I Should Have Read My Islamic Marriage Contract

Why didn’t I? Why don’t a lot of Muslim women? By Ayesha Nair, writing in Slate:

I have two master’s degrees from Columbia, keep the h silent in haute couture (you’d be surprised at how few Pakistanis like me do so), and know to scour the fine print before I sign anything. But I scrawled my signature on the most important contract of my life without reading a word. And, as I later found out, many of my also well-educated female friends did the same. Why do Pakistani women agree to marriage contracts without scrutinizing them first and making sure they won’t be sorry later?

For my nikah, or official marriage ceremony, in March 2008, I chose a majestic monument in Lahore, aptly known as the Badshahi or the King’s mosque. It was 8 a.m., and the spring sun was strong as I sat decked out in a heavily embellished duputta (long head veil). My aunt had warned me: “You will have a headache, an ear ache, and a neck ache by the end of the day, which will be proof that your parents adorned you with a sufficient amount of jewelry.”

More than the weight on my body, I was bothered by how extraneous I felt to the ceremony. My soon-to-be husband had been briefed by the religious scholar presiding. He had also read the marriage-contract papers in detail, making the additions and cancellations he wanted.

But I hadn’t seen the document. When I had asked to, my mother had rebuffed my request, saying there was no need, since she had already gone through it. When I told my fiance I wanted to discuss the contract with him, he wondered why I didn’t trust him to do what was best for us.

My grandmother, the stern matriarch of our family, warned me with a scowl that to read the contract would be a bad omen. But I was still eager to see the papers and began bugging my father. He initially consented, but eventually pulled back, saying he didn’t want my husband’s family to take offense. I burst into tears. My father patted me on the head, whispered consoling words, and said I should trust him.

Marriages in Pakistan are physically and emotionally exhausting. The rituals are designed to remind the woman that there is no turning back. Drained by the festivities and eager for a smooth end to the 14-day-long wedding, I gave in.

And so, during the ceremony, I sat a mile away from my fiance, could barely hear the words being recited, and felt as removed from the proceedings as a guest. I heard the microphone being passed to my husband. I heard him say “yes” three times, as is the tradition in Islam. I heard a round of congratulations. When my mother engulfed me in a tight hug, I protested that I had no idea what was happening…

[continues in Slate]

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