By Eram Agha
With a Mumbai family court restraining a Muslim man from marrying a second time till he settled the rights and dues of his wife, the spotlight is on the Islamic law of ‘Khula‘, which is a Muslim woman’s right to initiate divorce.
Although the law was drafted to enable Muslim women to break free from an unhappy marriage, many women say they are unable to do so because the law is poorly enforced. Also, most men not only ask for the Maher money in order to grant the Khula but also demand an unreasonable share in the woman’s dowry as well as her own property. Since the Sharia courts do not have enforcement powers, women say that men don’t respond to notices sent by them. As a result, women who want to utilize the Khula option end up going to the family court to seek a divorce.
Farhana (name changed), a 27-year-old seeking Khula for her 45-year-old mother, is one such woman caught in the dilemma of whether to opt for Khula to get her mother out of an abusive marriage, or to approach the family court instead. “My father stopped living with my mother since a long time, and has also not been giving her maintenance money. Since my mother has the option of initiating Khula, I want to consider the pros and cons of doing so. My only worry is that my mother should not be deprived of her money and I of her property. I will go to the court if things don’t turn out in our favor financially.”
She is not the only one facing such a dilemma. Kausar Sakina is scouting for lawyers to fight her divorce case in the family court. She went to the Sharia court first, but her husband turned hostile and threatened the Quazi. The Quazis say that if the man doesn’t respond, they can still grant divorce to the woman but she ends up not getting her money. “If in three months, husbands don’t respond to our notice, we annul the marriage. But we can’t make the man give back the woman’s dowry or her money,” said Quazi Shariate Amir Samdani. In Aligarh‘s Darul Quaza, or Islamic court, 300 cases of Khula were handled in the past few years of which in 200 cases, the women ended up without any money.
Shaista Amber, who is the president of All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, says that the problem lies in the male-dominated Sharia courts. “I have dealt with 150 Khula cases in the past three years. There is a problem in the way Darul Quaza handles women’s demand for Khula – it is tilted too much in favor of men. I don’t agree that a woman should give away her Maher to get Khula especially when in 89% cases that I have studied, women don’t even get their rightful Maher at the time of the marriage.”