Where Sherry Rehman and the CII agree

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The Punjab Assembly’s introduction and quick withdrawal of a notification containing eight amendments to the nikahnama law has caused quite a stir. On the one hand, many citizens want the amendments implemented to usher in the compulsory medical check-up prior to the nikah, which would effectively end ‘any chance of having abnormal children’ or the spread of deadly diseases such as thalassemia. On the other hand, citizens including MNA Sherry Rehman have expressed outrage over the amendments, which make it mandatory for the couple’s parents to serve as witnesses to the event. To quote the pertinent amendment, “Father and mother of the bride and bridegroom shall sign in the witness to the marriage column.”

Not surprisingly, the amendments have received heavy criticism for their potential to support forced marriages, making it impossible for a couple to wed without the family in the picture, and the blame for such a regressive law has landed squarely with the Punjab government and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which played a hand in suggesting the amendments. However, fact of the matter is, Sherry Rehman and the CII are in agreement over the issue.

A copy of the suggested amendments forwarded by the CII to the Punjab Assembly obtained by The Express Tribune reveals that the CII did not suggest making it compulsory to have parents as witnesses. In fact, the only comment the CII made on the clause regarding witnesses to the nikkah was to leave it “as it is”.

A quick email exchange with former CII, Dr Muhammad Khalid Masud, who suggested the revisions to the nikahnama law, brings up a clearer picture. To quote Dr Masud:

“The CII did not recommend that parents sign the nikahnama at all. That is contrary to the laws of the Quran and Sunna that recognise the right of adult consent, both male and female.  The contract requires two witnesses only. CII recommended amendment was accepted by the Sindh and Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa assemblies. In Punjab, the Lahore High Court in Saima Waheed case introduced the consent of parents as ‘wali’ but this judgment was rejected in the Supreme Court. There may have been some confusion in the minds of the officials who introduced this condition… I support Sherry Rehman’s reservations on the requirement of parent’s signature. To my mind, forced marriages are the cause of a large number of unhappy lives, domestic violence and divorces in Pakistan and must be discouraged.”

If the CII did not recommend making parents a compulsory part of the nikah process, who did, and to what end?

This question needs to be answered as soon as possible to clear the bad air which has already resulted in public outcry of a conservative conspiracy brewing in Punjab. But perhaps even more importantly, the Punjab Assembly needs to relook at the amendments, remove the objectionable clause(s) which are for once, not supported by any segment of Pakistani society and then reintroduce the amendments. At the end of the day, the need for introducing a medical check-up for the prevention of debilitating and life-threatening diseases being passed on to children is paramount.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2010.

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