The MCB and the Muslim Marriage Contract

On 21st August 2008 Reefat Drabu of the Muslim Council of Britain posted an article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website in which she defended the decision of the MCB to withdraw support from the proposed
Muslim Marriage Contract as follows:

The marriage contract produced by the Muslim Institute is simply one interpretation of shariah. It is not the shariah that needs to be re-invented, but a change in behaviour among some sections of our diverse Muslim communities. This is an onerous task that cannot be achieved through blustering demands and emphatic slogans that will only resonate in the salons of Islington and Notting Hill…

MCB represents and serves diverse Muslim communities…The MCB is a broad-based inclusive organisation of Muslim communities living in the United Kingdom. It recognises and respects the choice of Muslims to follow such interpretation of the shariah in relation to marriage as they wish.

Perhaps inevitably, Drabu also made the right noises as appropriate for living in a modern state: “Marriage governed by shariah should give women respect, protection and empowerment.”

But the reality behind the MCB decision is hidden away in this statement in the last paragraph:

Disappointed by the initiative, we would like to start again, create a wider consensus and deliver real change based on traditional scholarship and community buy-in.

I did not realise the full implications of this sentence until I heard the early morning BBC Radio 4 “Sunday” religious affairs programme on 24th August on which there was an item on this issue. Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB was invited to explain why the organisation would not endorse the proposed marriage contract. He stated:

Sharia and religious law is the domain of the theologians and the jurists and they are the experts. They will apply the laws according to their knowledge and their understanding…”

According to Trevor Barnes, the BBC religious affairs reporter who spoke next, there are chiefly two aspects of the new marriage contract that have caused controversy:

One is that the British Muslim men waive their religious right to take another wife, and [the other], that the woman be allowed to marry whomever she wishes. Traditionally it’s the father or close male relative who gives permission for the woman to marry. Under the new proposals this so-called “marriage guardian”, or wali, may be female, and even non-Muslim…

When asked which current marriage arrangements are at odds with British culture, Mogra said that, as on issues such as the drinking of alcohol, “the attitude that many jurists have taken with regards to the conditions to the marriage [is that] if the law requires the woman to be represented by her male guardian, that is the law.”

His MCB colleague Reefat Drabu agreed:

What MCB would like to do is to have one document that encompasses all the different schools of thought and sort of kitemarks it so that it is something that everybody can use.

So now we know the reality behind the sentence I highlighted above from Drabu’s last paragraph in the Guardian article. The MCB wants a marriage contract that is what we might call Muslim inclusive, encompassing “all the different schools of thought” among Muslim jurists. In other words, they want a document that allows the woman’s father, or nearest male relative, to be designated as the wali even if she would rather have someone else of her own choice, and allows men to have more than one wife. Beneath the high-flown phraseology about giving women “respect, protection, and empowerment” in the Guardian article, that is the reality behind the MCB’s opposition to the new marriage contract. They may point out other items they object to, but in the final analysis it is evident that they will not accept a marriage contract that ensures that the woman may choose her own wali, or that prevents a man having more than one wife.

I leave the last word to Dr Usama Hasan, Director of The City Circle:

Too many fathers have abused their right of wilayah (guardianship) over their daughters and too many husbands have abused their right of initiating divorce for us to continue with law rooted in patriarchal societies. It is high time that Muslim women enjoy the same rights and freedoms under Islamic law as they do under present legal systems in the UK.

August 2008

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