India: Door-to-door nikaahnama drive

The Telegraph
Bhopal, April 26: Three days before the All India Muslim Personal Law Board begins its two day meet here, women of the community are going from door to door in small groups canvassing for their rights.
The conservative clergy is somewhat nervous and confused, unsure about hype over the model nikaahnama (marriage contract) but liberals and NGOs for women are confident the board will clear the nikaahnama at the meeting and ensure a better deal for women.
Liberals feel the marriage contract would strengthen the institution of marriage and the corresponding "shariat awareness campaign" would reduce the number of divorces and separations. Whatever may be the fate of the nikaahnama, for the first time in recent years the board seems to have gained primacy among Muslim masses.

Anjum Ansari, a senior professor at the Kasturba College here, was woken up by a knock on her door today. Two women handed her a leaflet in Hindi and Urdu. It was an invite to attend an all- woman religious meet on Thursday at Yadgare Shahjahani Park in the heart of old Bhopal populated by lower middle class Muslims.

"Dear sisters, the AIMPLB has prepared a model nikaahnama that aims to solve some of the problems. We welcome the move but we wish to hear from you so that we convey your sentiments to the representatives of AIMPLB," the leaflet read.

Volunteers of NGOs like the Bhartiya Mahila Federation Samati and the Bhopal Gas Pirit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan are going round campaigning for reforms in society. The activists have covered areas like Janhangirabad, Ibrahimpur, Jumerati, Shahjahnabad, Aishbagh and other localities that have sizeable Muslim population.

The religious leaders are not falling behind in mobilizing support for the model nikaahnama either. Representatives of such organizations the Tabligi Jamat, Jamate-Islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema, Ahle Hadith said they were trying to in inculculcate the fear of God and supremacy of the shariat in civil matters.

"If women and men become better Muslims, the number of social ills, such as divorce and neglect towards children will drastically reduce," said Maulvi Nematullah, a city based religious scholar. He claimed that much of the "misuse" of the shariat stemmed from ignorance and illiteracy.

But some women like Mehrunnisa Parvez, a Padma Shri and Hindi writer, feel the nikaahnama can further tighten the noose around women. More than a written code, it is a change in mindset that Muslim society needs, the author said.

In some ways Bhopal is an ideal place to discuss the thorny issue of the rights of Muslim women. It was the only princely state where women ruled for over 120 years after the disintegration of the Mughal empire and till independence.