How Celebrity Interfaith Marriages And PR Buzz Fool Women
Presenting these marriages as shining examples of interfaith love is problematic, as it hides the reality that most interfaith marriages of this nature are carried out under Muslim Personal Laws that make the women vulnerable to practices such as triple talaq and halala.
Moreover, it presents Special Marriage Act as a foolproof cushion against forced conversion of the woman.
Soon after Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar announced on her Twitter account that she had married her boyfriend Fahad Zirar Ahmad under the Special Marriage Act, a Twitter user who describes himself as a US-based Islamic scholar called the marriage “unIslamic”.
The user, Dr Yasir Nadeem Al Wajidi, said that the marriage may be legal but is unIslamic and forbidden by the Quran as Swara had not converted to Islam.
He wrote, “If #SwaraBhasker is not Muslim and her "supposed" husband is Muslim, this marriage is not islamically valid. Allah says, do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. 2:221. If she accepts Islam only for the sake of marriage, it is not accepted by Allah.”
To this, radio jockey Sayema Rahman, who has a following of more than 1 million on Twitter, asked Wajidi to “buzz off”.
Wajidi went on to repeat his stance, saying that Muslims must stop normalising what is forbidden in Islam, and cite relevant verses from the Quran asking Muslims to not marry “polytheistic” women until they convert. Polytheistic, in this context, refers to the Hindu identity of Bhaskar.
Besides Sayema, several self-appointed liberals have since asked Wajidi to shut up, while sermonising on love and choices, while hailing Bhaskar as an icon for Hindu women who want to marry Muslim men.
Wajidi however is saying exactly what the majority of the Muslim community in India abides by.
Marriages in the community are governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, which is interpreted for them by the Ulema based on their understanding of the religious texts.
Outside of the tiny world of rich, entitled, upper caste and upper class Muslims, such as those in the top league of Bollywood, business or politics, an overwhelming majority of the community live under great influence of the Ulema.
While it may be that some progressive voices in the community are calling for a collapse of this “institutionalised clergy” that, they say, wrongly act as “intermediaries” between “a Muslim and Allah”, the current reality is that the Ulema holds great control over the largely illiterate, lower caste and poor community.
A manifestation of it can be seen in the fact that despite the practice of instant talaq having been declared unIslamic by the Indian judiciary, the community continues to rely on what the Ulema tells them — that it’s valid.
In November, a woman from Uttar Pradesh that after her husband, Mohammed Salman, said the word ‘talaq’ thrice in a go but instantly regretted it, he rushed to the local cleric Guddan Haji to ask if his marriage for still valid as per Islam.
The cleric told him the marriage had been broken and his wife must undergo ‘halala’ to be with him again.
Halala is a rampant practice in the community where a woman is made to have sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband, in order to re-establish her marriage with her husband in case he gives her Talaq (divorce).
In this case, the woman was asked to have nikah and sexual intercourse with her brother-in-law (husband’s younger brother), Mohammed Irfan. She was forced to go the police after Irfan refused to give her talaq to sexually exploit her further.
The huge mismatch between the religious adherence of the tiny upper class and the majority lower class in the community means that while the former may choose to not follow the Muslim Personal law in matters of marriage, divorce or inheritance, the latter lives and dies by it.
For instance, actor Saif Ali Khan’s previous marriage with actress Amrita Singh, who was Sikh, was solemnised under Islamic rituals after her religious conversion to Islam, as was his father Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s, which involved religious conversion of actress Sharmila Tagore, who was Hindu.
However, it was reported that Kareena Kapoor had refused to undergo conversion for her marriage with Saif and registered the marriage under the Special Marriage Act, which does not require any of the spouse in an interfaith marriage to convert. Swara has done the same in her marriage with Fahad.
But look around, how many interfaith marriages really ensure religious freedom to spouses?
Just last month, a Hindu woman from a scheduled caste filed a case against her husband Mohammed Sadiq, who she had married against her family’s wishes, of forcefully converting her to his religion and getting her sexually exploited by his family members (FIR number 7/2023 at Cantt police station, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, on 5 January).
A month earlier, a Hindu woman filed a case against her husband, Mohammed Kaleemulla, of posing as a Hindu named Sameer to form a relationship with her, forcing her to leave her marriage, and then getting her converted to Islam through nikah after revealing his real identity.
She went to the police after Kaleemulla left her to form a relationship with another Hindu woman (FIR number 324/2022 filed at Husainganj police station of Siwan district in Bihar).
The same month, a woman named Madhu Vishwakarma filed a case against her husband, Mohammed Irfan Sheikh, of luring her into a relationship by posing as a Hindu, but later forcing her to convert to Islam for marriage (FIR number 984 filed at Izzat Nagar police station of Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, on 29 November 2022).
Yet again the same month, a Hindu woman filed a case against her husband, Arshad Malik, for trapping her in a relationship by using a Hindu name, Harshad Mali, and then forcing her to convert for marriage.
The woman told the police that Arshad and his father raped her repeatedly after the nikah (FIR number 342 filed at Debpur police station of Dhule district in Maharashtra on 1 December 2022).
There have also been several cases of Hindu women who cluelessly entered marriages with Muslim men without knowledge of the customs and rituals related to marriage in the community.
In May, a woman named Hemlata against her husband, Mohammed Imran Khan, and a cleric, Mohammed Osama, of not only forcing her to convert for marriage but also raping her in the name of halala.
In her statement recorded in the FIR (filed at a woman police station in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior district on 23 April), she said that Imran posed as Raju Jatav to marry her as per Hindu rituals.
Later, when his identity was revealed to be that of Muslim, she was converted to Islam and made to marry him again by his family under Islamic rituals. To nullify her Hindu marriage with Imran, the cleric made her undergo halala with him.
In April, a Hindu woman from Madhya Pradesh who married a Muslim man was abandoned after being given triple talaq as per Muslim personal laws.
She told the police that even tough her husband had promised her before marriage that her Hindu religion would never be a problem in their interfaith marriage, he changed and, along with his family, harassed her for following Hindu customs (FIR number 304 filed in Kareli town of Narsinghpur district on 25 March 2022).
Even in marriages registered under the Special Marriage Act, Hindu women have been forced to convert or harassed for not converting to Islam by their in-laws and their relatives, if not the husband.
For instance, a woman named Anjali Mishra from Bihar married one Aftab Alam under this Act, but filed for divorce a few years later saying her in-laws constantly insulted her for not giving up her Hindu identity, and addressed her with slurs like “kutiya” and “Hindu ki aulaad harami”.
In other kind of cases, non-Muslim men who married Muslim women under their personal laws, have been forced to convert to Islam and remarry as per Islamic rituals by the families and relatives of their wives.
In 2021, a Sikh man a civil suit in the Chandigarh district court seeking directions to restrain his Muslim wife and her relatives from converting him and his son to Islam. They had married according to Sikh rituals, but soon after the wedding, she and her family started forcing the man to remarry as per Muslim personal laws, which required him to convert.
In December, a Hindu man from Maharashtra, who belongs to a scheduled caste, failed a case against a cleric and his accomplices of acting as vigilantes and forcing him to convert to Islam after finding out that he had married a Muslim woman in a temple. The man told the police that the vigilantes barged into his house when he was alone and forcibly circumcised him, marking his conversion to his wife’s religion.
Even within the Bollywood industry, there have been cases where women have spoken against harassment for not complying with Muslim personal laws after their marriage.
Kamalrukh, a Parsi by birth, Wajid Khan and his family for constantly pressuring her to convert to and practise Islam despite her wishes.
Marathi actress and model said that her mother, a Marathi Hindu who became third wife of a Muslim man, endured a lifetime of suffering for not giving in to her in-law family’s religious demands.
Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s niece that she was harassed and abused by men in the Siddiqui family, including Nawazuddin, for being the child of a Hindu mother. Nawazuddin’s own marriage with a Hindu woman named Anjana Kishor Pandey, which was solemnised under Islamic rituals post her conversion, is a matter of controversy after wife accused him of mental harassment.
Ironically, Bollywood, has been on a spree making films mocking ‘love jihad’, but that’s a different story.
Presenting Swara’s marriage to women as a shining example of interfaith love is thus problematic for these reasons:
One, it hides the reality that most interfaith marriages of this nature are carried out under Muslim Personal Laws that make the women vulnerable to practices such as triple talaq and halala.
Two, it presents Special Marriage Act as a foolproof cushion against forced conversion of the woman.
It is to be noted that while Swara, who is daughter of a Navy officer and college professor, and is herself a professional actor working in Bollywood, may be fully in the know of Muslim personal laws, most women are not.
While Swara’s privileged background would ensure she is not harassed for her beliefs, most women do not have that agency. While Swara’s parents are seen standing with her during her wedding, few families, whether Hindu or Muslim, throw feasts for relatives if their children are marrying in other religion. This is true especially for Hindu and Muslim communities which have a long history of religious conflict.
Forget the country’s lower and middle-class majority, even politician Farooq Abdullah, who has served as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, famously boycotted his daughter Sarah’s wedding with Sachin Pilot over his Hindu religion even though he himself had married a British Christian woman and his son had married a Sikh woman.
Three, people who are celebrating this marriage as a symbol of interfaith love in general, are seldom seen celebrating interfaith love of the reverse nature.
For instance, one does not recall actress Dia Mirza’s marriage with businessman Vaibhav Rekhi or Ira Khan’s engagement to fitness coach Nupur Shikhare being publicly hailed in the same way as Swara’s marriage is.
This is bound to trigger suspicions if these self-proclaimed champions of interfaith love really champion only those relationships where the man is Muslim? In other words, the relationships that socially and demographically favour the Muslim community?
It is pertinent to remember here what BR Ambedkar wrote in his seminal book Pakistan or The partition of India that made a case for creation of Pakistan.
He wrote, “…the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other.”
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