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Fifth Letter to Tahira

Yes my daughter, you have understood the meaning of "Moaddah" (affection) correctly. In the dark ages
Arabs used to bury their daughters alive. The Quran came to eradicate all kinds of cruelty, discrimination
and exploitation. Therefore, it is impossible to believe that such a barbaric custom has survived.

Custom of Female Infanticide

The custom was forbidden, and it took a few years for this barbaric and soul-searing custom to be
eradicated from this world completely. The Quran has mentioned in its typical attractive and logical
style, that when that innocent girl would present her case before God against her murderer, the father,
then the criminal would be asked as to what crime this helpless innocent life had committed for which
he, the killer, had been so cruel to her. What answer will he have? It is so obvious.

Muslims are happy that, by the grace of God, this earth-shaking barbaric custom came to an end. It is
worth celebrating. But Tahira, if you look a bit deeper, you will see that this beastly and inhuman custom
still prevails in the world. Perhaps you will wonder as to which lawless land can still practise such a
degrading custom, during this age of civilization, culture and enlightenment. A custom in which people
still bury their daughters alive! But you will be extremely amazed when you are told that this heart-
rending custom is actually being practiced in our country, by our nation and in our homes. We see this
high-handedness, and do not feel for it at all. We ignore references to this custom in the Quran, by saying
that it is about dark period of the Arabs that this horrible custom refers to, and that it has nothing to do
with us.

Custom Is Still Alive!

Tahira, you know that the Quran considers every unjustified murder to be the worst crime. But this type
of 'murder' (burying girls alive) is most horrible and barbaric because it involves a helpless baby, too
young and unable of defending herself, and this makes it most unjustified murder. Just look around you
and see how many such murders are committed right in front of your eyes. Moreover, the murderer goes
about (blatantly) and displaying the blood on is sleeves, and none of the minnows of law and order can
apprehend him.

Tahira, I can well imagine the torment your heart might be passing through after reading the above line;
and I cab well imagine your inquisitive eye looking in vain for signs of such unjustified murder. But I
really wonder whether your searching eye, looking far and wide, noticing this little baby Zubaida who
has been deprived of her mother and is now being reared by her maternal grandmother. Perhaps, you
have not seen her deceased mother or you do not know how she died.

Waywardness of Rasheed

You may not even know that this girl is the daughter of Rasheed, who was arrested and imprisoned the
other day from his gambling den. Rasheed's waywardness is not new. He has been like that since his
childhood. He was still small when his father died. In a nation that has lost its collective life, its orphans
either starve to death; or if they are well provided for at home but are without the guidance of a proper
guardian, they become wayward and insolent. (It is a great achievement to be able to display real good
character while having led the life as an orphan). As a child Rasheed was the apple of his mother's eye
but, as he grew up, he started keeping bad company. His waywardness was no secret. Sometimes some
elder members of the family would chastise him, but it was not really like the concern of a real father
who, even if his child was being insolent or rude would still do not give up worrying about its welfare.
Mother used to simmer with anguish but who would listen to her?

Shakira's Mother

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Rasheed was a worthless vagrant, and nobody liked him. But God knows what came into Shakira's
mother's head, that she insisted on giving her daughter's hand in marriage to Rasheed. Their family
opposed it; relatives and near and dear ones were all against it; and the neighbours and residents of the
area, in fact anybody who heard about it, opposed it. But she turned a deaf ear to everybody. Leave alone
everybody else, even Rasheed opposed this proposal. But Rasheed's and Shakira's mothers were in
favour of it. If ever any body would question Shakira's mother, she would bluntly reply that, "I had given
my daughter to my sister, when my baby was still a suckling. Now I shall either send her in a palanquin
to my sister's house, or her coffin would depart from my threshold.

Shakira was a serious, quiet, understanding and a sensitive girl. According to the restrictions of our
present society, a girl's expression of an opinion about her proposal is considered such a great sin, that
there is no atonement for it. Furthermore, Shakira has a taciturn disposition, but sometimes it used to be
hinted by her friends and well-wishers that she foresaw the dark future, and that her mother's insistence
was her deathknell. Her last ray of hope was that Rasheed himself was against this proposal. This might
save her from hell.

Wedding

But then it was the obstinacy of Rasheed's mother: "If you oppose me son, I shall take poison and
commit suicide. I have given word to my sister and now I cannot back out of it", she insisted. The result
was that they fixed a date, the marriage party came and all the rituals were performed. At the end, just
before the send-off, they thought of another custom. The registrar of marriage contracts, the witnesses,
and even the bridegroom, all knew about how both of them had been brought together unwillingly. But
because of the fear of the groom's mother's annoyance, the bride's social stigma; the witnesses' integrity
and the Priest's greed for his fee, nothing was considered amiss in the "will of God" and the Nabi's
Sunnah. The marriage ceremony was performed. The relevant sermon was delivered. People offered
lengthy supplications. Trumpets were blared, congratulations were bestowed. The Bride was brought
home, which was suitably adorned. Tahira, just ponder on that relationship of matrimony (Nikah) which
Quran calls a solemn covenant (4:21), and the prime condition for which is that both parties execute it
willingly. Only pondering over all its aspects, should anything be decided for the future. But performing
it the way it was performed for Shakira is openly ridiculing the divine law. Now we treat matrimony as a
trivial custom, and the Priest recites a few memorized verses meant for such an occasion. Even, if they
take those verses seriously, they would discover many a marital bliss in them, (but talk about matrimony
only, the whole of Din has become a lifeless ritual to us.)

Anyway, this was how Shakira started her married life. She reached her in-laws place. Nothing special
happened, and time passed. But it could be seen that rosy Shakira was gradually turning into an autumn
leaf. Although she tried her best to tactfully prevent Rasheed from his misdeeds, by covering up, or by
serving him well, or by many sacrifices, Rasheed was a gone case. In the beginning it was indifference
which gradually turned into hate and then enmity. At home she had the solace of her mother-in-law's
company, but adversity does not strike alone. In less than a year Rasheed's mother passed away. Now
Shakira became more helpless and Rasheed more dauntless. He frequented the house less and less, and
mostly would remain out. Shakira's jewellery was the only attraction for him at home. Whenever he
needed them, he would come to snatch them away. Shakira's simple father was a poor man, and although
he could have afforded a few morsels for his daughter, Shakira was "thankful" person and literally lived
up to her name; she would never let anybody know that she was starving. Her parents' house was just
next door, but she would not let them know about her toils. Quietly she tried her hand at earning
something, but there could never be a stable means of livelihood for a tormented girl. She had to work
extremely hard to earn a pittance. By the grace of God the whole locality knew her and they were all in
fact her near relatives. She used to see all the goodies coming to other houses, but she never manifested
any discontentment. Many a time it happened that as she was about to her first meal of the day, Rasheed
gate-crashed from somewhere and Shakira would quietly put that meal in front of him. He had his meal
and went out grumbling (one never knows he might be beating her, taking with him whatever he saw in
the house worth taking.)

As I have mentioned, the whole of that locality consisted of her relations. But, Tahira, this is the biggest
curse of an individualistic life-style. In times of need you are alone. As you have seen, Shakira's poor
father was a simple man. All he could do as a last resort was to implore Rasheed and to serve him to the
best of his capacity. But this kind of sacrifice is appreciated only where there is a fraction of humanity

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left. But Rasheed used to receive all this gestures of goodwill from his poor in-laws as his right, and
expected them to feel obliged. Despite all this Shakira never complained. The agony took its toll but she
never let anybody know. She would cry when alone, but nobody ever saw her eyes moist. Her condition
became known when her constant crying affected her eye-sight. Her eyes ached for two months. When
she was slightly better, it was discovered that her eye-sight had become quite weak. Now she could not
do any of those things through which she previously used to earn money. Whatever was in the house was
gradually taken by Rasheed. Finally Shakira could not hide her malady. She had become skin and bones.
Her friends would suggest that it was no use worrying, because worrying would not help. She would hear
them and smile, and you could see every pain written in her eyes in bold letters. She would become
quiet, and her condition kept on deteriorating day by day. Rasheed could not care less that a precious life
was dwindling. Goodness knows since when she was having fever, but she never told anybody. When it
became constant, it was discovered that she was suffering from chronic fever. It was winter and on one
cold evening, somebody mentioned that police had arrested Rasheed on some vagrancy charges, and that
they were not letting him off because he could not pay the required ten rupees. Shakira was wearing a
woolen shawl, her last asset and her life-line. She got up quietly and sent it to neighbour for it to be sold.
Although it was a fine shawl, she could hardly get ten rupees for it. She took the money and gave it to
Rasheed's uncle to pay the fine. Now she could not even protect herself against cold. Fever persisted and
her life was like a lamp on its last flicker. With difficulty, her mother brought Shakira to her house and
whatever treatment she could afford, was being given to her daughter.

Shakira had become all the more quiet. When she saw her parents struggling for medicines or resorting
to prayers for her well-being, she would ask a friend of hers to tell parents not to resort to any treatment,
and to let her die.

Eternal Silence

Rasheed never turned up, even by chance, to inquire about her welfare. Then one day he did come and
sat near Shakira's bed-head. She looked up raising her eye-lashes, saw Rasheed and smiled, the same
smile that would reveal the depth of her heart on seeing every new trouble, and which was like a
surgeon's knife cutting through all our man-made laws and restrictions. A tear came to her eyes, her eye-
lashes became moist and a hiccup broke the last life-line. And Shakira, the picture of quiet anguish, was
eternally silenced.

Dear Tahira, just think, can there be any instances more distressing and inhuman than this? Just ponder
how many such innocent lives are wasted because of this repression. And your society does not bat an
eye for them. Tahira, you will say that corrective measures are being adopted to ameliorate such
cruelties. Last year a law for the right of women to divorce was promulgated, to remedy such obstacles.
There is no doubt about the good intention of such corrective suggestions. But what generally happens is
that such corrective measures, instead of being beneficial for genuine cases, become manipulative tools
in the hands of fraudulent people and as such defeat their purpose. Instead of eradicating the cases of
evil, our corrective steps get bogged down and meet with little success.

Reformation

It is no use applying ointment to the eruptions and boils of a patient whose blood is contaminated. One
eruption would be cured but two more would surface elsewhere. The real remedy would be to purify the
blood. Today the whole structure of our society is disintegrating. Therefore the real remedy would be its
reformation and reconstruction from scratch. The foundations of such new construction should not be
laid merely on the letter of the law, but on spirit of the law, too. Unless and until one adheres to the spirit
of the law there could be no change in people's hearts and minds. No aspect of society could be reformed
because the change depends upon the change in minds and hearts of the people. This change is not
possible unless and until man-made laws are replaced by Divine laws.

God be with you!

Parwez
June 1954

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