Recent weeks witnessed strong split among South Africa’s Muslim community over a new bill seeking to regulate Islamic marriages, providing legislation for Muslims according to both constitutional gender equality and the dynamism of Islamic Jurisprudence, or Fiqh.

A number of unknown groups started to circulate pamphlets at mosques as well as text messages and emails, calling on Muslims to “oppose the Kufr (unbeliever’s) Bill,” proposed by the Parliament.

And most recently, the South African Justice Ministry opened the latest draft of the Bill (MMB) up for public survey, inviting submissions on the bill’s contents.

Between media uproar, blatant rejection from some Muslims, and acceptance of some others, the bill has been in the center of media debates in recent weeks.

Some suggest that if implemented properly, the new bill could prove extremely beneficial in addressing violation of women’s rights in marriages, as it stipulates a number of measures ranging from setting a minimum marriage age to the requirement of the court’s permission for a legal polygamous union.

In an article analyzing the MMB, Osman-Hyder defended the bill, stressing it sets out a legal framework for the recognition of Muslim marriages, adding that legislation will not be forced upon Muslims as it gives them the option to choose to be governed by such a law or not.

Abdulkader Tayeb, a professor at the University of Cape Town, spoke against the media and organizational criticism of the bill, stating:

“In post apartheid South Africa, Muslim men in conflict with their spouses want to naturally maintain this status quo. They do not want their wives to seek redress in court, nor in any progressive interpretation of Islamic law. The religious language of a Kufr MMB provides a perfect cover for this status quo.

“All the substantive objections to the Bill reveal this male privilege. We are told in no uncertain terms that the rights of men are given by God and the Prophet Muhammad, and may not be tampered with. In some of the objections, women are regarded as emotional, deficient in intellect and wayward. Their demand for rights are framed as feminine weakness or religious infidelity.”

On the other hand, many Muslim organizations and law groups labeled the MMB as anti-Islamic and sheer violation of Shariah law.

Islam allows, and not encourages polygyny, yet under very strict conditions ensuring equality between spouses and safeguarding the rights of wives of the same man.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

“If you fear that you will not deal fairly with orphan girls,c you may marry whichever [other]d women seem good to you, two, three, or four. If you fear that you cannot be equitable [to them], then marry only one, or your slave(s):e that is more likely to make you avoid bias.”—Qur’an 4:3

Islam has set strict measures that ensure gender equality and protection of women’s rights, opposite to widespread misconception about Shariah Law and the way in deals with women-related issues, and generally modern family law.

Whether proponents of the bill will win the fight over its critics or not, only time will tell.

By: The Muslim Tribune Staff

Posted on: June 1, 2011