There is a particular problem in a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy. At a young age few think of understanding each other’s conception of marriage. The vigour of youth leads them to fall in love and possibly plunge into marriage. The Muslim method is nikah which according to the authoritative Dictionary of Islam (by Thomas Patrick Hughes and published by Rupa & Co) literally means conjunction or (in this context) usual sexual process (Webster Dictionary).

Legally, Hughes goes on, it implies a marriage contract. Unlike in Hinduism it is not a sacrament. Roman Catholicism does not permit even divorce. In Christianity, the churches view marriage as a union, divine and indivisible. Thus, Hindus and Christians look upon marriage as a union of permanence whereas in Islam it is a a contract between two parties. For the husband, divorce or talaq is easy and a matter of waiting for three months after he speaks out his first notice to the wife.

The celebrated IAS couple Tina Dabi and Athar Amir have filed for divorce in Jaipur, two years after the two tied the knot. Their love story and marriage in 2018 had made national headlines. A video of IAS officer Tina Dabi has gone viral with a claim that she is married to a Muslim man and now she is separated from her husband after two years of marriage because her husband tortured her to wear a burqa, convert to Islam, read namaz and adopt Khan in her name.

Even without divorce, he can marry up to four women at a time and if divorces are given, there is no limit on the number of wives he can have in the course of his life. Hinduism and Christianity insist on only one wife. If therefore I had a daughter who wished to marry a Christian boy I would have no objection in principle. For a Muslim boy, I would have to explain the differences at length; enumerate the risks she would be taking.

Now to turn to the boy’s side, if he is a faithful or momin, he should bring forth as many Muslims (children) into this world as possible. So that at one time there would be more Muslims than the others in the world.

The Dictionary of Islam by Hughes quotes the Hadith (The Traditions, the second holy book after the Quran) as quoting the Holy Prophet advising men to marry women who will love their husbands and be more prolific, for I wish you to be more numerous than any other people, That is why some fearful Hindus have used the word jihad in this context.

To be fair every Muslim young man is unlikely to know all this. He only knows that his family would have no objection to his marriage to a girl of any religion so long as she reads out the kalimah, from the Quran. Thereafter she is a virtual Muslim. Before 1955 when the Hindu Code Bill came into being, Hindu men could marry as many women as they liked, and some rich ones went on until they had even 13 or 14 wives all in the same house. I have as a child visited two families, one in Junagadh and one is Kolkata, with the husband and two wives each. In both cases, the women seemed to get on well with each other. My own aunt was a second living wife. She was nearly a graduate and the husband a doctor and a very nice gentleman. This combined family of two mothers and six children lived together happily near Lonavala on the then Bombay- Poona highway.

Sri Ramchandra’s father Dasaratha had three wives Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikayee. Sri Ram did leave Sita after his return to Ayodhya from Lanka on the ground that he wanted to be seen to be upright. He did not marry again.

Going back to Islamic practices, one is the Mut‘ahmarriage, contracted for a limited period, for a certain sum of money. Such marriages are still legal amongst the Shi‘ahs. They establish the legality of mut‘ah upon the traditions. Mut‘ah, or “temporary marriages” are continual upon declaration and acceptance, as in the case of nikah, and the subject of the contract must be either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jewess; she should be chaste, and due inquiries should be made into her conduct.

Some dower must be specified, and if there is a failure in this respect, the contract is void. There must also be a fixed period, but its extent is left entirely to the parties: it may be a year, a month, or a day, only some limit must be distinctly specified. In permitting these marriages a custom in old Arabia to assign to a traveler who became a guest for the night some female of the family. Raja Ghazanffar Ali Khan, the first Pakistani High Commissioner to India, was invited to a particular annual party by the Maharajah of Bharatpur whose Divan he had been some years earlier. The rule of the occasion was that guests should be accompanied by their wives. Ghazanffar Ali’s wife had not yet come to Delhi and therefore he contracted a Mut‘ah marriage for the evening party. Some Islamic countries have legislated to modernize their Sharia laws. For example, in Pakistan, the rule governing marriages is the Muslim Personal Law (The Sharia Application Act 1962). In this law, there are severe restrictions on polygamous marriages.

To quote section 6 of the law, no man, during the subsistence of an existing marriage, shall, except with the previous permission in writing of the Arbitration Council, contract another marriage. An application for permission shall be submitted to the Chairman and shall state the reasons for the proposed marriage, and whether the consent of the existing wife or wives has been obtained thereto.

On receipt of the application, the Chairman shall ask the applicant and his existing wife or wives. The Arbitration Council so constituted, may, if satisfied that the proposed marriage is necessary and just, grant permission. Clearly the sharia has been subjected to an amendment. Its crux is that a no- objection clearance is essential from the existing wife.

Malaysia, which too is predominantly Muslim, with the sharia governing marriage, divorce and succession, has also placed restrictions. A man cannot marry a second wife unless the first wife consents, and further, the first wife must fill in a no-objection form.

In Tunisia, by a legislation enacted in 1956, polygamy was prohibited and made a criminal offence. The Syrian Law of Personal Status of 1953 made the permission for a second marriage dependent on the proved ability of the husband to support a second wife while the Iraqi law of 1959 said that there should be some “lawful benefit” involved. In the case of Egypt, a bill which aims at restricting polygamy and the right of the husband unilaterally to repudiate the first wife, was passed in 1962. This information is based on An Introduction to Islamic Law by Joseph Schacht, Universal Law Publishing Company, Delhi, 1997.

Justice MC Chagla, in his autobiography, Roses in December, had occasion to write: “I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and I resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women”.

The writer is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament