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Saturday, August 20, 2022

Misogyny, Pakistan style: As if anti-women Sharia laws aren’t enough, know about Pakistan’s “Quran brides”

Way back in 2007, the New Humanitarian had highlighted the misogynistic practice of wedding women to the Quran which is practised mostly by the Syed (also called Sayyid) sect predominantly in the Sindh district of Pakistan but also in some parts of Punjab district. The Syeds claim to be direct descendants of Prophet Mohammed and are a feudal landowning group.

The practice, called Haq Bakshish, literally means ‘gifting’ away ones right to marriage to a member of the opposite sex and instead marrying the Quran. In Pakistan’s misogynistic and Sharia-compliant culture, it is no surprise that such ‘gifting’ away is not voluntary but forced on these women by their landowning feudal families, with a view to ensure that all the land and inheritance remains with the family.

Describing one such wedding to the Quran, the New Humanitarian article says:

“It was extremely odd – and, of course, very tragic. Fareeba, who is a very pretty girl and was then around 25 years old, was dressed as a typical bride, with red, sequined clothes, jewellery and ‘mehndi’ [henna] patterns on her hands and feet – but over all this she was draped in an enveloping dark ‘chaddor’ [veil]. There was music and lots of guests—but no groom”…

The subject of ‘Quran brides’, the women or girls so wedded away, was recently raised again through a documentary.

The documentary shows how such weddings are sprung upon the hapless women in the household without them being consulted, often not even informed in advance!

Cruelty of forced isolation

Highlighting the cruelty of such a practice, a 2013 report by UCA says:

Some can’t take it and go mad. Others become apathetic and slowly fade away. Most live a nightmarish life, trapped in the hellish web of an inhumane tradition.

These girls are waitresses, child minders and slaves born to serve the family.

They are the “wives of the Quran”, Pakistani girls whose lives have been mortgaged by their families: instead of marrying men, they are forced to “marry” the Holy book of Islam, the Quran.

They learn its contents off by heart and have to hang the text around their waists with a cord. They live segregated lives and no boy that is older than 14 is allowed to approach them. A life sentence they have no say in.

The women are expected to know the Quran by heart which earns them the title of ‘Hafiza’.

Economic reasons

The practice is based on economic rather than religious considerations. The UCA report explains:

This is explained further in a 2011 US Department of State report on human rights in the world. It said that this practice is prevalent among the families of big landowners.

Certainly, economic considerations are a major factor as the men in the family wish to hold complete control of the resources. The Islamic laws which treat women as inferior with hardly any rights, however, do have some clauses whereby the woman gets at least a small portion of the family inheritance (always less than males) at the time of her marriage.  But it must also be noted that the inheritance is given rather as a dowry so that the man she marries will then have control over it.

But through the practice of Haq Bakshish, the male members of her family do not have to part with even that small portion of inheritance which is why the cruel practice continues and is widespread in the community of Syeds. In 2007 itself, as cited by the UCA report, Sindh had over ten thousand such brides.

Arabic international newspaper Asharq Al Awsat says that in 2007 there were an estimated ten thousand Quran brides in Sindh.

There is also the likelihood of the numbers being under-reported. The same report goes on to say that despite a law prohibiting Haq Bakshish, it continues unabated:

Under Pakistani law the Haq Bakshish tradition is punishable by a seven-year prison sentence, but no one dares report such cases. This is partly due to the fact that the families involved belong to the Sayyid caste, which claims its members are direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed.

Moreover, in the past fifteen years, these numbers are likely to have increased.

‘Caste’ factor

Economic considerations are of course the predominant factor behind the horrible practice of Haq Bakshish, but the other aspect is that of social hierarchy. The Syed community considers itself superior and therefore will never seek a groom outside of the community.

As the New Humanitarian piece says:

Syed families are often reluctant to allow women to marry into non-Syed families, in a kind of a caste system that sees such families as being lower in status.  Moreover, in cases when no match deemed suitable exists within the family for a young woman of marriageable age, rather than have property leave the family when a woman weds outside it and takes her share of the property with her, it may be decided to preserve it by marrying her to the Holy Quran.

But it is hard to tell how many families even make sincere efforts to find a groom of the same community. This ‘caste’ system and social stratification among Muslims is a part of the problem that leads to perpetuation of the horrendous practice that forces women into a life of isolation and virtual slavery.

Non-Islamic

Criticizing Islam amounts to blasphemy so critics of this practice are quick to also clarify that Haq Bakshish is not Islamic. The New Humanitarian report said that the practice was frowned upon by most religious scholars and by “mainstream Islam.”

But in Sharia-compliant Pakistan, such factors do not translate into the women being protected from its practice.

In fact, the New Humanitarian points out that:

It has been reported that even the families of prominent political leaders from Sindh have engaged in the custom, but this is usually denied by the persons concerned.

This implies that the practice even has political patronage in Pakistan.

Other non-Islamic taboo practises in Pakistan

Speaking on this inhuman practice of Haq Bakshish, one report mentions other taboo practices in Pakistan such as karo-kari or honour killing, which is described as:

Karo-Kari is a type of premeditated honour killing, which originated in rural and tribal areas of Sindh, Pakistan. The homicidal acts are primarily committed against women who are thought to have brought dishonour to their family by engaging in illicit pre-marital or extra-marital relations. In order to restore this honour, a male family member must kill the female in question.

In other words, Pakistan is the ideal place for getting away with both Islamic and non-Islamic misogynistic practices.

Regarding Haq Bakshish, the awareness of this cruel practice in the public domain was initiated after the publication of the 2001 fiction book, The Holy Woman, by Qaisra Shahraz that portrayed the story of a woman victim of this tradition.

Conclusion

While the specific appalling practice of Haq Bakshish can be claimed as non-Islamic, the fact remains that Pakistan is a Sharia-compliant country with scant respect for women’s rights and women’s status. Per Islamic law, the testimony of two women is equivalent to that of a man. Other misogynistic laws include polygamy, triple talaq, and stoning of women to death for adultery. Pakistan remains a hell hole for women and Haq Bakshish is just one more of the many horrors that women in that country face.

(Featured Image Source: parhlo.com)

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Anuradha
Anuradha
Writer, Editor, Researcher

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