Bangladesh: Insanity and Dowry System

I do not know whether readers enjoy reading my articles at all, or if they gain anything fruitful from their contents, but, as far as I am concerned, I know for sure that I do enjoy writing on subjects that appear to me to be informative and interesting.  It is my own satisfaction that drives me to write, and in keeping with this habit, I am going to discuss two interesting issues in this article.


1. A German proverb says: �Your leader is what you are!� (source: Shodalap).


Before explaining the reason for which I used the German saying at the beginning of my article, I wish to share a true story with the readers.  

During Gen. Ershad�s last few years in power, Bangladesh saw a lot of weird things taking place on its soil. One such thing was the formation of an Association by some of its insane people.  

The Association, with a semi-insane person as its president, had some interesting manifestos. One of them called upon the government to treat insane persons humanely; another required authorities to provide them all the amenities they deserve in the mental hospitals.  

What has happened to the Association I do not know, but it was a sanguine beginning. I wished it to take a firm root in Bangladesh so that other insane people of other countries of the world could benefit from their Bangladeshi counterparts� noble efforts.  

The first part of the Bangladeshi insane peoples� story ends here. The second part goes as follows:  

After Justice Shahabuddin had become the Acting President of Bangladesh, he was most of the times seen with his local and foreign guests wearing a black business suit. He had to wear business suit because Bangladesh did not have then, nor does it have even today a National Dress.  

But in contrast to what the Justice was doing in his own country, and in his own office, his appointee to the United Nations to represent the People of Bangladesh created a different history of his own.  

I believe Perez de Cuellar was the Secretary General of the United Nations at the time of the occurrence I am describing below. He was from Peru and his mother tongue was Spanish.  

Clad in a high quality lungi and a silk kurta and a pair of moccasins on his two feet, the Bangladeshi Permanent Representative-designate, went to the UN Headquarters in New York to present his credentials to the Secretary-General. The journalists present to cover the event were surprised to see a caricature walking into the corridors of the building. Asked to explain what he was wearing, the proud Bangladesh Representative told the journalists that the dress he was wearing was the traditional attire of the people of Bangladesh . Because he was a nationalist, he deemed it appropriate to highlight his traditional dress at a place where it was expected to catch the world�s attention.  

His sense of nationalism would have remained embedded in the history of the United Nations, if he had spoken to the Secretary General in Bengali. He did not do it; neither did he speak in English. The language he chose to speak in was Spanish, which he had acquired from Peru where he had an ambassadorial stint to perform for some time.  

Here are my questions for the Bangladeshi readers:


a. Does a lungi, worn with a silk kurta and a pair of moccasins, represent the traditional dress of we Bengalis?

b. Can we visualize how the �honorable� Representative looked like in his attire?

c. Are not a lungi, a genji (vest) and a pair of sandals (where applicable) the components of we Bengalis� traditional dress?

d. Why did the gentleman speak in Spanish? Was he trying to impress the General Secretary, and for what reasons?

e. Did the gentleman not act like an insane man? If he did, then does not the German proverb apply to a good number of the Bangladeshi people?


2. The second issue for my discussion here is the crusade that, according to some Bangladeshi newspapers, has been launched by the Bangladeshi Imams for eradicating dowry from their country. As far as I am concerned, it is a good news and the Imams deserve my compliments.  Having said that, I now need to explain why I thought to write this article, when the efforts of the Imams I deemed to be praiseworthy.

At the outset, I need to remind readers that Islam does not permit a woman to marry a man; the right to marry rests in her would-be husband�s hand. Similarly, a Muslim wife cannot divorce her husband, no matter how bad he is, or even if he is impotent. Should a wife feel compelled to break her marriage, she can achieve this only through her husband, who has the sole right to �free her from her bondage,� provided she agrees to return to him the dower he gave her at the time of their marriage.

Contrary to the dowry system that is current in the Indian sub-continent, the Islamic law requires the Muslim bridegrooms to pay dowers to their would-be Muslim brides. It is like buying a commodity; you pay for what you want to buy. If the commodity is not good, or if it is stale or second-hand, you pay a certain price. But if it is fresh, unused and catching to your eyes, you don�t mind paying a higher price. That is exactly what is now in practice in the birth place of the Prophet of Islam.

Interestingly, men, like women, also grow old, but they never become stale or second-hand, despite their living with, or marrying a number of women. They always remain fresh as far as their bodies are concerned. On the other hand, women lose their freshness and charm as a result of bearing, and delivering children. Such women have less value in the �cattle market� than do the virgin ones, hence the Arabs� insistence on unmarried girls for maintaining their virginity at any cost.

Girls� parents in Saudi Arabia advertise the availability of their daughters for marriage by hoisting flags in front of their homes. This draws prospective grooms to their doorsteps. The good quality of their advertised �merchandises� fetches them hefty prices. Conversely, the inferior ones produce unsatisfactory results.

The inferior quality of their daughters was one of the prime causes, which caused the pre-Islamic pagans to kill them. The other reason for killing them was the loss of the investments they made in their daughters. The second action has come to be known as the �honor killing.�

The pagans killed their daughters, when they eloped or married a man without their parents� permission. Both actions were serious: In either case, the parents lost their investments, and these they always refused to part with under any circumstance.

Trading in daughters had always been a profitable business for the Arabs. Newspapers reported some years ago that a 65-year old Saudi Sheikh married a very beautiful sixteen-year old college-going girl by paying her parents� 1.2 million Saudi Riyals. This payment covered the entire cost her parents incurred for her upbringing until the time of her marriage, plus a huge amount of profit.

The largest number of the present-day Saudis� blood relatives, outside of Saudi Arabia , is concentrated in the Indian State of Hyderabad . These Arabs, though Indianized a long time ago, had come to Hyderabad , when its Muslim Nizam (ruler) was raising his own private army. Employed as ordinary foot soldiers, they married the Hyderabadi Muslim girls and settled down for good in this princely state.

Now the Indianized Saudis� relatives from Saudi Arabia visit Hyderabad not to see them, but to buy and enjoy sex with young and virgin Hyderabadi Muslim girls. Since most of the Muslim families of this state are dirt poor, they sold their teenage daughters to the Saudis for a paltry sum of 5,000 Indian Rupees (approximately 110 American Dollars in today�s exchange rate). M. J. Akbar, a veteran Muslim journalist of India , recorded the so-called marriage of a 13-year old Muslim girl to a 60-year old Saudi Sheikh, perhaps, some fifteen years ago.

The night of marriage, he raped her in his hotel room. Unsatisfied, the Sheikh bought her 12-year old sister the next day, and then raped her in her presence.

The atrocities, committed by the Arabian Sheikhs on the poor Muslim girls of Hyderabad , have reportedly abated, thanks to the measures taken by the infidel government of India . Whether or not the Arabian beasts are still able to perpetrate their heinous crimes is not known to me, hence my inability to apprise readers with the latest situation of the poor Muslim girls of Hyderabad .

Should Muslim men rape their wives, if they so wished? Why not? When you buy a thing, you become its owner. The ownership gives you the right to use it in any manner that suites your taste and fancy. And this right becomes legitimately enforceable, when your God-given religious scripture tells you that your wives are like your field. Enter them and use them in any manner you like, for it is a farmer�s right to �chooses his own time and mode of cultivation� (Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran, Vol. 1, p. 88), and that for sowing his seeds, he needs no permission or consent from his field.

The situation in respect to marrying off daughters in the Indian sub-continent is quite different. Here parents, irrespective of their religious affiliations, always want to get rid of their assumedly �un-saleable� daughters by offering dowers to their would-be sons-in-law. It is like paying incentive to the house cleaners the people in the West employ: They give them money to take away what they know has become unusable or un-saleable, for this not only saves them huge storage cost, it also helps them create additional space within their homes.

But why the Muslim parents of the Indian sub-continent have been doing something that is not stipulated in the Quran? The Holy Book is not at all vague in the matter of dowry: It makes it absolutely clear that it is the grooms� responsibility to pay dowers to their would-be brides; it is not the other way round.

So, what is the solution to the problem that the Muslims of Bangladesh face today in marrying off their daughters? Undisputedly, it is the dowry system; it is specially so for the poor Muslims of this poor country.

I believe the Imams of Bangladesh can help in solving this social curse to a great extent. To help ease their brethren�s sufferings, what they need to do is to issue a strong Fatwa. In it, they must state clearly, and unambiguously that to pay dowers to the would-be bridegrooms is a great sin (Gonah-e-Kabira) and that the committers of this great sin shall enjoy no bliss of heaven; rather, they shall be burning forever in the inferno of hell after being judged guilty by God on the Day of Judgment. This Fatwa must be issued from each mosque of Bangladesh , and at least once in a month in order to make it effective. Lukewarm efforts would yield no result.

The issuance of Fatwa may help change many people�s mind and perceptions. But are the Imams willing to do what I have proposed in the above paragraph? If not, then what is there that is likely to prevent them from issuing a Fatwa on such an important matter as is the payment of dowers? 

May be, I shall have to wait a long time to read or hear a sensible response to my above question.  

June 23, 2004


Mohammad Asghar writes from USA. 

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