Quran Karim or other objects is UNISLAMIC! The scriptures are clear about what’s expected of us in this life; five before five.
“Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death”— Prophet Muhammad sallallahu aleihi wassalam. (Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim)
How can a woman married to an object, a tree, a small boy, an old man, or the Quran Karim for that matter by greedy and patriarch men take advantage of these given? She can’t! That’s cruelty. I’m not saying that memorizing the holy Book is a torture but agreeing to dedicate one’s life or your child’s life to only one aspect of the deen is just bunkers! It’s not healthy and it’s definitely not a balanced way of life. A thing Islam preaches about. Excesses are not Islamic. The right balance in all things is what’s demanded of the mu’min.
What do these folklore followers seek to accomplish? They want the assets of the family to stay within the greedy hands of the family heads so that the victims don’t seek their dutiful and rightful shares out of the overall inheritance. The cases from Saadia’s part show us that this inhumane practice is going on and therefore collectively we are raising our voice against this heinous practice.
Oh yea, let’s see what the scripture say about the politics of inheritance. The default source is:
“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two-thirds of one’s estate. And if there is only one, for her is half. And for one’s parents, to each one of them is a sixth of his estate if he left children. But if he had no children and the parents [alone] inherit from him, then for his mother is one-third. And if he had brothers [or sisters], for his mother is a sixth, after any bequest he [may have] made or debt. Your parents or your children – you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit. [These shares are] an obligation [imposed] by Allah . Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.” (Surah 4 Verse 11)
Let me remind those who don’t know that this not the ultimate rule when dividing inheritances. This verse came down for a very specific instance and all cases aren’t the same. They have been many historical cases where a female earned the same if not more than her male counterpart; thirty documented cases to be exact. (Women in the Qur’an, Pg. 149 & Salah ad-Din Sultan) They could have been many more we don’t know about.
So why do many people not mention those instances when dealing inheritance? Go figure but I have a few possibilities in mind. They might know that the woman they are marrying off to non-human things is a worth a lot of money or assets. By that I mean, she is entitled to more than half a share of a male. Therefore, to avoid disbursing these assets to her, the rightful owner, they nip it at the bud and deny her happiness because she could marry an outsider who could consequentially oversee her fortune and cut them off.
AmI speculating? Maybe. But think about it. Why deny a woman her rightful inheritance besides wanting to control the source of the fortune and trying to keep blood lines pure? Please ponder on it.
Now, let’s talk about blood lines I mentioned just above. I tell you, there is nothing more absurd than that. If we call ourselves Muslims, we believe that we are all descendants of Adam and Awa (aleihi salam). We also believe that an Arab is not superior than a non-Arab and vice-versa. Finally, we believe that a black is not superior than a white and vice versa.
With that being said, why try to UNISLAMICALLY keep marital bonds between families of the same lineage to preserve a specific bloodline when we are all brothers and sisters when you think about it. It makes no sense to me.
I’m waiting for the day where someone will say, “I’m a descendant of Adam and Eve (aleihi salam) and you are too. We’re special MARTIANAllah, istikhara looks good, SUPERhanallah! Let’s have nikah!”
It will be equally funny to me if someone came out and said, “I’m a descendant of the first humans; Adam and Eve (aleihi salam). You’re Martian? MartianAllah, but I only marry terrestrial. Sorry.”
On a more serious note, I urge you to report these illegal and clandestine marriages because you will be asked about that on judgement day. Do not be an accomplice by letting your relative be married this way. It’s against Islam. Please speak up! Why? It’s cultural baggage. It’s not the real Islam.
Note: ‘The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff’ is a copyrighted collaborative feature series bringing forward attention towards serious issues within the global Muslim communities. It’s a joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feuxzar of Djarabi Kitabs Publishing and Saadia Haq of The Human Lens. As always we would love to hear your feedback, here at wordpress or through email which ever medium works for you. Copyrights @2015 – 2016