MUMBAIWhen Maya Rachel McManus, a British national who works as a communication consultant in Mumbai, and her fiancé, Shamaun Ahmed, an actor, got engaged last January, they had a clear idea of their dream wedding – the one that is solemnised by a woman qazi (Muslim priest). Fulfilling this dream, however, wasn’t easy. An eight-month-long search and several dead-ends later, they found Hakima Khatoon, 40, a qazi from Howrah in West Bengal (WB) trained by Mumbai-based Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) in 2016, who performed the ceremony on January 5, 2019.Qazis, considered judges in Islam, handle counselling, weddings and divorces.Just like Khatoon, 29 other women across the country underwent training in 2016, of which 15 were certified as qazis by Darul Uloom-e-Niswan, Centre for Islamic learning and Theology. This was the first wedding by the 2016 batch.Currently, Mumbai has three women qazis, who settled the terms of divorce through mutual consent in 2018. Tedious task Talking about the difficulties they faced, McManus said, “A few years ago, I had read somewhere that women were being trained as qazis. When we decided to get married, it was our combined decision to find a woman qazi. The process, however, was long, as we had to find a way to get in touch with them. The communication, too, wasn’t consistent, making us reconsider our decision. By then, getting a male qazi, too, was impossible, as I was being asked to change my name and forgo the British passport. That strengthened our resolve to find a woman qazi.”Khatoon said she started work a month prior to the date. “We had to decide on mehr (a security amount given by husband to wife at the time of wedding), check identity proofs, ensure the application form was in place and explain the procedure to the couple. We were a little anxious, but the support shown by the couple and their guests made our work easier,” said Khatoon. Satyabrata Tripathy/HT PhotoZubeida Khatoon and Suriya Shaikh female Qazis at Kherwadi ,Bandra in Mumbai.The battle ahead The question of whether women can be qazis came up in 2008, when Muslim activist Naish Hasan asked Syeda Hameed, a scholar, to conduct her wedding rituals. The idea was rejected by some from the community. Eight years later, the All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board appointed two women qazis, but their roles were limited to counselling.“There were madrassas to train men, but there was no organisation for women,” said Noorjehan Safia Naaz, co-founder of BMMA, who designed the course with Zakia Soman in 2015.The transition was tough. Zubeda Khatoon, a qazi from Bandra, said, “Brides don’t mind, but grooms are apprehensive.”Suriya Sheikh, a qazi from Behrampada, said that her son, who reads azaan at a mosque, used to tell her that women can’t be qazis. “I asked him to read Quran,” said Sheikh.Heena Siddiqui, a qazi from Bandra, said her husband used to mock her earlier, but when she cleared the exams to become a qazi, he was the first person to congratulate her. The women claim their work has become a lot easier after the Triple Talaq Bill. “Men are now scared to give triple talaq to their wives, but instances of polygamy have increased, which is against the Sharia law,” said Zubeda.Despite the efforts, not everyone is convinced.“There is no such thing as women qazis in Islam. It is just a new-age thing,” said Maulana Syed Moinuddin Ashraf from Sunni Jama Masjid.