Knowledge is power ladies

Read this before you sign your nikah nama

Many women unthinkingly sign this piece of paper without reading it or knowing their rights. This needs to change.
Updated 04 Jan, 2020

Over the course of my life, I've signed a lot of things.

Checks, credit card receipts, forms, documents, you name it. And that's not including all the school slips I forged my mother's signature on (sorry Mom!).

Documents of all kinds require our unique stamp of approval, yet signing our name is something we rarely stop to think about in adult life. Now hold that thought.

Do you think it makes sense to sign a legally binding contract without exhaustively going through the terms within so you know precisely what it entails? When you put it that way, most of us if not all would obviously say no.

"I was fairly young when I got married (24) but even then I knew that I could have the right of divorce delegated to me. I brought it up once but was dismissed and I was too in love to even think about my marriage failing so I chose to just let it go. Apparently asking for my own rights was considered 'besharmi'," shared Amna*.

"Big mistake. When my relationship went to s**t, I had to opt for a khula instead, which meant I had to return my nominal mehr. I also lost my claim to any alimony and maintenance. My advice to other women in similar situations? Be smarter than I was and lawyer up."

And then there're those who never even knew their rights to begin with — and lived to regret it, like Sana*.

"With my first marriage, I only got to glance at the nikah nama before I signed. I had no idea my in-laws had crossed out certain sections. I became more aware recently when I started reading about the nikah nama form on social media and when my current fiance discussed it with me. Back then, I saw no way out of an abusive marriage and can only thank my lucky stars that he divorced me himself upon the insistence of his second wife, a marriage he contracted without my permission," she revealed.

Hearing these stories, I have to ask: how is it that the majority of women end up scribbling their names thoughtlessly on one of the most momentous civil contracts they'll ever agree to without so much as reading it?

And just what is in that nikah nama of yours?

I sat down with some lawyers to find out.

What IS a nikah nama exactly and what does it signify?

The nikah nama is a written document that two Muslim partners entering into a civil union must put their signature on in order to legalise their marriage. Under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, it is the legal evidence of said union and lays out the rights and obligations agreed upon the by the bride and groom.

I guess I can't say I blame women for not knowing; this is what a standard nikah nama looks like:

"When we enter into any civil contract, we read it. That's the concept we need to promote with the nikah nama, that it's a contract, you need to read it before you sign it," explains Amnah Mohasin, a female lawyer.

Essentially, your nikah nama is a civil contract that you enter into, so much so that even the presence of religious clerics at the time of the nikah is not even mandatory but just a cultural norm; your father or any adult Muslim man can officiate the nikah.

"As lawyers, we're told that when we draft a contract, we must do so keeping in mind how this piece of paper will be interpreted in a court of law. If and when things take a turn for the worst and go south, the parties involved are not going to be just talking amongst themselves. Their case is going to go into arbitration and the court will look at every word, every comma and determine your fate."

That being said, marriage is a term loosely used and has more cultural or celestial connotations than legal ones. Essentially, your nikah nama is a civil contract that you enter into, so much so that even the presence of religious clerics at the time of the nikah is not even mandatory!

Most of the document from Clause 1 to 12 is straight-forward; it's like filling out a simple form. You have to note down basic details like names of the parties and lawyers involved, age, address, etc. Common misconceptions about the nikah nama are usually regarding the remaining clauses.

What to know about your right to mehr

Clause 13-16 are all questions relating to your mehr which is a gift given as a gesture of respect to the wife at the time of marriage by the husband and acts as financial protection in the event of a divorce initiated by the woman (more on that later).

It is the legal right of the wife and obligation of the husband; it MUST be paid, even if the wife waives her right to receive it. It can be in the form of cash or kind, anything that has monetary value such as jewellery or land.

English translation of the nikah nama
English translation of the nikah nama

There are two kinds of mehr: prompt (mu’ajjal), which is to be given before consummation of the marriage or at the time of nikkah and deferred (muwajjal), which is given after a certain time period fixed in the contract, at the time of death, divorce or at any point in time the wife wants it as it is payable on demand by law.

"An upper middle class, or even lower middle class woman is not going to be forthcoming about how much mehr she demands or if she even wants any because you know, 'log kia kahaingay.' And the women who really could use this protection such as those from rural areas or the working class, they don't even know their rights. Empowerment comes from education so it's important that women know what's in this document," shares Neel Shahnawaz, an upcoming lawyer and social worker.

"The amount [of mehr] is variable; it ideally should be what the woman reasonably quotes but it can be decided amongst the parties, depending on family tradition or traits of the woman such as social status, physical appearance, how educated she is, etc," she adds.

I cannot stress this enough: if you don't exercise your rights, and this is your right, like muscles, they deteriorate.

Your mehr is yours and yours alone; no one can take it away from the bride, your immediate family or any male relatives are not entitled to it. It is wholly and solely the wife's right. In the haze of love, you don't think about anything going wrong in the future but this is about being smart.

And while some believe that even if the mehr is not mentioned in the nikah nama, it is an overarching obligation and the law will award it on the demand of the wife, it can't hurt to have it in writing. It's better to be safe than sorry!

The clauses you really need to look out for

Clause 17 asks the parties to list down any special conditions they may have, as long as they don't go against Shariah law and the law of the land, from monthly maintenance, whether the woman will continue working after marriage or even a breakdown of household chores.

It allows the husband and wife to put any conditions they deem necessary for a framework of a successful marriage so it's baffling to me that this section is more often than not left blank. It gives you the opportunity to more or less make it a prenuptial agreement.

What is the right to divorce and how is it different from a khula?

Clauses 18-19 accommodate right to divorce, the first of which asks whether the husband would like to delegate the right to divorce to his wife and the latter asks if the husband's right to divorce has been curtailed in any way.

Clearly, divorce by a woman is a right that has been given to us by law. However it is not encouraged. Often, these sections are struck out completely, sometimes by the qazi officiating the marriage or by family members because they don't want to think about the dissolution of the marriage at the auspicious time of its beginning or simply because they deem it unnecessary since a woman always retains her right to a khula if things go awry.

But a khula is conditional and not the same thing as a right to divorce your husband.

Khula is when a woman initiates dissolution of the marriage in court, which she can obtain even without her husband's consent provided she foregoes her mehr, maintenance and alimony. You have to get a lawyer, prepare a case and then the judge will decide if you will be granted one or not.

When you're "delegated" the right to divorce, you can simply opt out of the marriage using the same legal procedures as are ordinarily followed by men.

You write up a divorce deed, present it to the Union Council and your spouse and if attempts at reconciliation fail, you are issued a divorce certificate within three months.

Sara Malkani, a High Court lawyer reveals, "To include your right to divorce is extremely crucial because in the event that you want to dissolve your marriage, it will streamline the whole process. The split will take less time and most importantly, you won't have to give up your mehr."

"Some moulvis have even refused to officiate the nikah if these sections are crossed out. The process of obtaining a khula is a painful one and women are exploited like you wouldn't believe. If women were just given the right to divorce to begin with, we could avoid all the ugliness," adds Sabahat Rizvi, a High Court advocate and activist.

Clause 20-21 include restriction on the man’s right to contract further marriages while still married to his first wife.

This clause states that if a man is already married then under the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961, he must present proof to the Union Council that he has obtained permission from his existing wife/wives to marry another woman. That being said, even if it is discovered that the first wife had not given her blessing, the second marriage will not be invalidated.

She can however use it as proof to obtain a khula or divorce if she had been given that right. And if the husband has contracted a second marriage without going through the formalities, it's a criminal offense and is punishable by jail time as well as a fine.

Will what's quoted in your nikah nama stand in a court of law?

Well, yes and no.

The nikah nama can only do so much; what we really need is better legal security from the law of the land. The nikah nama in itself is a very basic contract and while you can make additions and certainly there should be more awareness about certain clauses such as the right to divorce and special conditions, all our rights and obligations cannot and should not be outlined in a nikah nama.

"What we need are stronger laws in place, so that women in such situations get legitimate protection. Our own laws regarding maintenance and marital property fail to do so and are problematic and discriminatory, so adding it in the nikah nama won't make a difference because enforcing it in court will be a whole other story," explains Malkani.

That being said, if you do put down certain conditions and they are not met, it constitutes a breach of contract and you at least have some standing to seek relief from courts.

Until we move towards more pro-female legislation, the least we can do is be aware of our existing legally-recognised rights. My father always said: "focus on the marriage rather than the wedding." I think that also demands we be prepared for the worst while hoping and working for the best.

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Illustration by Fahad Naveed

This article was originally published on April 5, 2018.


Wasim Apr 04, 2018 09:48am
Thanks to the writer .Touched upon a very important yet totally neglected aspect of our social relations
MJQ Apr 04, 2018 10:07am
Very informative and good work done. This awareness is need of time... Hope to see more articles like this....
fatima Apr 04, 2018 10:21am
This is really an enlightening article, thanks.
Cheema Apr 04, 2018 10:28am
Brilliant piece. I wish the same article is translated in Urdu and published in local and national newspapers. Very educational. It was long overdue. Thanks Ms.Anum.
khan Apr 04, 2018 10:42am
Great service and teaching to people, great job and seems first time printed in Pakistan
Two cents Apr 04, 2018 10:48am
My mother is a practicing lawyer and had to file Khula suits on behalf of her female clients. There were instances when she was able to retain her Mehr and gifts in form of jewellery as well. There is also a judgement of high court setting precedents that even in instances of Khula, a woman is entitled to the gifts she received from her husband. Anyhow, on these legal provisions, families in particular need to be educated on how they can formalize nikah in a more consensual manner. And also striking out of sections should be declared an illegal practice by law, which will compel families to answer such sections in some form
Jay Apr 04, 2018 10:52am
Quite amazed to see that our society takes away the right to divorce from women. Everybody deserves to live with freedom, man cannot take away this right from women.
Ad Apr 04, 2018 11:07am
Well what is written here is correct but as they say about banking there is a difference in law and practice. Similarly I had known of marriages being called off at the eleventh hour as usually in the society the grooms family has the upper hand at the time of marriage. A female irrespective of her qualification (Doctor, MBA or BA, Inter) is portrayed as domesticated stuff by her parents. Very few parents of bride would think what to say about talk of such matters. Getting alimony of a paltry sum of couple of thousands from the court is hell of a job. So in a nut shell what is written here is correct but very very difficult to implement
asad Apr 04, 2018 11:15am
So the only difference between divorce and khula is that you get to keep "marriage tax/gift" -- mehr -- with you when you obtain divorce. Whats the big deal if you return mehr to the original owner? You can save far greater amount being independent. Sirf pesai ke liye zarur shohr ki nishani sath rakhni hai. Mountain out of a molehill
Zeeshan Apr 04, 2018 11:45am
I think its a good idea for women to be aware of their rights and what they can have should they be careful. It is also no mystery that the laws in such cases are pro-men, however the solution to that is not to make them pro-female, instead they should be gender neutral. This notion that a man owes a women alimony is retarded. Women should by independent, and any laws that stop them from happening should be removed. The point is not to flip the equation on its head. Western feminism is out right sexist against men, 80% of alimony is paid by men, while only 25% of child custody goes to men. How is that any fair?
AK Apr 04, 2018 12:00pm
@Writer, You are asking all women to carefully go through all details of Nikahnama, just because your marriage got ended due to certain reasons it doesn't necessary mean everyone is passing through the same path. In majority of such cases, all terms and conditions are mutually Pre-decided b/w both families. I wonder why some liberal minds keeping finding non-important issues. Pakistani society is still in good shape and let it remains as it is.
uk Apr 04, 2018 12:16pm
I think this whole movement of making it a fashion to include right to divorce for women is not okay. I am all up for educating women (and also men) about the rights contained in the Nikah Nama and exercising them according to their respective situation. But all of such articles appearing in Social Media and elsewhere seem to be designed convince girls to demand this no matter what. Women have a right to khula and nobody can restrict it. So called empowered women want the right to divorce just so that they can keep mehr and demand alimony from a man they don't want any association with anymore, doesn't seem like empowerment to me.
Pakistani Apr 04, 2018 01:05pm
Is it any wonder that more and more women are demanding divorce? With such articles as their education, who needs to focus on maintaining and building relationships. I would wait for an article on the importance of compromise and sacrifice in marriage.
ASB Apr 04, 2018 01:15pm
OMG! thanks writer you are one among thousands! such a brilliant article about the issue what i was preparing my self to teach my sisters and beloved ones about that. this is from my learning of Islamic law by a great teacher ranked Mufti (Islamic jurist). this is part of my motivations to different women as i wanna be a women right activist rather that i am a male having high patriarchal environment.
Atif Apr 04, 2018 01:24pm
Humans are not cattle. No more payments either way for a marriage.
Naxalite Apr 04, 2018 01:27pm
As usual, feministic approach
Omer Apr 04, 2018 01:35pm
Now a days no one want to sacrifice even to a slightest extend but most of them wants to get married at the earliest. We need to educate that not marriages with bad partners require sacrifice, but ALL marriages require sacrifice. If you are not prepared for it, you should better stay single and it is lot better than expecting a fairy tale marriage and getting something completely opposite.
Shakir Lakhani Apr 04, 2018 02:00pm
A Sindhi/Baloch worker in my factory once said, "We are not cowards like you city people. If my wife ever asked me for a divorce, I would immediately shoot her dead". Why? "If she doesn't want to live with me, it means that she's having an affair with another man, which is intolerable ", he said.
The Right Left Apr 04, 2018 02:08pm
Considering our cultural baggage; What's needed is a legally binding mandatory sitting between the man and wife to be in front of a magistrate to review and finalize the nikah contract before the wedding event. The magistrate must explain all rights and duties and allow a reasonable environment to both to discuss and agree on the rights each might be giving up and duties each may be signing up to by signing on the dotted line. This my slow down the mairrage a bit, but will result in a more informed and possibly happier society
Sajj Apr 04, 2018 02:19pm
Excellent topic and write up. Interesting that actually the legal framework from a women’s perspective is better than the one in England, though the remainder of legal support is better in England.
PKj Apr 04, 2018 02:21pm
If we're talking about equal rights, why don't males get mehr. Guys should get financial support after divorce as well.
Tabinda Niazi Apr 04, 2018 02:35pm
its a very useful and well-written article...really liked it
Farooq Apr 04, 2018 03:16pm
Certainly a good piece of information but only a handful full of Pakistani women has an access to the online articles. 90 % women will not have this information.
Zaheer Ahmad Apr 04, 2018 03:34pm
There is need to understand social and marriage contract teachings of Islam. There is need of tolerance in today,s era.
NKhan Apr 04, 2018 03:43pm
Thank you for this. The Nikah is a legal contract between two people looking to get married. Women can secure many rights through the Nikah such as the right to work, divorce with mehr and equality in household financial issues. This takes nothing away from the man who has the right to refuse for example if he does not want a working woman as a wife. He can also put his own conditions. If practical issues on which many marriages come under strain are put in the Nikah then more people would be happier.
The Right Left Apr 04, 2018 04:47pm
Maybe the default nikah template should have a checklist and each right that one gives up or each responsibility one accepts must be ticked manually by the guy or gal themselves legally for the nikah to be valid . It's unfair that the default is no right to divorce. Legality and theology aside, morally and emotionally once a person utters he/she is considering divorce in anger , drunkness or whatever state, that relationship is done for and can never be same again, and might as well end quickly.
Muneer Apr 04, 2018 04:48pm
@The Right Left grow up....
Mudassar Apr 04, 2018 06:08pm
Why do women have to ask for divorce rights to be included in nikah naama, why aren't they automatically included?
NKhan Apr 04, 2018 06:26pm
@Zaheer Ahmad You are right 90% of Pakistani women will never read this online English language article. This is what our Ulema should be there for, they should tell women what rights the Sharia gives them in the contract of the Nikah. Problem is our Ulema are men who just re-enforce a patriarchal society where women are supposed to be subservient to men.
Zunaira Abbas Apr 04, 2018 07:00pm
I cannot thanks dawn enough for writing this to aware women
M. Saeed Apr 04, 2018 07:34pm
Nikah Nama is a document fully supported and drafted by the prominent religious scholars. In fact, it should be a crime for the Nikahkhwan not to fill in all the clauses and conditions mentioned. And, the writer has rightly stated that the bride should read and fully understand the document before signing. This reminds me of a very pertinent reminder of one of my former employers. When I was about to sign my employment agreement quickly in amazement, my employer stopped me and said that I must first read it. Then he very correctly advised, "Never sign any document without reading, otherwise, one day you may sign your own death warrant".
Vinod Narang Apr 04, 2018 07:44pm
Very well explained. I think we need to change with the time and those documents should also be explained to both groom and the bride. It is about time that Pakistan moves into 21st century. Women should have the same rights as men do . If a man is allowed to keep a second wife why not allow a women to have second husband. Best of all we need to change our thinking and stop worrying about Log Kaya Kahenge
Queen Apr 04, 2018 07:52pm
@Pakistani What is wrong with this article? It provides women information about their legal rights which is necessary for everyone in the world. As for "focusing and building relationships," efforts need to put in the relation from both man and women. It always takes two to tango. You suggest that educating women about their legal rights will stop them from having a happy marriage? I find it really absurd! I suggest you write an article providing men information about "compromise and sacrifice" in marriage.
Rp Apr 04, 2018 08:39pm
I think the best way to implement this is for the government to make this Nikahnama a permanent consistent document that is same for everyone and that in case of a divorce protects the weaker partner, which most of the times is the woman. It should provide for forced alimony payments based on the spouse's income and other resources. As far as Mehr is concerned, a gift is a gift - you give it to someone, it stays with that someone. Just as a good practice, the in laws/spouse should give those gifts slowly over time, as the relationship develops.
Honesty Apr 04, 2018 11:11pm
An good and informative article.
AQS Apr 04, 2018 11:56pm
@PKj yeah, I don't understand if you want to end the relationship then do you why mehr and alimony when it's actually you who want divorce??
S.A.Khan Apr 05, 2018 01:43am
You are right. Nikah is a name for a Standard Contract of marriage. The terms could be varied. What is important is it is signed by the Parties and their Signatures Witnessed . In your Article you say it should be witnessed by a Muslim Person. Surely a Witness does not have to be of a particular religion. Your Article says Second marriage performed without the consent of the Ist wife will not be void as such the stipulation that it should be consented by the 1st wife is meaningless
Sameer Apr 05, 2018 07:08am
Haq Mehr becomes extremely important if you are not a working woman. If you are, then I wouldnt worry too much. It should a reasonable in case you are being asked to for go your professional life...which I discourage in present times of hardship, inflation.
Dr. Doctor Apr 05, 2018 08:26am
Lack of education leads to confusion and people need to understand what a marriage contract is. In that context this is a pretty informative article. Having said that, Pakistani law has instilled many caveats to address cultural problems but those actually don't pertain to Islamic law. Hence rather than safeguarding people through the legal route the alternative is to educate the community and especially young couples (before they get married) the importance and rights of both parties and Islamic jurisprudence. Educate yourself, educate your family, raise them right and one won't hopefully end up in crisis. Not sure why Pakistani law introduced and Ulama permitted the introduction of twists in this legal contract and its execution in manners not compatible with religious teachings.
Adil Apr 05, 2018 09:50am
@AK .It makes perfect sense to encourage people to read a legal document before they actually sign it. Knowing your legal rights should always be encouraged and if education is the "liberal agenda " then so be it, better than ignorance anyday!
Imran Haider Apr 05, 2018 01:59pm
In our society, people do question the intentions of a woman if she raises such issues. The situation gets ugly when the nikah nama is shown to the woman for the first time, at the wedding venue, when she doesn't have any time to read it or give feedback. So they are stuck with whatever is written there. If a woman questions or objects to something there, it is taken as a sign of 'be-sharmi.' One way of handling it is to have both families discuss such clauses before wedding, with consent of the woman as well, because she is the person who is the most at-risk. The issue with giving the right of divorce to the wife is problematic because as per majority of Ulema, this right cannot be delegated. So as a general practice, this clause is struck off during nikah proceedings.
Salman Apr 05, 2018 02:35pm
Good read even for men to know what they are getting into and if it is worthed
HANK RAYMOND Apr 05, 2018 09:37pm
In the early days of Islam there was no nikah nama, except mehr given as gift to marry a girl.
haider Apr 05, 2018 10:54pm
I am a man and I believe that right to divorce for a woman should not be an option in the Nikah nama but rather it should be a right for a woman to divorce like man has the right to divorce. This is an important issue and should not be left at the will of the relatives of bride on the wedding day. I think, if someone need to struggle then stop trying to educate the woman to tick on this option but rather build pressure on your parliamentarians to legislate to remove this as an option and keep it as a basic right of the woman as it is for the man. No woman in her sane mind would leave the marriage just because she has the right to do so. But if situation arises, she should not be at the mercy of the courts and husband.
D Patel Apr 05, 2018 11:45pm
Pakistan is constitutionally Islamic democratic republic country. Marriage contracts are rightfully and constitutionally based on the teachings of Islam. The new living standards of 21st century requires review of old laws. The Maulvies will follow the contract as is. It is the responsibility of Scholars and law makers to review if necessary to address the issues created by the new living standards and living style. Until the changes occur, the author has done a great job to educate not only the Muslim women but also those non-Muslim women in interfaith marriages, about protecting their rights within the Nikah Nama. I hope some one writes a piece that can educate Maulvies to understand the need of protecting women's rights within current Nikah Nama. As a welcome side benefit, the author is indirectly raising a flag to the nation about the need of review and potential need to reform the current marriage contracts to make it compatible with 21st century life style.
Haris Apr 06, 2018 06:49am
As much as I apprerciate the article and it's intended impact, I must point out that there is no provision in Islam that delegates the right of divorce to the bride/wife because women have the right to khula. This delegation of right to divorce over to women is self concocted biddah by Pakistani government which should be removed from Nikah Nama....Secondly, it's not a "mandatory" requisite to let go of your dowry and other belongings to get is an additional bargaining tool given to women to get out of a marriage by offering the husband some money or other such offer to get khula and men are discouraged to take anything from the wife to dissolve the marriage. Lastly, I believe this article is too feminist, where it should have been gender neutral because this problem of not going through Nikah Nama is exactly the same with boys/men as well. Usually/generally your elders decide what to put in the Nikah Nama and both, boy and the girl are completely oblivious of the terms. The boy and the girl must sit together, familarize themselves and decide the terms of Nikah Nama and must get to know their rights and responsibilities as husband and wife before the actual Nikah takes place. Islamically speaking though, this Nikah Nama has no legal value other than that it serves as a tool for the government to register your marriage and then this just serves as a marriage certificate or proof of marriage for the rest of marriage. The real Nikah takes place when the qazi asks both of them individually and repeatedly in front of witnesses if they are ok with this marriage or not.
Ayesha Apr 06, 2018 10:23am
@asad , Please read the article again to find out the difference between khula and right of divorce. The main difference is, in khula, a woman is totally on mercy of judge;s decision if he grants it or not and if a woman is poor and cant afford a good lawyer, the khula process can take YEARS. While if a woman has right to divorce, she doesnt have to go through this hassle
Ali Apr 06, 2018 10:30am
The poll assumes that the person reading this is already married. The target audience is people who haven't been married before. The article is well written and should definitely have some follow up articles...
Mansoor Akhtar Apr 06, 2018 02:44pm
A very well written informative classic work.
And also Dec 02, 2019 11:16pm
“So called empowered women want the right to divorce just so that they can keep mehr and demand alimony from a man they don't want any association with anymore, doesn't seem like empowerment to me.” If woman gave up her job or career to look after home and children, she is entitled to receive a fair share at time of divorce. What is improper in that?
Eman Dec 04, 2019 09:18pm
When i was signing my nikkah nama, all the fields were blank..even thought i knew these things..I discussed it with my father and brother..they said ab aise acha lagta hai, is m izzat hai? What issues i have with the nikkah nama?
Shahzad A. Khan Dec 07, 2019 08:12am
Great article. I wish if this can be published in URDU newspaper so that more girls can read and understand their rights.
illawarrior Dec 10, 2019 11:47am
Everyone, male and female, should CAREFULLY read through ANY legal document before signing, it is simply common sense!