March 27, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5695

Pakistan's Council Of Islamic Ideology Approves Child Marriage, Permits Muslim Husband To Marry Another Wife Without First Wife's Consent

March 27, 2014
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 5695

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a constitutional body in Pakistan that advises the Pakistani government to ensure that the country's laws are compliant with Islam, has attracted public criticism by granting its approval to child marriage and by arguing that a Muslim man doesn't need his wife's permission to marry another wife.

A two-day meeting of the CII was held in Islamabad on March 10-11 under the chairmanship of Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani, a leading cleric. At the meeting, the CII members discussed the existing family laws of Pakistan and their compliance with Islam. According to a media report, CII chairman Maulana Sheerani said that several clauses of the Muslim Family Law 1961 contradict Islamic sharia.[1] Sheerani said that the current law has "made the process of entering into a second marriage complicated," and clarified: "Islamic sharia law does not require permission from a wife before a man enters into another marriage, while according to the Muslim Family Law 1961 permission from any existing wives is mandatory, which … is contrary to Islamic sharia law." [2]

Sheerani's view, expressed after the CII meeting of March 10, attracted anger from liberal writers on the micro-blogging site Twitter. Before the anger could die down, the CII delivered another judgment following its meeting next day, March 11. According to a media report, the CII said that there is no minimum age in Islam for marriage, and effectively approved child marriage by arguing that Pakistani laws "related to minimum age of marriage were un-Islamic and that children of any age could get married if they attain puberty."[3] Explaining the Islamic sharia position, Sheerani argued: "Even minors can have nikah [marriage] but that has to be executed by the guardians… But rukhsati [the bride moving to husband's home to live with him] can be executed only after attaining the age of puberty."[4] The CII chairman also called for changing the existing laws on marriage to accommodate the sharia position, stating: "The laws limiting the age for both the segments of marriage are un-Islamic and need to be rectified."

On Twitter, Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid derided the CII decision, saying the CII "really makes it look like Islam … is against women!"[5] Her tweet also reminded that the CII had earlier ruled that "no DNA" is "permissible" as evidence in rape cases in Pakistan.[6] Gul Bukhari, a columnist and human rights campaigner, tweeted rhetorically: "With these guys around, who needs [the] Taliban."[7] In a tweet, journalist and blogger Maheen Usmani reminded that the real issues in Pakistan are terrorism, famine, and education, but for the CII, it is "oiling wheels of second marriage" and "making it legit to marry kids."[8] Urooj Zia, a researcher, tweeted: "And now, the CII wants to legalize childhood sexual abuse in Pakistan."

Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani (left)

Editorial In Liberal Daily: "Child Marriage Is A Curse That Robs Children – Especially The Girl Child – Of Their Innocence And Childhood"; "It Is Best That The CII Is Disbanded"

In an editorial titled "CII's regressive mindset," the liberal newspaper Dawn observed:[9]

"It was a pronouncement that left many stunned. The Council of Islamic Ideology reportedly declared … that laws barring child marriage in Pakistan were 'un-Islamic.' This shocking statement overtook the declaration made … by the Council's chairman, Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani, that the current law requiring a man to seek written permission from his wife before contracting a second marriage should be amended. These statements speak volumes for the kind of issues that are on the ulema's [i.e. clerics'] list of priorities, and the medieval mindset that dominates religious discourse in this country. Let us be clear: child marriage is a curse that robs children - especially the girl child - of their innocence and childhood. Such statements from clerics, even if they are made in an advisory, non-binding capacity, only work to reverse the human rights gains that have been made in Pakistan, and to alienate Pakistan in the comity of nations.

"As it is, Pakistan is a highly unfriendly place for children. This is a society that tolerates child labor and violence against children, where youngsters are traded like chattel to settle disputes as part of tradition. In such a backdrop, the CII's pronouncement sends all the wrong signals. In fact, the Council's priorities are extremely muddled. Instead of working to promote enlightenment, it has only solidified the role of the regressive mindset. Why do the members of the CII, in fact most ulema, shy away from what should be focused on? Many of Pakistan's current problems are rooted in society's drift towards extremism, which has been aided by ultra-conservative clergymen.

"Yet the ulema seem less concerned about existential issues that confront Pakistan and problems that threaten to tear apart the social fabric. For example, the menace of terrorism is condemned only passively. Efforts have been made to address the scourge of sectarianism [Sunni-Shia conflict], including by the CII, but little has been done to carry the message of sectarian harmony to the mosque and madrassas, and to rein in communal [sectarian] rabble-rousers. And while they are quick to weigh in on issues such as child marriage and multiple wives, clerics seldom forcefully condemn the dreadful treatment meted out to women and children in Pakistan, often in the name of 'religion' and 'culture.'

"The 'advice' offered by the CII to the government is best left ignored. As we have argued before, with an elected parliament in place, containing numerous shades of political thought, including religious parties, to legislate ... the Council has little utility. If this is the level of its 'advice,' it is best that the CII is disbanded. Meanwhile, as those who stand for human rights face off against the defenders of regression, the politicians must stand up and openly side with the forces in society working to promote progressive thought."

Pakistani Blogger: "The CII Have Also Decreed That It Is 'Un-Islamic' To Fix The Minimum Age For Marriage At 18 (For Boys) And 16 (For Girls); It Looks Like They Want Us To Go Back To The Stone Ages"

Given below are excerpts from a blog written by Shakir Lakhani, an engineer and teacher, who explains the complications of a second marriage in Pakistan:

"I asked a man who took a second wife why he felt the need to do so. He replied, 'After seven daughters my wife stopped producing and I desperately wanted a son, so I married again.' I asked him if he had sought his wife's permission to which he replied, 'That's out of the question! I just told her I was taking another wife.' Concerned, I persisted and asked him if she would have permitted him to marry a second time if he had asked her, to which he firmly replied, 'If she had objected, I'd have immediately divorced her and she knew it.'

"This man took a third wife when his second wife became infertile after giving birth to five girls. Ten years have passed and the third wife is the mother of four but still no son for him. Apart from the one who has three wives, I've known very few polygamous men. One was a relative who took a second wife because his first one was barren. Another one told his sons about a secret wife when doctors told him he didn't have long to live. And then, there was one who sent his wife and children for a month-long holiday to Murree [near Islamabad] and married a film actress. His brother also had a secret wife who emerged after his death.

"When you get down to it, although Islam permits polygamy there are strict conditions attached. A man has to treat all his wives equally [in sexual intercourse] – something physically impossible to do. What this means is, if the first wife gives him a sound thrashing, he has to go to his other wives and get beaten by them one by one! Jokes apart, only a fool would want to have more than one wife nowadays with the cost of living so high that most people barely earn enough to keep body and soul together. Another thing to consider: there are 106 males for every 100 females in Pakistan and hence, many Pakistani males will remain single unless of course, they get wives from one of our neighboring countries.

"If an increasing number of Pakistani males decide to take second or third wives, there will be a major crisis in the country, as if there weren't enough issues as it is! But one thing is for sure – if a man wants to take a second wife for whatever reason … he will do so, and knowing how contemptuously the Muslim Family Law is treated, nothing will happen to him unless his first wife's brothers throw him into the sea - which is what he deserves, to say the least.

"And if all this wasn't enough, these chaps in the CII have also decreed that it is 'un-Islamic' to fix the minimum age for marriage at 18 (for boys) and 16 (for girls). It looks like they want us to go back to the Stone Age. Think about it. If we are asked to arrange marriages of our five-year-old children, what difference would there be between us and those who lived in pre-Islamic days?"


[1] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), March 11, 2014. The original English of the quoted paragraphs and tweets in this dispatch has been mildly edited for clarification and standardization.

[2] (Pakistan), March 10, 2014.

[3] (Pakistan), March 11, 2014.

[4] (Pakistan), March 11, 2014.

[5], March 11, 2014.

[6], March 11, 2014

[7], March 12, 2014.

[8], March 11, 2014.

[9] Dawn (Pakistan), March 12, 2014.

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