News From Bangladesh
February 1, 2001

Readers' Opinion

The curse of Hila marriage

By A. H. Jaffor Ullah

Some sage had suggested that to examine a society up-close one dos not need to look under magnifying glass the intimate details of personal life of people in that society. Instead, the inquirer should look into their social practices. After what is happening in rural Bangladesh lately, I will be ashamed to let others come from outside to view some of the social practices of our civil society. I will simply cower in shame! Indeed, I will get a cold sweat if a colleague of mine asks me - What exactly is a Hila marriage?

One of the not so widely publicized social practice in our society mostly in rural area is Hila or Hilla marriage. In English it could be translated into an "interim" marriage or a marriage in between two marriages. Sounds confusing? You bet!

The practice of this weird and backward Hila marriage is nothing knew. It was introduced at least five or six centuries ago into our agrarian society with the advent of Islam "the religion of peace" in Bengal. One thing we all know and that is Hila Marriage is anything but a peaceful affair!

In Islam it is mandated that when a couple separates because the male partner has the power to divorce his wife by uttering the Arabic word ‘Talaq’ three times, and then if the male partner wanted to withdraw his pronouncement and get back his wife, the Hila Marriage shows up from nowhere. Well, to say "Nowhere" is a bit exaggeration. According to Islam, once the Talaq-nama is uttered by the husband, the wife may not rejoin the husband (or ex-husband) and live in the house as lawful husband and wife. The Shariat (Islamic law) does not allow this. If the couple reconciles their differences and lived happily ever after as before, and if this news reaches the ear of a Mullah in the neighborhood then it will surely spell trouble for the otherwise happy couple. The Mullah will issue a Fatwa then and there telling everyone that this couple is living a sinful life. Not only this rude and back-dated edict may wreck the couple’s conjugal life for once and all but it may also make them an instant social pariah. How? Look at the events to follow if Mullah’s dictum is enforced in a hurry. The couple will be separated immediately. And that is not where will it end peacefully. To the contrary a nightmare will start for the woman. She will be put up for a Hila marriage. To make the matter worse, if the woman is endowed with physical beauty, then there will be too many eager-beavers standing on the line to give their consent to Hila marriage. Why? Because, a person can come to physical contact with the women legally through this Hila marriage. The man may make to love to the woman lawfully through the courtesy of this age-old practice in Muslim society. Isn’t that disgusting? The woman in question could abhor the idea of all this hanky-panky with an unknown person all in the name of religion. For the man it could be a sexual escapade. No bindings, no commitment, whatsoever. Just a one night affair. The victim, however, has to carry this burden lifelong only because her husband on a spur-of-the-moment uttered the word Talaq three times and that is all. Can anyone think about the shame this Hila marriage could bring into the family. If the woman has teenage sons or daughter, they would surely know what has happened to their mother all because of an age-old Islamic edict.

A devout religious man would say there is nothing wrong in Hila marriage. It is all spelled out in the scripture. As a man or woman, we simply have to follow the edict. Let us not even question this edict. There must be some reason or else why should this be in our holy book? It is easy not to take responsibility that way. Just say – it's is all in the holy book.

But real life drama could be very disturbing. A woman in western district of Bangladesh was banished from the rural society not too long ago. Her husband uttered the infamous word Talaq three times and thereby the marriage was made null and void just like that. As per the advice of local Mullah, she was put into Hila marriage. Because the Mullah said in order for the husband to reclaim his recently divorced wife she needs to be wedded as per Hila marriage. And that is not all. Her marriage needs to be consummated. You know what that means. The problem arose because the ex-husband now refuses to take his wife back because she slept with another man as far as he is concerned. Sexual purity is a big deal in our part of the world. In the West, these escapades are taken lightly. But in Bangladesh it is entirely a different matter. The worrisome thing is this. This woman who had no role in the divorcement of her marriage became a victim because her husband uttered the wrong word three times to show his anger and the woman was needed to be wedded to another man. Isn’t the whole process is just an exercise in absurdity. Don’t we live in the rocket age?

In the electronic forum of NRBs when someone vilified the Hila marriage, a faithful from Tokyo then snaps back telling us that it is all in the scripture, dummy? One excerpt that was displayed before our eyes for close examination was the following: "And if he hath divorced her (the third time), then she is not lawful unto him thereafter until she hath wedded another husband. Then if he (the other husband) divorces her it is no sin for both of them that they come together again if they consider that they are able to observe the limits of Allah. These are the limits of Allah. He manifesteth them for people who have knowledge." (2:230)

Our friend must be living in a cold and stony world. No doubt about it. All he could see from his perspective is the immutability of the religious dictum. The appropriateness of the dictum for Bangalee couple never crossed his mind. Moreover, the anachronistic nature of the fourteen centuries old dictum didn’t mean anything to him. What the gentleman is saying in essence is that our great religion tells us to approach the problem in this way. And you unquestionably have to obey this dictum if you want ro tread the path of Islam. Did Islam say anything about going to Tokyo for knowledge seeking or for a job? If the instruction is not in Qur’an, then what a Muslim ought to do? Not go to Tokyo? My reasoning may sound odd but what I am saying is the following: do we have to follow the holy book word-for-word? If the holy book mentions nothing about going to Paris, London, Amsterdam, and New York, then should we venture into those cities? That is all I am asking.

For too long we have played this game of justifying illogical practices in our society all in the name of our great imported religion. No explanation was given that I could see. Why should the life of a woman be wrecked because she wanted to be re-united or reconciled with her loved one? She didn’t give the clarion call for Talaq, did she? Why should she pay for the utter idiocy of her husband? There is no logic in the whole affair of Hila marriage that an intelligent person could see.

Bangladesh’s judiciaries are no dummy. Theirs ear is too stuffed with the stories of Hila marriage. They may have heard of grief-stricken Bangalee woman asking for justice. It had not eluded their mind too many injustices are being done all in the name of a Book first published during the Khilafat of Hazrat Usman. That is why the High Court bench of Bangladesh’s Supreme Court came up with the verdict on January 1, 2001, telling the entire nation that Fatwa giving is illegal. It would be quite refreshing to hear from others to nullify Hila marriage in Bangladesh from humanistic standpoint. I don’t want to be reminded that – it is all there in the religious book. Love it or leave it. That won’t work in these days of rational thinking.

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