Nikah Nama: All You MUST Know About the Most Important Contract of Your Life
It's actually surprising how most people I know have signed their Nikah Nama without reading it even once, despite the fact that it is one of the most important contracts of their lives. It governs a relationship, and forms a means of protection in case things go south, especially for the woman. Yet, most girls don't even read the full contents, and the most they would know about their Nikah Nama is how much Mehr they got, and where they signed. Sounds odd doesn't it?
Of course I am not trying to shame people for reading the legal document. Most people see it as simply a formality to get their marriage officially recognized, or don't want to get into the legal shenanigans of it all. Which is why I have prepared this post for not just those who are yet to sign the document, but also for all the women who have already signed it, where I will be breaking the Nikah Nama into layman terms to explain what rights and responsibilities a woman may or may not have, how she can better protect herself, and what are some of the things to look out for.
Let's start with some basics:
- Nikah Nama is an official requirement under the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961. Once signed, it needs to be registered with the local Union Council's Registrar under the same law. Under Shariah Law, a verbal nikah is just as good as a written one. However the state law requires the Nikah Nama provided under the law to be signed and registered. It is always better practice to have every contract in writing to serve as better evidence in court. The NADRA Marriage Certificate provides further evidence of marriage, and can be used for visa and other international purposes.
- It is not a sacramental contract, but a civil one. That means that the importance of a Nikah has no religious value and rather works like any other business contract for instance.
- It needs the same basic requirements as that of any other contract: Offer (by the husband), Acceptance (by the wife), Consideration which is basically exchanging an item of value by both parties, and lastly witnesses to testify that the contract did take place.
- Under Pakistani Law (which follows Hanafi Shariah Law), there is no legal requirement of a Wali's (guardian's) consent for a Nikah to be officiated.
- Any clause that is not in contradiction with any Shariah or State Laws can be added to the Nikah, like any other contract.
Important Contents of the Nikah Nama:
- Amount of Mehr: This is Clause 13 of the Nikah Nama. The Mehr is not a status symbol, nor is it meant to portray the class or status of the man. It is a consideration from the husband in return for the consideration from the woman in kind. The consideration from the woman could be anything she pleases from losing her virginity/allowing sexual intimacy, leaving her house, or bearing with a man child... I kid, I meant bearing children (No I was actually serious, man child it is). Two important things here: First, no the husband is not paying for sex. The Mehr actually acts as a form of economic protection for women, in case of a bad divorce, as well as a gesture from the man to show seriousness to get into a serious commitment. It is not obsessed with virginity, as it payable to both virgin as well widowed or divorced women who are no longer virgins. Second, the Mehr does not need to be a high amount. It is a gesture of love, first and foremost and should be looked upon as such. I have seen many people asking brides how much Mehr they received. Honestly, this is kind of a 'none of your fudging business' kind of a question. If you're not sure of what to say, just go with 'Enough'. Mehr is not meant for boasting how wealthy or well settled your husband is, or to be ashamed of how he gave you less than what your friend's husband gave her. It is not a competition. IT IS A GESTURE OF LOVE. It is not a value OF YOU. It is a consideration and a consideration can be anything monetary or in kind.
- Mehr Prompt of Deffered: This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT clauses of the contract. There are two types of Mehr and Clause 14 of the Nikah Nama asks you which one is yours. Mehr Moajjal (Prompt) is where the Mehr will be given as soon as the couple is in seclusion or at the time of the Nikah. Mehr Muwajjal (Deferred) is when the mehr is provided after a certain time which is fixed in the contract, or at the time of death (whichever is earlier), or at any time the wife demands for it to be paid. The full amount of Mehr may be divided into prompt and deferred. IMPORTANT NOTE HERE: In either case, whenever the Mehr becomes due, it is the responsibility of the wife to ensure that she is paid the amount at the time. There is no way to prove in court that a husband did not pay the mehr years later. Rather than overlooking and letting the matter go because you love or trust someone, it is better to claim it when it becomes due, as it is the right granted to you by Islam, FOR GOOD REASON. It is also better to get Mehr promptly to avoid any confusion or disputes later. In short, GET YOUR MEHR PROMPTLY (Moajjal).
- Any other conditions: MOST MOST IMPORTANT clause (17) of the Nikah Nama and almost always overlooked. I have honestly never heard of a single case where someone put any conditions here. Basically this clause allows the husband and wife to put any conditions they deem necessary for a successful marriage. For a wife, these include right to work, where to reside after marriage, how many children to have, when to have those children, whether she will continue education, whether chores will be divided and if so, how. It can really be anything! This is essentially like having a pre-nup agreement. You may also add a penal clause for the husband to pay you truck loads of money in case of applying for a khulla or him giving you a divorce. WHY IS NO ONE PUTTING CONDITIONS HERE? This is really beyond me. I understand that in Pakistan setting these things on paper looks weird. The husband will question whether his wife doesn't trust him or love him enough and vice versa. However, this is not about trust. This is about setting some ground rules and the trust lies both way. The real question is, why not have them in writing? So many women can protect themselves from situations they end up in despite being promised something else. THIS IS ABOUT PROTECTION, not love and not trust. THIS IS ABOUT BEING SMART. If God gave you this option, TAKE IT.
- Right to Divorce: This is a bit confusing for most people and again SUPER IMPORTANT. Clause 18 asks if the husband would like to delegate his right to divorce to wife. This means that the wife will act as an agent, and when she does practice the right, it would be to declare a divorce to herself, on behalf of the husband). IMPORTANT NOTE: In Pakistan, before the Nikah Nama even reaches the families or the signatories, the Maulvi Saab has already crossed out clauses 17, 18 and 19, because the general assumption is that no couple wants to add any conditions, the husband would not delegate his right to divorce (Clause 18) and there will be no restrictions placed on his right to divorce (clause 19). Even where the couple is in agreement to delegate the right to the wife, the clauses are already crossed out and it's too late for you to do anything at the time of signing. So what can you do? Make sure who ever is going to the Maulvi Saab with the Nikah Nama before the ceremony tells him as the first thing to not cancel these three clauses. Make sure that your spouse does the same. IF YOU WERE NOT GIVEN THE RIGHT, WHAT CAN YOU DO? Since Nikah Nama is like any other contract, these clause can be amended with the consent of both contracting parties on a stamp paper and attach it to the original nikah nama yourself. It will be binding in court. Again, getting this delegated right is not a matter of trust, but a means of protection and equality. If a man is not giving up his right to divorce then why does he want you to give up a delegated right? Similarly, if you couldn't think of conditions earlier, but want to add some now, then an amendment can still work.
- Any other document prepared for living her life: Clause 20 relates to any document related to accounts, or agreements concerned with maintenance, child support, trust fund for children or prohibition of sale of certain property, etc.
- Any other wives: Clauses 21-22 clearly articulate that the husband may only marry a second woman AFTER getting permission from the first wife (through a permission certification from the local Arbitration Council). You can't secretly have more than one wife.
As you can see, the nikah nama is really a document that you should be reading and talking about with your husband to be before the nikah takes place. It is important to have these discussions, decide what both parties will agree to and have written down and see it through. If you still have questions, or need legal consultation on the subject, the following esteemed lawyers (who also helped me with their expertise on this post), can be of great service:
- Muhammad Haider Imtiaz, Advocate High Court, Islamabad: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hadiya Aziz, Advocate High Court, Islamabad: email@example.com
If you have any questions about the content here, feel free to leave it in the comments below.