The lives of Pakistan's 'brides of the Quran'
The practice of 'wedding' women to the holy scriptures of Islam is banned but still prevalent
Some can’t take it and go mad. Others become apathetic and slowly fade away. Most live a nightmarish life, trapped in the hellish web of an inhumane tradition.
These girls are waitresses, child minders and slaves born to serve the family.
They are the “wives of the Quran”, Pakistani girls whose lives have been mortgaged by their families: instead of marrying men, they are forced to “marry” the Holy book of Islam, the Quran.
They learn its contents off by heart and have to hang the text around their wastes with a cord. They live segregated lives and no boy that is older than 14 is allowed to approach them. A life sentence they have no say in.
The tradition, known as the “Haq Bakshish”, literally means “renouncing the right to marry”. It is an ancient and cursed tradition that is still widely practiced in the Sindh province and in some parts of the Punjab in Southern Pakistan.
Arabic international newspaper Asharq Al Awsat says that in 2007 there were an estimated ten thousand Quran brides in Sindh.
The roots of this tradition are economic more than religious. This is explained further in a 2011 US Department of State report on human rights in the world. It said that this practice is prevalent among the families of big landowners.
When a suitable husband cannot be found for a daughter or a sister among the members of extended family (cousins and uncles, Ed.), then it is preferable to keep the girl cooped inside the family home than divide the land, giving a portion of it to the girl as a dowry and letting her marry an outsider.
This keeps her portion of the land within the family and under the protection of her father or brother.
Under Pakistani law the Haq Bakshish tradition is punishable by a seven-year prison sentence, but no one dares report such cases. This is partly due to the fact that the families involved belong to the Sayyid caste, which claims its members are direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed.
These pure-blooded Muslims are often leaders of institutions. This is why Quran brides are hidden away, making it impossible to get official numbers.
Very rarely some cases do come to light. For example, in 2011 a 28-year old couple, Fahad Amin and Shahnila Naz, married against the parents’ will and held a press conference in Lahore speaking out against the death threats they received for violating the Haq Bakshish code.
“Half the women in my family,” the girl told the Daily Times, are married to the Quran. They are treated worse than servants and are forced to look after children and animals. One evening all of my family came to my room, sat on my bed, opened the Quran and said: ‘Here is your husband.’ I managed to escape; I got to Fahad and we got married in a court. But they are threatening me, I’m scared….”
It is not known what happened to the rebel couple in the end.
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