DISCLAIMER: One, this is a super long post. So if you’re reading it, read it till the very end. Two, this whole post is based on the very limited knowledge I possess, so if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me, just don’t come for my head because I mistakenly offended you. Three…. Damn, I forgot what I was about to say. Go read the post, and I don’t know, spread it around, if you think it’ll even make a slight difference.
Hi there. My name is Azraa and I am a Sri Lankan Muslim. This whole post is fueled by a conversation I had with my mom today morning, after which I went on a mission, messaging so many people I know, who probably got weirded out by the randomness of the message and may or may not end up blocking me in the near future. I don’t know how exactly I should go around explaining what this whole post is about because I have so many thoughts simultaneously swirling within my mind and I just cannot seem to find a starting point.
When my sister got married, I was only 15. After that I have been to a few Sri Lankan Muslim weddings and by few, I mean one or two. The last one I attended was three years ago when I was 19. All this time, I simply attended them weddings, never gave a thought of the working behind it all or the politics of how a wedding is arranged and all that stuff. Now I am 22, turning 23 in a few months and no, I’m not getting married anytime soon. But my bestie will do so, someday before I ever get married. This might have been what set this particular train of thoughts into motion. We [this being my bestie & I, & I’m going to call her “Mermaid” for the sake of ease] were discussing about her wedding and all the details and what not, despite the fact that a groom is still not in the picture [yeah, okay, I know, we might have pre-planned everything a bit too early, but that isn’t the point of this discussion].
It was only then that I realized that all the weddings I have been to or have been told of were not what I would ever label normal. Why? Because when it came to signing the marriage contract [which in Islam is known as the Nikah contract], it was signed by the bride’s father. Yeah, not the bride, but the bride’s father. No, this isn’t in my religion. My religion clearly states that it’s a contract that has to be signed between the bride and the groom. Or at least this is what I found based on all the research that I did, and trust me, there was a lot of Google-ing involved, to the point that now my Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with matrimonial ads. And yes, there is a lot of Islamic requirements involved but like I said, this isn’t a discussion about my religion. It’s more of a cultural thing. A weird cultural thing. But in that moment, when Mermaid and I realized this, we didn’t ponder too much upon it because we were focused on so many other things.
Which brings me back to today and the conversation I had with my mom. I will spare you the unnecessary details and get right to the point. I brought up this whole nikah signing thing topic and told my mom, that if and whenever I get married, I will be signing my contract. To which my mom responded with “Well, then you’ll have to go get married somewhere else, because that won’t work in Sri Lanka, even though I know that you’re doing it because you feel it’s right, others don’t know this and people will just laugh.” Okay, now we’re not bashing my mom for being ignorant or caring about others opinions, because this isn’t about that. This goes to show that the whole idea of the bride signing her own marriage contract is so out of the world to this small community of people.
This got me thinking; is this just a family thing or is this a general cultural thing amongst Sri Lankan Muslims. That’s when I started randomly messaging people I know, some who I don’t even know very well. I so very desperately wanted them to tell me that I’m crazy or something because it’s the bride that signs the contract, but dishearteningly almost all of them told me the same thing; that the father of the bride or the guardian [wali] of the bride signs the contract. I will not go into detail about the Islamic rules and regulations about the gaurdian/wali, because I will get side tracked about that and we will actually never discuss the actual thing that I want to talk about.
Based on all the responses I got, this is what I know: majority of the Sri Lankan Muslims get married this way. Key word, I said majority, so the minority, please don’t come for my head. Actually no, tell me who you people are because if it’s common for you guys to let the bride sign her own marriage contract, which by the way is supposed to be a normal thing, your existence is very much appreciated.
Now that you have the background story and all the necessary details you need to know in order to understand the next few stuff that I’m about to discuss, we can get to the actual point of this whole post.
Why is this a current practice, especially in today’s day and age? It’s not a religious practice. Actually, like I mentioned, based on my research, the bride is supposed to sign the contract, so technically, you might be slightly on the not so religious spectrum here. Which brings us back to the fact that it is purely a cultural practice. [Yes, I’m very much aware that there are different Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence who have different customs and practices, so maybe this isn’t purely a cultural thing, but considering the fact that I truly lack any sort of knowledge regarding these Islamic schools, I’m going to go ahead with the cultural aspect.]
Now that I’ve established my not-so-stable credibility regarding the fact that I’m not arguing in favor of something forbidden [or Haram, as we say in Islam], let’s get to my next “why”? Why are the girls of the current generation fine with this? Or maybe they are not, because though I am a Sri Lankan Muslim, I never grew up there. Which is why I’ve witnessed like three weddings in total and had to go badger other people for information regarding this whole matter. This is a cultural thing, you grew up thinking it is so very normal, so you go along with it. You might be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, artist, chef, architect, etc etc etc, but you still go along with this, you may or may not have questioned this practice, but at the end of the day, you don’t sign your Nikah contract.
Whilst I was questioning people about this, one person asked me “Why”. I didn’t say anything back to this person, but the first thing that came to my mind was “Why do YOU not find this abnormal”. Another person mentioned that they found it to be a weird tradition & I knew that it wasn’t only me who did so, and I felt glad that it wasn’t just me. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, some people find this to be completely normal and some don’t and I obviously happen to belong in the latter category.
It’s such a basic right. It is the girl marrying the guy. It is not her father, not her guardian, it is the girl who has to marry that guy, and has to live in that marriage. So why can she not sign it? Just why? The guy gets to sign the contract, so why not her? It’s not a big deal to many people. Some have laughed it off whenever I have brought this up. Some find it ridiculous that I’m fixated on something so small, it’s just a signature after all, they’ve told me. But that is the thing, it is just not a signature in my eyes. It is the beginning of something new, of a new journey, of a new life, and most importantly, it is about the power and rights she has in this particular journey. The simple act of her not signing it, in my eyes feels like she has no control over what is happening. As terrible as this is going to sound, and probably very un-Islamic of me to say this, but it feels like a freaking transaction; “Here you go, here is my daughter, and now we’re agreeing that I’m handing her over to you”. But you know how it will be if she signs it, “ I’m agreeing to be your wife, because I want to”. Now in no way am I implying that these are forced marriages or there was no consent or anything of that sort, please, let’s not even go there.
I know I seem to be very much hung up on just one tiny signature. But marriage is about equal rights and I truly believe that equality starts right from the beginning and in that sense, it should start with two signatures; the bride’s and the groom’s, and not those of the groom and the bride’s father.
Yes, yes, I know, the key word I used before, “majority” might not even be a majority because come on, how many people do I actually know that I came to the conclusion based simply on their replies, that majority of the Sri Lankan Muslims marry in this way. This is one time that I genuinely would love to be proved wrong. I don’t mind. All of you just reveal yourselves and tell me that this is not how things work in this community. Tell me that the bride has the power to sign her own Nikah contract. Tell me that this whole post is simply about a few families who follow this outdated tradition. And tell me that maybe you just know a way to magically change things, to change age old traditions, to change people’s mindsets, to make more people aware of things that happen amongst minorities which no one ever pays attention to, because it’s a minority, so who cares, right?