Monday, July 18, 2005

BOMBAY — Hard-line Islamic clerics in a northern Indian village have declared that a woman’s 10-year-old marriage was nullified when her father-in-law raped her — and ordered the mother of five to marry the rapist.

The fatwa, or religious edict, was issued by Darool Uloom Deoband, South Asia’s most powerful Islamic theological school known for promoting a radical brand of Islam that is said to have inspired the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The decision has outraged both Muslim and Hindu leaders and prompted a fierce debate that has dominated the front pages of national newspapers across India.

The fatwa ordered Imrana Ilahi, 28, to separate from her husband and treat him as her son because she had sex with his father.

“She had a physical relationship with her father-in-law, and it nullifies her marriage,” said Mohammad Masood Madani, a cleric at the theological school. He said it made no difference whether the sex was consensual or forced. The village council then decreed that Mrs. Ilahi would have to marry her father-in-law.

Feminists and liberal Muslims reacted with fury, staging nationwide street protests.

But Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh on June 29 supported the fatwa, saying: “The decision of the Muslim religious leaders in the Imrana case must have been taken after a lot of thought. … The religious leaders are all very learned and they understand the Muslim community and its sentiments.”

The rape took place June 4 in the village of Charthawal in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, when Mrs. Ilahi’s husband, Noor Ilahi, was away.

When Mr. Ilahi, a brick kiln laborer, learned of the attack, the village court instructed him to divorce his wife.

But Mr. Ilahi, 32, told his wife: “My father is dirty and you are clean. I still love you and I cannot desert you.” Mrs. Ilahi, with her husband and five children, sneaked out of Charthawal and took shelter in Kukra, the village of her parents.

Mrs. Ilahi received another rude shock when the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the country’s most influential Muslim umbrella organization, endorsed the punishment meted out by Darool Uloom Deoband.

“The fact that the woman was ‘used’ by her husband’s blood relative makes her [unclean] for her husband and there is no way she can be allowed to live with him,” the law board said.

Under Shariah law, the rape has made her the mother of her husband, said Naseem Iqtedar, the law board’s only female member.

Outraged leaders of Muslim social organizations met with Mrs. Ilahi’s family and took them to police. Police immediately took Mohammad Ali, Mrs. Ilahi’s 65-year-old father-in-law, into custody and ordered a medical test of Mrs. Ilahi for the rape.

Although the All India Muslim Personal Law Board supported the fatwa, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board decried it and asked Mrs. Ilahi and her husband not to separate.

“The fatwa goes against the light of Koran. No tenet of Koran can justify the injustice done to an innocent victim. Imrana should never be punished for no fault of hers. The victim has every right to continue with her marriage and live with her husband,” said Shaista Amber, president of women’s law board.

“The Islamic clerics have failed to differentiate between sex by consent and rape by force. The ruling was against the spirit and essence of Islam, which gives equal rights to women.”

Javed Akhtar, a noted Muslim poet, said: “Islam teaches compassion, justice, equality and a fair deal for women. The fatwa, on the other hand, appears to treat women as mere commodities.”

Although police have filed a case against her father-in-law, legal analysts say, Mrs. Ilahi might not be able to prove the crime because she underwent the medical examination almost two weeks after the attack and “doctors could not find any definite sign of the rape.”

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