I was taken aback when my friend, Naish Hasan, called me this month. “I am getting married. And I have decided that you will perform my nikah,” she said. I have known Naish for several years for her activism on women's issues, but I had never thought that I would called to be a qazi.
At my own nikah there had been a male qazi who also performed my son's nikah 25 years later. I did not question that my qazi was a man but I always questioned my nikahnama (marriage certificate) - a kora kagaz (blank paper) in terms of its bland content. I often asked myself why the conditions of marriage and divorce were not specified in it.
I readily agreed
I am sure I am not the first woman to have performed a nikah in the Islamic world. During the days of pristine Islam, when there were women muftis, qaris (reciters of the Qur'an), and muhaddassin (experts in Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet) there must have been women qazis; too but there is no historical record to prove or disprove their existence. With Islam came women’s empowerment in marriage, property, business and religious rights. Inspired by my reformist-poet ancestor of a 100 years ago, ‘Hali’, and with the help of scholars like Dr Sughra Mehdi, former Professor of Urdu, Jamia Millia Islamia, I helped found the Muslim Women's Forum in 2000.
However, before I agreed to perform Naish and Imraan's nikah, I looked through the Qur'an for anything inimical to a woman performing the ceremony. I found nothing. I then consulted a friend who I regard as the most erudite Islamic scholar, a doctor by profession and at age 94, more intelligent and aware than scholars half his age. He told me that of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafei, Maleki or the fifth, Fiqah Jafariya, there is nothing that says that a woman cannot perform a nikah. “Show me one line in the Qur'an and Hadith, which says that the qazi should be a man,” he challenged.
Since Islamic marriage is a civil contract, the man and woman can enter into it like any contract involving give and take themselves as long as it is according to the civil laws of contract, but with witnesses present from both sides.
A Qur’anic nikah
Naish and Imraan had four women, Sabira, Zakia, Noorjahan and Naaz, as witnesses in place of the mandatory two male witnesses enjoined in the Qur'an. They also had one man, Nayyar Raza, as witness. Their nikahnama was prepared by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan and unlike 99 per cent of nikahnamas, this one stipulated many conditions. Among them was that Imraan would not ‘enter into a second marriage during subsistence of this first marriage as monogamy is the stated ideal in the Qur'an.’ These conditions were in keeping with Islam, which permits the two parties to include in the marriage contract, any conditions they agree upon.
Islam requires the woman's mehr to be agreed to at the time of marriage, the amount the man agrees as the woman's dower: payable immediately, but if deferred, compulsory in his lifetime. I do not know any man who paid mehr at his wedding. When I announced the mehr, Imraan, the bridegroom, said he wanted to pay Mehr-e-Muwajjil (immediate). The cheque was handed to the bride. So, on August 12, 2008, history was made in India. Naish and Imraan are doubly blessed by Allah, because they became the instruments of restoring the meaning of the Qur'an.