Nusrat Jahan: Interfaith Marriage and Opinion of Ulema

Ram Puniyani


Nusrat Jahan is a newly elected Member of Parliament. She got married recently with Nikhil Jain. Her marriage and her wearing Sindoor, Chuda and Mangal Sutra, came under the attention of many. A Muslim wearing all this took many by surprise, not knowing that India is a cauldron where different cultures interact, influence each. Annoyed by her marriage to Nikhil Jain a Maulana of Deoband Seminary stated that for a Muslim woman marrying outside of Islam is prohibited in Koran. In response Sadhvi Prachi, from the Hindutva stable hit back defending Jahan, saying if the Hindu girl marries to a Muslim she has to wear burqa etc.

In the face of criticism Jahan in a very dignified way tweeted, “I represent an inclusive India which is beyond the barriers of caste, creed and religion,” She said in a post on Twitter. “I still remain a Muslim and none should comment on what I choose to wear. Faith is beyond attire and is more about believing and practicing the invaluable doctrines of all religions.” Marriage is a matter of personal choice and what you wear is again a personal choice. As far as wearing mangal Sutra, Bindi, Saree are concerned, these are symbols which have happily become part of the Indian culture. When people adopt it, they are welcome but imposing them does create reaction and opposition. From centuries Hindus and Muslims have been living together and adopting each other’s practices.

Mutual respect has been the very life thread of Indian social life. While sectarian streams have presented rigid attitude towards the use of symbols of others’ religion, the average people have gone for adopting things from prevalent religions. The orthodox among us have made hue and cry about these trends while the open minded people have adopted and welcomed these and celebrated the diversity. This intermixing has manifested in our literature, art, architecture and social practices of religions. People have also indulged in joint celebration of religious festivals. The glimpses of these are scattered all around, well articulated in parts of Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Discovery of India”. Currently a less noticed series by author Sohail Hashmi (Hindostan ki Kahani) captures this very essence; the integrative nature of Indian culture.

The reactions to Jahan’s natural choices are disturbing at one level. We need to learn to accept the diversity of the country and syncretism as the very soul of India. The Deoband Maulana’s statement needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. As such also it is an opinion of a particular person; it is not endowed with divine authority. What should guide our life is the Indian ethos and values of Indian Constitution. Contrary to the opinion of this cleric from Devband there are other Islamic scholars who approve Muslim women’s marriage out of Islam. There are Islamic scholars today who will uphold interfaith marriages and same sex liaisons as well. The core point is social practices evolved over time are a very precious asset of the society.

One does know that some fatwas have played havoc, like the one issued by Ayatollah Khomeini on his book Satanic verses to Salman Rushdie. It was a political game. Contrary to that there are number of fatwa’s issued by maulanas, which pass off quietly as fatwa by its very nature is not binding.

What Sadhvi Prachi is saying is a mere rhetoric, to criticize the interfaith marriage in particular marriages where the girl is a Hindu and boy is from other religions. The phrase Love Jihad has been coined and promoted in society. Here the main theory is that Muslim boys are luring Hindu girls and converting them to Islam. A lot has happened on this issue; we witnessed the case of Hadiya, where a Hindu girl took to Islam, married a Muslim boy. After long battle she did succeed in winning her freedom of choice. The contrary case of Priyanaka Todi and Rizwan ended in the death of Rizwan. The counter to this also exists, where the family of a Muslim girl killed Ankit Saxena whom she intended to marry. Film Turup dealing with this theme is more than worth a watch.

With the rise of sectarianism, the orthodoxy, the divisiveness has gone up. The Maulana of Devband is not being taken seriously by Jahan, and rightly so. She has her full freedom to interpret her religion. Her tweet sums up the core civilizational values which have evolved here. It is tragic that last few decades have undermined these values and attempt to present selected Hindu practices as the practices are going on. Inter-caste, interfaith marriages are welcome cementing factors in the integration of the nation. One recalls here that Babasaheb Ambedkar wanted to promote inter-caste marriages to promote annihilation of caste. On similar lines Mahatma Gandhi used to attend only inter-caste marriages. In current times on one hand Khap Panchayats are standing to oppose same Gotra marriages while the communal forces are opposed to inter faith marriages.

On yet another plane Zaira Wasim, who came to limelight with her performance in Dangal, has decided to quit her film career citing as a hindrance to her religion! Personal choice is OK, but one knows that we have great Muslim actresses in Bollywood and other regional films. As such the spread of divisive ideology on one hand is opposing the likes of Jahan, whose declaration that her Indian-ness is above everything, on other side the likes of Wasim are being taken in by those issuing Fatwa’s from Devband etc. and leaving the profession of their choice.

The need is for the debate about primacy of moral values of religions and adopting our norms and practices according to changing times. There is a need to promote the synthetic, inclusive trends of Indian culture and creating an atmosphere where security of minorities prevails and we are free to love whosoever we like and don’t feel intimidated from choosing the profession we like.