The Justice Department, when it comes to matters of the Bearded Folk, has the patience of Job.

This, as the deadline for comments on the Muslim Marriages Bill has been extended — again.

Not that this need to “allow for maximum participation” isn’t an admirable gesture.

But the first draft was published 10 years ago.

The department and indeed the Cabinet doesn’t seem to know exactly who they’re dealing with here.

Monotheists love “consultation” — it’s God-speak for dragging things out.

After all, one of the explosive proposals contained in this Bill is (shiver me timbers) giving equal rights to women.

It took two years for a similar form of remedial legislation, the Recognition of African Customary Marriages Act, to pass on to the statute books. And yet a law with consequences for a tiny fraction of the population (compared with the former) has taken over a decade to craft.

Consultation, surely, should have its limits.

It’s also highly probable the “consensus” the department seeks, is utopian. Just when things look on the right track, some Muslim fringe group will drag the debate back to the beginning, arguing that the laws of man hold no sway over the followers of the Almighty, et cetera.

Given their fondness for debates on whether water is halaal or not, or the best shari’a punishment for cartoonists, the foot-dragging should come as no surprise.

What is surprising, is that the government continues to pander to various groups who keep shifting the goalposts, crying foul and yelling abuse from the sidelines.

And all the while, time and vast sums of money are spent on costly and litigation every time a situation arises where a Muslim woman (and they tend to be women in the main) has to turn to the courts to enforce her rights to her children, to be fed and clothed, or to leave her man.

Given their track record of successful “consultations”, it should come as no surprise that certain members of the clerical classes appear determined to sabotage the bill. So far, or so we are told, the bill has been endorsed by various influential local Muslim organisations, including women’s groups.

Then there are the killjoy men in dresses, like the  KwaZulu-Natal-based “Council of Muslim Theologians” — who are conducting online campaigns against the Bill.

Of course, this crew of gouty old bhai’s  (who once said women’s voices on radio were satanic), could hardly be happy with provisos allowing women to divorce their husbands for neglect, cruelty, impotence, death — or any of those other choice reasons that allow a woman an Islamic divorce.

They certainly wouldn’t be happy to learn their refugee congregants can’t go bride shopping in Pakistan while they’re still in a scam marriage to Siphokazi in Joburg.

And if they choose to marry, it won’t be without the approval of a court-appointed marriage officer.

Divorce via Twitter, unfortunately, will be off the cards.

And despite the wide consultation and its over-reaching egalitarian implications, the most worrying aspect of this Bill is that it unintentionally vests ultimate authority over Muslim women and children’s lives in the clerical bodies.

After all it is they who will rubber stamp the credentials of the aforementioned marriage officer. In matters of the Muslim religion, there is no escaping the clergy. And in a faith where matters of interpretation are inextricably linked to fluency in a foreign language (Arabic) — Muslim marriages will be forever micro-managed.

The only real way to ensure women aren’t short changed by Muslim personal law, is to educate them about ante-nuptial contracts.

Accompanying civil ceremonies for Muslim marriages should be made compulsory.

Despite its shortcomings on women’s rights, the state, and not the Beaded Crew, is the best suited, and should be the ultimate guardian and defender of women’s rights.



Khadija Magardie

Media Strategist and Communications Consultant. Former journalist gone to The Dark Side @dijamagardie

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