A woman in New Delhi | Representational image | PTI
A woman in New Delhi | Representational image | PTI
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Prostitution in India is illegal. Halala is legal. Almost every day, in the city pages of newspapers, we find small news stories about girls rescued from brothels by the local police. Most girls have a sob story to relate; how they were duped with false promises of work in a big city, better income and so on. Many had been sold, bought and resold before they were rescued by police and sent to women rehabilitation centres like Nari Niketan. 

Much like it was with Zebun Nissa in Bhopal. For the first six years of married life, she had only known peace. A typical middle-class woman with a husband who earned well enough from his truck transport business, and in-laws who did not meddle much in her affairs. She lived with, besides her husband, her parents-in-law and a brother-in-law. What the family of five adults did not have was a little child, a baby to keep everybody busy and happy. Zebun Nissa could never conceive. She consulted many doctors in Bhopal, even went to Gwalior and Jhansi, and finally to Delhi. Nothing worked. Just as she had resigned herself to a life without the joys of motherhood, her husband dropped a bombshell. 

Keen to be a father, Rafiq Ahmed was advised to remarry. One evening, he said the dreaded three words to Zebun Nissa—talaq, talaq, talaq. With the utterance of talaq, Zebun Nissa’s world came crashing down. She was a sociology graduate but had never picked up a job; not even as a teacher in a local primary school. Thrown out of her husband’s house, she went back to her parents in Lucknow. This was not a long-term solution, she soon realised. The house where she had spent more than twenty years was now virtually taken over by her brother and his family. His family was young and growing and her parents confined themselves to a room on the first floor. Days turned into weeks, and Zebun Nissa tried to pick up the pieces of her life all over again. It was not easy. Adding to her lack of professional qualification was her emotional turmoil. She longed to step out of the house.


Also read: Woman given talaq alleges ‘tantrik’ raped her after husband wanted to remarry her


One day, her mobile rang late at night. It was Ahmed. For a minute, Zebun Nissa was speechless and confused. Should she pick up or ignore the call? As she tried to sort out the confusion in her mind, the phone stopped ringing. She heaved a sigh of relief that she did not have to decide right at that moment. Then the phone rang again. The same dilemma revisited. Zebun Nissa put the phone on vibration mode. Ahmed appeared persistent. He called again. It had been a little under a month since he snapped his relationship with Zebun Nissa with multiple pronouncements of talaq in a single sitting. He seemed desperate to find a way through to his former wife, now in iddah, the three-month-long period of waiting, after which the woman can choose to marry again. 

Zebun Nissa finally mustered up enough courage to pick up the phone. For a few seconds, she could not say a word, not even the usual greeting of Assalam-o-alaikum. Ahmed was only slightly better. He kept saying, ‘Hello, hello!’ he knew she had not disconnected. Finally, Zebun Nissa spoke. Ahmed wanted her back. Overcoming her feeling of hurt and anger, she agreed almost immediately. She loved him still. He loved her too. Zebun Nissa could barely control her emotions. She fell prostrate on the floor as she thanked Allah. Her marriage was intact. She could go back to the man she loved. 

Her happiness lasted only a few hours. Next morning, after the usual bed tea, she broke the news to her parents, hoping they would call up their son-in-law and give him a few tips on domestic harmony. Seeing her happy for the first time since she came back, her father agreed to send her back but added a rider, ‘Let me speak to maulvi sahib first. Is it allowed in sharia? He will tell us how we can go about it.’ Zebun Nissa did not want anybody’s involvement. Just the fact that Ahmed had called up, apologised for his action and wanted her back was enough for her. Still, she did not want to be on the wrong side of faith. So, she agreed to her father’s proposal of speaking to a cleric. That is where her happiness died. 

As her father consulted a local cleric who led everyday prayers in the masjid, he was told, ‘Zebun Nissa cannot go back to her husband. After instant triple talaq, she is haram (prohibited) for her husband. Now she can only go back to him after doing halala (to make permissible).’ 

‘What is halala?’ her father asked. ‘She has to marry another man, obtain a divorce, perform iddah, then remarry her first husband. This is like a punishment for her first husband for not having control over his temper,’ explained the maulvi, trying to make the information palatable to Zebun Nissa’s father. It did not matter to the cleric that according to the Supreme Court, after the august 2017 pronouncement making instant triple talaq invalid, her marriage subsisted. Even when the spouses were ready to let bygones be bygones. According to Islam, the final divorce comes into effect only after talaq has been pronounced thrice with a gap of at least one menstrual cycle.


Also read: Nikah halala: Is it rape or religion?


With the cleric’s ruling, Zebun Nissa’s world fell apart. all her dreams of going back to her husband were nipped in the bud. But Ahmed refused to give up so soon. He called again. This time, he seemed nervous, jittery and a shade unsure. Finally, he broached the subject. ‘Could you marry the cleric? He will divorce you soon after. Nobody will get to know. Halala will be done. We can marry again,’ he persisted. 

‘What if he doesn’t?’ Zebun Nissa asked Ahmed. ‘He will. He is a decent man. He has done this earlier to save the marriages of many people. It is just a question of one night. He will marry you after isha (the last prayer of the day) and divorce you after fajr (the first prayer of the day). No strings attached.’ 

What Ahmed did not tell her was that the maulvi sahib had asked to be paid for his services towards ‘saving marriages of decent men’. Since they had been married for six years, Ahmed was asked to pay an amount equal to the mehr he had settled upon with Zebun Nissa, at the time of marriage, and add Rs 2,000 per year of marriage to that. Zebun Nissa’s mehr was fixed at Rs 50,000 at the time of her nikah. as a result, the figure came to Rs 62,000, an amount Ahmed could afford with some effort. He was ready and willing. He just wanted his wife back. 

‘Does it not amount to prostitution?’ Zebun Nissa asked Ahmed, ‘like a man sleeps with a woman and pays her, here is this maulvi offering to sleep with your wife to save your marriage! I am sure, the Quran does not approve of such a marriage.’ 

With a finality, Zebun Nissa shut the door on a possible halala to reunite with her husband. With her instant decision, maulvi sahib’s visions of a quick marriage, furtive union, followed by the inevitable divorce were tossed away. This was a narrow shave for Zebun Nissa. However, not every woman is as lucky. Countless other women undergo the mortifying process of halala to resume wedlock with their husbands. In a 2017 survey, India Today magazine found a startling number of clerics who first pushed for halala to ‘save marriages’, then offered themselves as a temporary husband, at times for a few hours and sometimes for a few days, before the woman is divorced again and allowed to remarry her earlier husband.


Also read: Modi govt’s triple talaq bill places burden on Muslim women to prove the offence


This makes a mockery of the Islamic injunction wherein a woman is given the choice of remarriage through halala. 

Halala, the way the Quran speaks of it, empowers women to take independent decisions. It saves women from temperamental husbands who divorce in a fit of anger, then take it back, then divorce again, unleashing an endless cycle of marriage and divorce, as was the practice in pre-Islamic days. At that time, many men treated women as mere objects of pleasure. They would marry and divorce according to their whims, leaving women completely vulnerable in this endless game. The Quran called a halt to this by limiting the number of divorces in a nikah to three and by completely releasing a woman trapped in such a marriage. Halala was meant to keep men who have zero control over their temper or passion at bay. However, the way it often works out in the Indian Muslim society, it only serves to fulfil the lust of the men and degrades women, reducing them to chattel. 

This excerpt from Nikah Halala: Sleeping With a Stranger by Ziya Us Salam has been published with permission from Bloomsbury.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. These clerics should be charged with rape and according to islamic rules that a rapist should be stoned till death must be implemented.

    • Mr Suhail Ahmad: Indian laws apply in India, not the barbaric mediaeval laws that work in backward Islamic countries such as perhaps yours. Thus stoning a person to death is not seen in India. Although, not to be undone, India’s police believe in the much more human “encounter” way of capital punishment !

    • No it is not a crisis among Muslim community. Divorce rate among Muslims is the lowest among communities. Not all Muslim sects practice triple talaq. Shia 40% of Muslims, Ahl-e Hadees about 15% small minorities like bhori, Aga Khani and couple of other sects do not practice triple talaq.
      Not only that in most cases of talaq both or one parties do not want to get back together.
      There is no nikah Halala as such. It’s simple Nikah. After marriage is dissolved there is no possibility of getting back together. Only in case where the woman married again and then was divorced that it is possible for her to marry her previous husband. However it is prohibited for men among most Sunni sects to marry with intention of divorce. However this deviation is not regulated by law.

      This kind of situation is so rare that most Muslims have not even heard of it.

      While journalists always get into all kind of tangents while writing articles I see that so called progressive leaning publications are hostile to Muslim point of view and refuse to provide context on sects which don’t practice triple talaq . They refuse to provide context of appropriate statistics instead indulge in exaggerating individual instances. Moreover they refuse to identify RSS and BJP backed organization and individuals often who wear burqas only when they want to give press statements. My question is are publications like yours also part of those who have ganged up against Islam and Muslims?

  2. Islam allows women to be treated as object of lust and sex yet moslems dont want to accept it.
    Half the HK is about sex, marriage , women slaves as war booty, concubines and sex after death.
    How is somethingll like halala be so unislamic be a matter of faith for millions across sub continent. It must be sacrosanct else why would muslims opposes TTT bill.
    Does that mean that many other claims by Muslims are also unislamic. Just that no one has explored them yet.
    Maybe Islam allows converting back to original religion ans so is allowed pork eating.
    Who knows what evil mullah has been feeding the gullible masses

  3. TOTALLY UNISLAMIC. These fake moulvi’s are not even qualified enough to be called Moulvi and they doesn’t even have basic understanding of Islam and Quran. There’s no such thing as ‘Nikah Halala’ and ‘Instant triple talaq’ term mentioned in the Quran. People should educate themselves on these issues.

    According to Quran and Sunnah (Islamic tradition) If a man divorces his wife then that women must wait for three monthly cycles (Approx. 3 months) and their husbands are fully entitled to take them back (as their wives) during this waiting period, if they desire reconciliation. The Quran demands time and patience in executing a divorce in the hope of making the union possible knowing that the couple is bound to have differences.It leans more toward safeguarding marriages than dissolving it abruptly.

    Once divorce has taken place she becomes unlawful for him. Then she can marry any guy of her choice and that marriage should be genuine not a short-term or temporary marriage which is invalid and forbidden in Islam. Further If the second Husband dies or if she didn’t get along with him and it leads to a divorce, she can go back to the first husband on her own free will as it is permissible (halal). This is to be without any conspiracy, and certainly not be a marriage entered into cynically just for the purpose of an immediate divorce so that she can remarry the first husband. Such a marriage can only be called a malpractice or an innovation against the spirit of Islam.

    Now very few handful of Muslims in India (less than 0.001%) mostly uneducated ones have misunderstood this concept and some lunatic dimwits used this opportunity to make money by doing so called “Nikah Halala” (Tahleel marriages)

    In Islam Women has right to choose a Husband of her choice and also has right to reject any marriage proposal.
    Women too can ask for a divorce in Islam if her Husband doesn’t provide her with basic needs like shelter, clothing, maintenance, food or if he is abusive, over-strict, or criticizes her and rebukes her for the slightest mistake or if she dislikes his physical appearance because of some deformity or because one of his faculties is missing, or if he doesn’t give her conjugal rights then she has the right to ask for a divorce known as “Khula”(female instigated divorce). Most of the Non-Muslims never heard of this before in their life.

    Prophet Muhammed ( PBUH) cursed those who gets involved in “Tahleel marriage”(Nikah Halala) marriages and compared them with Borrowed billy goat.

    Reported in Ibn Majaah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Shall I not tell you of a borrowed billy-goat.” They said, Yes, O Messenger of Allaah. He said, “He is the one who marries a woman and divorces her so that she can go back to her first husband .May Allah curse al-muhallil (The one who marries a woman and divorces her so that she can go back to her first husband) and al-muhallal lahu (first Husband)”.

    Abu Dawood (2076) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Allah has cursed the muhallil and the muhallal lahu.”

    • Mr Shahid: You write:

      “.. Women too can ask for a divorce in Islam if her Husband doesn’t provide her with basic needs like shelter, clothing, maintenance, food or if he is abusive, over-strict, or criticizes her and rebukes her for the slightest mistake ..”

      I am pretty sure that a learned man like you has the necessary theological proofs in the Qur’an and the Sunnah when you make that statement above. But that is not the red flag that I wish to raise.

      Fact is, when most Muslim women are dependent on their husbands who are the sole breadwinners in their households, what realistic right does a woman have to ask for divorce? Would she get maintenance for herself and her offspring? These questions get brushed under the carpet by obscure, atavistic references to theology and a deliberate disregard for facts on the ground when it comes to the plight of divorced women.

      Take the case of the young Christian girl who was our neighbour who occasionally babysat me when I was a child in Madras in the 70s. I will call her D in this comment. D eloped with a Muslim man and then turned up one day with her fiancé clad in a burqa, ostensibly to invite her family to her wedding. When I ran to meet her and hug her, I was literally shooed away as I was a male from outside the family – never mind the fact that I was a 12 year old boy – who she had been babysitting. I remember running back to my mom sobbing. Fast forward 15 odd years. My family had moved out of our old house and I had moved to Europe. I decided to visit my old neighbourhood and went to the local market to take some snaps. I found D there, begging with a couple of children beside her. My old neighbours told me that D had been triple-talaqqued and shunned now by both Muslims and Christians.

      I will not build a case on my anecdotal evidence. So here is what the Sachchar committee Report states:

      “Despite these differences within their lot, when compared to women from other
      faiths in India, the majority of Muslim women are among the most disadvantaged,
      least literate, most economically impoverished and politically marginalized
      sections of Indian society. While debates on personal law and divorce are
      pertinent and timely, and one is not for a minute running down these issues,
      Muslim women need to be seen as social beings too, entitled to the same rights
      that the Constitution of India grants to all its citizens. The right to education,
      especially at the primary level is mandated by the Constitution, yet over six
      decades after Independence less than 50 percent of Muslim women in India are
      literate. Compare this with other women from other minorities: 76 percent literacy
      among Christians, 64 percent among Sikhs, 62 percent among Buddhists and a
      whopping 90 percent among Jain women (Sachar Report, 2006)

      Ref: bit.ly/3fM7cLR

      Hence, rather than defending obscure theological ideas and lamenting about how things should have been done and how people are deviating from the Qur’an and the Sunnah and so on, policy should be based on facts on the ground. That is, if Muslim community elders wish to alleviate the plight of India’s women.

      I am afraid that will not happen, given the fact that these elders and ulema are almost always men and will defend male privilege tooth and nail. As is usually the case in most religions.

  4. TOTALLY UNISLAMIC. These fake moulvi’s are not even qualified enough to be called Moulvi and they doesn’t even have basic understanding of Islam and Quran. There’s no such thing as ‘Nikah Halala’ and ‘Instant triple talaq’ term mentioned in the Quran. People should educate themselves on these issues.

    According to Quran and Sunnah (Islamic tradition) If a man divorces his wife then that women must wait for three monthly cycles (Approx. 3 months) and their husbands are fully entitled to take them back (as their wives) during this waiting period, if they desire reconciliation. The Quran demands time and patience in executing a divorce in the hope of making the union possible knowing that the couple is bound to have differences.It leans more toward safeguarding marriages than dissolving it abruptly.

    Once divorce has taken place she becomes unlawful for him. Then she can marry any guy of her choice and that marriage should be genuine not a short-term or temporary marriage which is invalid and forbidden in Islam. Further If the second Husband dies or if she didn’t get along with him and it leads to a divorce, she can go back to the first husband on her own free will as it is permissible (halal). This is to be without any conspiracy, and certainly not be a marriage entered into cynically just for the purpose of an immediate divorce so that she can remarry the first husband. Such a marriage can only be called a malpractice or an innovation against the spirit of Islam.

    Now very few handful of Muslims in India (less than 0.001%) mostly uneducated ones have misunderstood this concept and some lunatic dimwits used this opportunity to make money by doing so called “Nikah Halala” marriages.

    In Islam Women has right to choose a Husband of her choice and also has right to reject any marriage proposal.
    Woman too can ask for a divorce in Islam if her Husband doesn’t provide her with basic needs like shelter, clothing, maintenance, food or if he is abusive, over-strict, or criticizes her and rebukes her for the slightest mistake or if she dislikes his physical appearance because of some deformity or because one of his faculties is missing, or if he doesn’t give her conjugal rights then she has the right to ask for a divorce known as “Khula”(female instigated divorce). Most of the Non-Muslims never heard of this before in their life.

    Prophet Muhammed ( PBUH) cursed those who gets involved in deliberate “Nikah Halala” marriages and compared them with Borrowed billy goat.

    Reported in Ibn Majaah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Shall I not tell you of a borrowed billy-goat.” They said, Yes, O Messenger of Allaah. He said, “He is the one who marries a woman and divorces her so that she can go back to her first husband .May Allah curse al-muhallil (The one who marries a woman and divorces her so that she can go back to her first husband) and al-muhallal lahu (first Husband)”.

    Abu Dawood (2076) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Allah has cursed the muhallil and the muhallal lahu.”

    • Ms Sadiya Saleem: Rather than squabbling and splitting hairs about arcane theological terminology, why don’t you accept the fact that this terrible state of affairs befalls many Muslim women ? Merely brushing aside the arguments saying that it is un-Islamic as you and Mr Shahid do does not solve the problem does it ?

      Fact is, Muslim women in India are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to indicators such as education, economic power, health, poverty, social mobility and a host of other indicators. I will be the first to admit that the systemic discrimination in India against Muslims has to bear a large chunk of the blame. But at the same time, the Muslim community does have many an ataviostic, misogynistic practices stemming from use of religious doctrine not adapted to the demands of this century. Even a mere acknowledgement of that fact will be a good first step.

  5. Ofc the reality is Harsh!
    Its true!
    Although you need to elaborate on the whole idea of halala! Which is not well received by almost all people.
    Therefore these heinous people take advantage of the emotionally challenged person.

  6. Thers Nothing likes halala in Islam first our clerics never acsepts triple thalaq is un Islamic our Muslims law board or our muftis not ready to form board to come to a solution for this kind of pathetic condition ther many countries do like malasiya Indonesia and gulf countries (example Islam is the only religion and its script says Marry only one if you cannot do justice to four (wich permits to Marry) equal.so it’s absolutely our Muslim leaders fault but last whatever is this type of situation in Islam very few persentage in there population compare to other religions related offence.

  7. The Print plays its usual trick by using INDIAN instead of MUSLIM in the headline.
    The title should be “How MUSLIM clerics abuse Quranic halala to sexually exploit women and get paid”.

    For a moment, imagine how these fork-tongued rascals at The Print would frame the headline had a Hindu priest committed such a dastardly act.

  8. Ours is a hidebound, traditionalist society mired not so much in physical backwardness as in mental backwardness. Only a sick society living in the past would indulge in the kind of extended Sharia debates which seem to be one of our regular pastimes. Ayaz Amir, 14/2/14 The News.

  9. Now when the truth is out. Let’s see the reaction of Islamists. They call right wing andhbhakt make mockery of them (of course right wing are andhbhakt) but that doesn’t give the authority to minority, left, and Islamists ideology to prevail in this country. For the generations to come Indian Muslims have to fight back against these ideology.

    But they can fight only when the truth is told to them and not the lies that all Islamic clerics tell them in mosques and brainwash them in name of God.

    • The author forgot to tell one thing that as per Islamic laws that second marriage can’t bedone with pre-planned divorce in future and remarriage with first husband.

    • Most Muslims believe what is written in their holy book, is to be followed in letter and spirit. They also believe their holy book was written by God, unlike other religious texts.

    • So it means this is just a ploy by Maul – Loveee to sleep with another persons wife and also get paid for his services !

      So Maul- Lovee is charging 62 grand for a night !

    • Mullah Fazal Mahmood: There are other mullahs who say the opposite of what you claim.

      This case shows that there is an immediate need to get rid of these atavistic laws and replace them by modern laws that are the same for all communities and which also ensure that women do not get shortchanged as is often the case is in Indian Islamic family law.

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