One minor girl, many Arabs

11:41:50 AM ],~many~Arabs~

They are old predators with new vigour. Often bearded,
invariably in flowing robes and expensive turbans. The
rich, middle-aged Arabs increasingly stalk the
deprived streets of Hyderabad like medieval monarchs
would stalk their harems in days that we wrongly think
are history. These Viagra enabled Arabs are
perpetrating a blatant crime under the veneer of
nikaah, the Islamic rules of marriage. Misusing the
sanctioned provision which allows a Muslim man to have
four wives at a time, many old Arabs are not just
marrying minors in Hyderabad, but marrying more than
one minor in a single sitting. 

"The Arabs prefer teenage, virgin brides," says
Jameela Nishat, who counsels and sensitises young
women against the malaise. Two of her volunteers,
Shahida Yasmeen and Tasneem Sultana, in their early
twenties experienced the trauma of being scanned by an
old Arab. A few months ago, they accompanied an
undercover television reporter who was following these
sham marriages. They reached a home where half a dozen
other prospective brides were gathered. "It resembled
a brothel. The girls were paraded before the Arab who
would lift the girlsí burqa, run his fingers through
their hair, gaze at their figures and converse through
an interpreter," says Yasmeen recalling the day. 

Most girls inspected by the Arab were minors, and
forced by a complex union of their parents and Islamic
clerics to yield to the preliminary probes of the

Curiously, the high priests of the All India Muslim
Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the fatwa brigade of
Darul Uloom Deoband, who are gearing up to defend the
legality of Islamic Courts in the Supreme Court, seem
to have shut their eyes to this phenomenon that is
aided and abetted by Hyderabad's Qazis or clerics. 

Many Qazis prepare both marriage and divorce
formalities together. While marriages require the
grooms to be present, divorces are a bit different. A
talaaq can be given verbally, through a letter, an
email, telegraph, phone or even sms. "Many talaaqs are
coming through sms these days," confirms Mufti Abdul
Ahad Falahi, a Qazi at a Darul Qaza in Mumbai. "If a
woman who has received an intimation of talaaq doubts
its veracity, she can check with her husband. If he
accepts he has sent the message, the talaaq will be

Most Qazis solemnise these sham marriages in complete
violation of Islamic principles of nikaah and talaaq.
A woman cannot be married off to another man unless
her first husband gives her a divorce, or she has
sought khula (separation) and has completed idat (a
period of three menstrual cycles from the day of the

Maulana Hameeduddin Aqil, head of a prominent Muslim
body Millat-e-Islamia, dismisses such marriages as
sinful. "They are committing a sin. It's not nikaah,
it's prostitution by another name," says the frail,
seventy five year old. 

Impoverished and easily lured by the promise of a
better future, many Muslim parents are increasingly
pushing their daughters into this flesh trade that has
a convenient respectability of an Islamic marriage.
The Arabs, in collusion with the greedy Qazis, marry
girls for a short period. In some cases, for a night. 

On the first of August, forty five year old Al Rahman
Ismail Mirza Abdul Jabbar, a Sheikh from the UAE,
approached a broker in these matters, seventy year old
Zainab Bi in the walled city, near the historic Char
Minar. The broker procured Farheen Sultana and Hina
Sultana, aged between thirteen and fifteen, for twenty
thousand rupees. Then he hired Qazi Mohammed Abdul
Waheed Qureshi to solemnise the marriage. The Qazi,
taking advantage of an Islamic provision, married the
girls off to the Arab. After the wedding night with
the girls, the Arab left at dawn. 

The girlsí parents were promised their share of the
booty by the broker but when it didnít, they went to
the media. The girls are not too disturbed by the
whole episode. "The Arab would have given us money. We
canít marry an Indian because our parents are too poor
to pay dowry," the girls told Noorjahan Sidddiqui, a
co-ordinator with Confederation of Voluntary
Association, a Hyderabad-based NGO. 

Muslim families that cannot afford to match the dowry
demands of Indian grooms, are the first preys of old
Arab grooms who not only give them the sanctity of
marriage but also thousands of rupees. Unlike in
India, in the Arab countries, it's the boys who pay
girls the dowry. While rich Arabs go West to get white
brides, transitory or otherwise, those with modest
revenue streams look towards the East, especially
Hyderabad where it seems, a well-oiled machinery is in

Hyderabad has a long history with Arabs. During their
heydays, the Nizams (1724-1948) recruited many Arabs
in their army. Subsequently, some of them guarded the
Nizamsí coffers and their harems too. Many Arabs
married local girls and settled in the Barkas area of
Hyderabad (it resembles an Arab street even today). 

Muslim politicians in the city never took the issue
seriously. "Itís not on the poll agenda of any
politician," says Mazhar Hussain, director of
Confederation of Voluntary Associations, a social
welfare outfit. Even Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslameen, the
party that Hyderabadís Muslims have voted repeatedly
has done nothing about it. 

"You cannot deny that the fortunes of many families
have changed through such marriages," a r g u e s
MIMís seventy three year old president Sultan
Salahuddin O w a i s i , seated at his palatial bu n g
a l ow situated at a distance from the filthy slums of
his faithful voters. Not politicians, not Islamic
clerics, not even a majority of citizens, it appears,
are too angered by the issue. 

In the middle of this small world that looks part
victimised and part practical, is a local mosque where
a Friday sermon is coming to an end. A lanky imam
reads out an "important" announcement: A Muslim body
invites the faithful to discuss the evil effects of


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