Leases, checks, credit card receipts, documents, you name it. And that’s not including all the school slips I forged my mother’s signature on (sorry Mom!).
Documents of all kinds require our unique stamp of approval that lets others know we’re on the same page. By the time we’re adults, signing our name becomes the result of such practiced consistency that we rarely stop to really think about it. Now hold that thought.
Do you think it makes sense to sign a legally binding contract without exhaustively going through the terms within so you know precisely what it entails? When you put it that way, most of us if not all would obviously say no.
“I was fairly young when I got married (24) but even then I knew that I could have the right of divorce delegated to me. I brought it up once but was dismissed and I was too in love to even think about my marriage failing so I chose to just let it go. Apparently asking for my own rights was considered ‘besharmi’,” shared Amna*.
“Big mistake. When my relationship goes wrong way, I had to opt for a khula instead, which meant I had to return my nominal mehr. I also lost my claim to any alimony and maintenance. My advice to other women in similar situations? Be smarter than I was and lawyer up.”
And then there’re those who never even knew their rights to begin with — and lived to regret it.
“With my first marriage, I only got to glance at the nikah nama before I signed. I had no idea my in-laws had crossed out certain sections. I became more aware recently when I started reading about the nikah nama form on social media and when my current fiance discussed it with me. Back then, I saw no way out of an abusive marriage and can only thank my lucky stars that he divorced me himself upon the insistence of his second wife, a marriage he contracted without my permission,” she revealed.
Hearing these stories, I have to ask: how is it that the majority of women end up scribbling their names thoughtlessly on one of the most momentous civil contracts they’ll ever agree to without so much as reading it?
And just what is in that nikah nama of yours?
I sat down with some lawyers to find out
What IS a nikah nama exactly and what does it signify?
The nikah nama is a written document that two Muslim partners entering into a civil union must put their signature on in order to legalize their marriage.
What to know about your right to mehr?
Clause 13-16 are all questions relating to your mehr which is a gift given as a gesture of respect to the wife at the time of marriage by the husband and acts as financial protection in the event of a divorce initiated by the woman (more on that later).
There are two kinds of mehr: prompt (mu’ajjal), which is to be given before consummation of the marriage or at the time of nikkah and deferred (muwajjal), which is given after a certain time period fixed in the contract, at the time of death, divorce or at any point in time the wife wants it as it is payable on demand by law.
The clauses you really need to look out for..
Clause 17 asks the parties to list down any special conditions they may have, as long as they don’t go against Shariah law and the law of the land, from monthly maintenance, whether the woman will continue working after marriage or even a breakdown of household chores.
Clauses 18-19 accommodate right to divorce, the first of which asks whether the husband would like to delegate the right to divorce to his wife and the latter asks if the husband’s right to divorce has been curtailed in any way.
Clearly, divorce by a woman is a right has been given to us by law. However it is not encouraged. Often, these sections are struck out completely, sometimes by the qazi officiating the marriage or by family members because they don’t want to think about the dissolution of the marriage at the auspicious time of its beginning or simply because they deem it unnecessary since a woman always retains her right to a khula if things go south.