MARRIAGE CONTRACT DRAWS LINE
Should anything go wrong in her marriage, Zaynab Abdul-Razacq is confident her rights will be well-protected. Her husband has guaranteed it -- in writing.
The young Muslim couple chose a path advocated by Islamic scholars concerned about women's rights: They drew up a Muslim marriage contract that takes into account modern needs.
Abdul-Razacq's agreement states that she is in charge of the household finances and that if her husband abuses her in "any dimension of wellness" she can automatically divorce him. He stipulated that he could make household decisions without interference from in-laws and other relatives.
"At the outset, we agreed these are things that are pretty important to us," said Abdul-Razacq, 29, who lives in Decatur, Ga., and married three years ago.
The contract has long been a Muslim tradition. Most, however, contain just one key provision, that of the "mahr," a gift usually of money, that the man gives the woman.
Islamic law experts who advocate for better treatment for women say the documents can help them assert rights under religious law that have long been played down by men. Advocates contend their approach is well within Islamic law, even though skeptics say the interpretation is too influenced by Western thinking.
The contract is especially useful in the United States, where Muslims come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and follow different customs and levels of observance. The document can accommodate views ranging from liberal to conservative.
Karamah, an organization of Muslim women lawyers based in Washington, is developing a "model" marriage contract that can be adjusted to meet the requirements of family law in different parts of the country, said Azizah Hibri, a founder of the group, whose name means "dignity" in Arabic. In the United States, civil law governs divorce, but judges have taken Muslim marriage contracts into consideration, sometimes viewing them as prenuptial agreements.
Hibri, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Va., said the contracts also help couples prepare for the challenges of married life.
"Couples need to define their relationship as they enter the marriage, so that they do not get disillusioned later," Hibri said. "They need a meeting of the minds on what their family life will look like. The contract helps them do that by discussing the issues up front."
It's generally accepted that Islamic law gives women the right to property and financial independence within marriage. Some Muslims scholars contend women are not even obligated to do housework. These and other details about running a house can be specified in the contract.