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Temporary marriage scars modern India

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By Samreen Hussain

The Muslim world is progressing at a rapid pace. However, as is the case with all religions, some segments are less progressive than others.

A nikah al-mutaá is a fixed, short-term marriage contract between a man and an unmarried woman with a pre-decided length of contract. In simple terms, it's a temporary marriage. A woman who enters such a contract assumes the status of a wife and all the rights of one.

Temporary marriages have a pre-Islami history before Islam, but remained legal under Islam for a long time and were most significantly established as part of the spread of Islam and to prevent men, who stayed away from home for long periods, from engaging in illicit relationships forbidden under Islam.

It was also a means of providing assistance to a woman undergoing difficulties and used at times to protect girls in early Arabia where the status of women in society was nonexistent.

However, certain sections of the Muslim society have been manipulating the terms for personal gains and desire.

Recently, the case of 17-year-old Nausheen Tobassum in Hyderabad, India, brought into much needed focus the prevalence of temporary marriages in the Indian Muslim society.

Nausheen was forcefully married to a middle-aged Sudanese man for $1,800. The marriage contract was for a period of four weeks. When the groom and her parents forced the child to consummate the marriage, she ran away and lodged a complaint with the police.

Further investigations revealed the widespread nature of these crimes. Some reports stated as many as 15 contract marriages are happening in a month in Hyderabad.

Hidden from the spotlight, temporary marriages have been taking place in the southern part of India, especially in the Muslim-dominated city of Hyderabad, where rich foreigners have been exploiting poverty-stricken Muslim families.

Rich men, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, marry young Muslim girls under the garb of Islam and pay off their families. As prostitution is forbidden under Islam, these contract marriages provide a convenient loophole.

In almost all cases, these arrangements are facilitated by the girl's parents and by marriage brokers who profit from the deal. Generally, the parents are poor and force their daughters into temporary marriages under the guise of religion to earn money.

The duration of the marriage is pre-decided, and the divorce proceedings are started at the time of marriage to hasten the process. Sometimes the marriage is for a month, sometimes for a week and at times just for one night.

Girls in the Indian subcontinent, primarily from the marginalized sections of the society, don't have much choice when it comes to temporary marriages. In some Islamic societies, young girls and even older women, including widows, readily choose temporary marriages so that they can live with their partners without fear of the strict Islamic laws of their country.

The Indian constitution, however, does not recognize temporary marriages and rightly deem them illegal as these marriages mostly involve girls younger than 18 years old.

One would've thought that temporary marriages had run their course. Such marriages have now become a way to sexually exploit female children, rather than a means to protect women, nullifying a significant reason for which they were established. And a majority of Indian imams denounce the legality of temporary marriages.

Religion is a strong factor in the lives of Indians, and many people look to their religious leaders for guidance. Thus, the process of misusing religion and exploiting certain loopholes can be abolished from the society with obligatory help from the spiritual leaders.

The clerics that conduct marriages can be trained better and held accountable. Divorce proceedings can be made more difficult to discourage short-term marriages and the exploitation arising from them. If religion is used for misguided purposes, we cannot blame religion itself, but the society that allows such exploitation.

(Courtesy: Global Times)
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