Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
When two people and their families come together in marital union, it is usually based on love, mercy, and tranquillity. There is, however, no denying that marriage in Islam is a contract; an exchange of rights and responsibilities made available to us by the wisdom and will of God.
Before now, the written marriage contract was something Muslim women never bothered about. It remains an unfortunate reality that even today, we are still distanced from it. By being indifferent, our sisters face abuse, abandonment, and a life of isolation where, in the name of Islam, their God-given rights are stripped away. Unless we educate ourselves on the importance of the Muslim marriage contract, these issues will continue to plague our communities.
I remember a few days before my marriage, I dropped a text to my ex-husband asking him what I should consider putting in my contract. Besides being oblivious to his narcissistic nature, I was totally unaware of my rights and the life-threatening adversities I would have to face. He kindly told me that I had nothing to be worried about, so I left it at that.
Prior to this day, we agreed on mahr amounting to £1,500 and the remaining costs were for wedding expenses. On the day of our wedding, however, my ex-husband and his family had told the imam in private that the total cost of my mahr was nearly £10,000. Little did I know that they announced this to the masjid after the ceremony had been performed. Earlier on, they made me sign my marriage certificate when the mahr had not yet been written down, and I did so because they said that they were in a rush and it would all be fine.
Unfortunately, my father’s copy of the certificate had gone “missing” and my copy was apparently with my father-in-law. I remember asking for it a countless number of times until I just got tired and stopped. In retrospect, the whispers between them, the sly looks, and awkward silences were all signs that something was wrong, and I should have fought harder, but why would a newly-wed suspect her in-laws and husband of such deception?
Within the year, I faced countless instances of abuse. I don’t really know how deep to go with this, but perhaps one day, I’ll be brave enough to share my story, God-willing.
Of the many details of my marriage, I’m particularly keen to share the incidents that happened when I came across his email accounts – dozens and dozens of them. There was a specific one he used to entertain women and men online, arrange meetings for orgies, webcam sex, and hook-ups. I was smart enough to screenshot everything and pretend like everything was normal until I was ready to leave the marriage. But how do you do that when you realise that your marriage is over? How do you pretend like everything is okay when you find out that your husband would write himself notes describing the real woman of his dreams? A woman – who also happens to be your friend – he still hopes to win over, so he can eventually divorce you and settle down with her.
The details in between got messier. There were series of abuse, threats of rape, his mother vowing to destroy us, rumours spreading around, and distant relatives telling me that his pornography addiction was my responsibility. I could barely see the manipulation and was falling deeper and deeper into their false promises. Eventually, my family cut me off, explaining that as much as I tried to make it work, it never would.
As I arrived at my khul’ appointment, a black and white copy of my certificate in hand, I looked down and saw it there for the first time.
“Why is £10,000 written on my certificate?” I asked my mum, feeling quite confused, my heart racing, and completely thrown off. “My mahr was £1,500, wasn’t it?”
Nearly a year into my pathetic excuse of a marriage, all the pieces finally started to come together. This was planned from the beginning. They must have known that he would mess up, that he was too deranged and out of control to manage his duties as a husband. That divorce was inevitable. They knew from the start and prepared for it since then.
I sat in the room with the shaykh, tears threatening to spill, trying so hard to maintain at least a shred of dignity as I spoke of how he raped me whilst fasting in Ramadan, whilst on my menses, whilst asleep, his hands covering my mouth and eyes, my body freezing in fear and screams threatening to escape. How he would throw food at me as I tried to pray, grab me by the arm and tell me to clean it up in the middle of salah, or whisper in my ear, calling me crazy and that he’d have me remanded.
“Is that all?” The shaykh asked me upon giving my testimony, as though my plight was nothing worthy of consideration. I nodded with a heavy heart and walked out.
For those who are unaware, a khul’ is a woman’s Islamic right to divorce. She initiates and often provides compensation in exchange for getting a divorce, even though such compensation can be waived.
The condition for a khul’ is that the husband must also agree to it, and there really is no limit to how much compensation he can ask for. A good man would, of course, realise that his marriage is over and neither keep his wife hanging nor ask for an extortionate amount, if at all. A man like my ex-husband, many of whom are out there, did not only request for the false amount on my marriage certificate, but also asked for my gifts, my gold, and more. I offered the mahr. I did what I could with Allah in mind, wary of oppressing another soul and having to face Allah’s wrath in the akhirah, but my ex-husband and his family made it impossible for me to get the Khul’ done.
The words of my ex-husband remain imprinted on my mind, and I think of the women who are living the very threats he gave me.
“I’m never going to divorce you. I’m going to leave you hanging whilst I get married again because I can! You’ll grow old, wrinkly, barren, and disgusting, and only then will I give you your relief. By then, not a single man will look your way and you’ll die alone.”
After nearly a year of trying to negotiate Khul’, I brought out the screenshots I had saved earlier in our marriage. I wrote an affidavit detailing the horrors I faced. I presented all the images of half-naked women he was in contact with, the conversations, the website links, his username, and the heinous porn-influenced preferences ticked on that site. I told him that unless he feared Allah enough to let me go, everyone would know the truth. To my utmost surprise, I received my talaq two days after and became a free woman.
I wouldn’t, however, declare that a victory. Why did I have to issue a threat to my ex-husband just to receive my right to khul’? Why did I even have to go to the imams; men who neither know me nor care about me enough to recognise the risk my life was at? If I wanted to leave, if I needed to leave, I should have been able to do so without seeking the approval of a panel of elderly men, my abusive ex, and the community. Had I stipulated the delegation of talaq, then I would have declared it at that moment, rid myself of my perpetrator, and focus on my wellbeing and journey back to strength.
Unfortunately, there’s still an uproar from many Muslims today when women choose to assert their God-given rights and suggest conditions that are completely halal and acceptable. Men are able to divorce women on a whim, when angered, out of boredom, or because their wife is infertile, but women are dragged through hell and back just so they don’t die at the hands of their abuser. If a man can leave his wife because he so desperately wants to, why is a woman seen as heartless for the same thing? If a man decides to give talaq because he is struggling to support his wife during her sickness, why must a woman tolerate it?
For too long, women have been forced to remain silent and sit patiently beyond their limits, promised Jannah as a reward for their hardship, but the same argument is never put forward for our male counterparts. Think of the woman whose husband has disappeared so she remains alone, never allowed to remarry nor move on, or threatens to remarry when he knows it hurts her. Think of the woman who is forced to work full-time and raise the children because her husband enjoys living off her income and servitude, and thus refuses to find a job. Think of the woman whose husband suffers from a serious addiction, causing her harm. These are real women facing real issues in our Muslim spaces.
The Muslim marriage contract has, and will, remain a means of protection and safety that Allah has made available for us. These conditions are not there to remove the true purpose of marriage, but to enable a woman to live freely with her partner without fear of abandonment, harm and hardship. In many ways, it only enhances the fact that marriage is contentment for the soul, coolness of the eyes and joy for eternity, bi’ithnillah. We so often pray that Allah grants us a spouse who is to be “like a garment”, but how can we feel enveloped in security when the man we wish to marry is offended that you would even ask for what Allah has made permissible? You wouldn’t sign a contract in any other circumstance without considering all possible risks and preparing for the worst, so why, when marriage is for life, do we feel guilty and ashamed to do so?
Marriage is a blessing and the beginning of the rest of your life with a partner you can’t wait to spend your life with. I would, however, label it as dangerous if we were to simply trust the narrative portrayed by the community. We must do our due diligence, rely on Allah but tie our camel as we embark upon this huge journey into marital life. Never feel shy to ask for what you are owed, and never feel disheartened when people react negatively; it says more about them than it does you. We can have beautiful marriages, and we will, but we must also strive to create beauty for ourselves should difficulty befall us.
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