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!
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