Relief For Kashmir's ‘Half Widows’: Ulama Panel Says They Can Remarry after 4 Yrs

SRINAGAR: A group of religious scholars Thursday unanimously concluded that the ‘half-widows’ whose husbands have disappeared in custody over last 20 years can remarry after four years.

The decision attains significance as there had been no consensus among the Muslim Ulama of Kashmir over the re-marriage and property rights of the "half widows", a term used for women whose husbands have gone missing during last two decades of connflict and it is not known whether they are dead or alive.

There is no figures available on Kashmir’s half-widows but a report "Half widow, Half Wife? Responding to Gendered Violence in Kashmir" by a key human rights group in the region Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) estimates the number of ‘half-widows’ at around 1,500.

At the conclusion of third round of consultations over the issue organized by Ehsaas, a civil society initiative, the Ulema (scholars) from different schools of thought representing various institutions and organizations issued a joint statement saying that any ‘half widow’ who intends to re marry can do so after 4 years (as per conditions laid down by Hazrat Imam Malik). They also resolved that the issue of property in respect of the half widows should be resolved in the light of teachings of Holy Quran and Hadith. However, the Ulema said that a detailed edict (Fatwa) would be issued very soon.

Majority of Muslims in Kashmir follow Hanafi school of thought which says a woman has to wait for 90 years to re-marry in case her husband disappeared. According to late human rights activist Asiya Jeelani, many Muslim women who wanted to re-marry converted to Christianity. This led Muslim Ulama of Hanafi sect to think of an improvisation in the existing order. Therefore, a clause was borrowed from Maliki school of thought, in which a women has to wait for 7 years, some say 4 and then she can re-marry.

On behest of Moulana Aashraf Ali Thanvi, the previous stand was modified and finally ‘Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act’ was passed in India in the year 1939. It was adopted by the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the year 1942. Since then this law prevails in J&K.

But in absence of a clear stand by Ulama of Hanafi school the future of Kashmir's 'half widows' had remained uncertain. But the Friday ruling is bound to ease their suffering.

Those who attended the meeting and presented papers and later signed the joint statement include Maulana Showkat Hussain Keng (Patron Anjuman-e-Himayatul Islam), Mufti Mohammad Yaqoob (Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees J&K), Mohammad Manzoor Raza (Karwan-e-Islami J&K), Mujahid Shabir Ahmad Falahi (Jamat-e-Islami J&K), Mohammad Saeed-ur-Rehman Shams (Anjuman-e-Nusratul Islam J&K), Moulana Hakim Sajjad Hussain (Ahle Bait Foundation J&K) and Mufti Mohammad Ishaq Nazki (Darul Uloom Raheemiya Bandipore).

Pertinently, the dissolution of Muslim marriage act 1939 is already in place in India wherein it is mentioned that a woman married under Muslim law shall be entitled to obtain a decree for the dissolution of her marriage on any one or more of the following grounds, namely:-

(i) that the whereabouts of the husband have not been known for a period of four years;

(ii) that the husband has neglected or has failed to provide for her maintenance for a period of two years;

(iii) that the husband has been sentenced to imprisonment for a period of seven years or upwards;

(iv) that the husband has failed to perform, without reason- able cause, his marital obligations for a period of three years. 

Under Islamic jurisprudence, a widow with children gets one-eighth of her husband’s property. A widow without children gets one-fourth. A half-widow, till her husband is declared dead, gets nothing.

During waiting period, the women's rights to their husbands' property are often threatened, says Pervez Imroz, a human-rights lawyer who spearheads the Human Rights group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, based in Srinagar.

The group of Islamic scholars also said that the issue of inheritance of properties of missing husbands by “half widows” should be resolved in light of the relevant Quranic injunctions. 

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