Mar 7, 2009
She is Sunshine (Chapter 3)
August 12, 2008. A day of contradictions and controversy. A day when history was rewritten. A day when a woman challenged the tradition of centuries and rescripted the scriptures. A day when Lucknow smiled with Naish Hasan and her to-be husband, as Islamic laws breathed in a gust of fresh air.
August 12, 2008 was a day when the wedding of a Sunni couple was attended by Shia guests of honour. If that was not scandalous enough to make an entire nation sit up and take notice, this nikaah was to have only women as witnesses. But what actually made jaws drop and eyes pop out was the fact that a woman acted as the qazi to solemnise the marriage. In fact, the only male presence at the venue was that of the groom!
Twenty-nine would hardly be the age when history is made, but Naish achieved this feat in 30 minutes flat. An economics post-graduate working as a vocal women's rights activist with the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan that she founded, Naish and her fiancé Imran, a PhD from AMU, taught the world the true meaning and nature of the Quran. By opting for an all-woman nikaah, even as venom-spewing hard-line fundamentalists receded to the background, the young couple volunteered to make a beginning and break the shackles of deep-rooted patriarchy that haunts every religion. They are fortunate, especially Naish and her qazi Dr. Syeda Hameed (a member of the State Planning Commission), for few can actually practice what they preach.
The courageous couple and their gutsy qazi have raised a firm voice against the subjugation of women which had for centuries plagued a religion whose name means peace. The spunky bride had other unheard-of pre-conditions. She refused to dress in the traditional bridal finery, refused rituals as baraat and vidaai, and scoffed at the idea of mehr (the bridal dower). She also refused to allow herself and Imran to be seated in separate veiled enclosures; the two sat together on a table, separated only by Dr. Syeda. The nikaahnama or marriage certificate was drafted by Naish's organisation and proudly displayed the equal rights it bestowed to both Naish and Imran in matters of decision-making, finances, marital responsibilities and divorce.
The extremists and religious bigots boiled their blood and simmered their tempers over the flames of revolt, the least of their worries being the bride's age which they perceived to be way beyond marriageable. Nevertheless, several eminent Muslim scholars endorsed the nikaah and hailed the courage of the newly-weds and Dr. Syeda. Tahir Mahmood, a celebrated Islamic scholar and member of the Law Commission, lauded the nikaah as a symbolic resentment against an unbridled male chauvinism typical of Indian society. Also supportive of the event were Kalbe Jawwad and Khalid Rashid Firangimahali, both highly respected Islamic scholars and members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Very surprisingly, Shaista Amber, the President of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, chooses to remain sceptical of the incident that took the world media by storm. She exhibits her patriarchal mindset in advising that religious work is best left to men and women should only fill in as stopgaps for men's absence.
For Naish and Imran, however, advices never mattered. They have come to be seen as crusaders in their own right, disregarding archaic customs and leaving the world over-awed with their brazenness. Cameras covered this historical event held in a hotel of all places, and fawned over the facts that stirred a hornets' nest amongst the Islamic clergy. The day belonged to these iconoclasts, because even while the bride wore no veil and the groom had no customary cap on his head, an important part of a traditional Muslim nikaah went missing - the recitation of the Quranic verses and the mandatory khutba (sermon). The nuptial vows were taken in English.
As Naish and Imran tied the knot on August 12, 2008, they and Dr. Syeda also untangled conventional binds and misogynist nooses. Whether it remains an isolated epoch-making event or encourages other Muslim women to fight for gender equality is too early to predict, but the credibility of the audacious bride, along with her spirited husband and their brave qazi, surely represents a serious challenge to the established order.