What Umar Cheema Doesn’t Know and What Mufti Saeed is Not Telling

Wedding Card

By: Syed Sharfuddin

At the start of 2018 the biggest news in Pakistan and perhaps the world was Pakistan Taehrik Insaaf Party’s (PTI) maverick leader Imran’s Khan had married again, this time with a homemaker divorced woman named Bushra Bibi aka Peerni. The news of the marriage was kept in close covers until it was broken by Geo News’ investigative reporter Umar Cheema on 6 January. The journalist claimed that the PTI leader got married on 1 January in a private ceremony attended by a handful of selected friends and family members of the married couple. Mufti Saeed, a PTI supporter and also a religious scholar presided over the Nikah.

While Mr Khan and his marriage conductor remained quiet about the breaking news, PTI supporters called Mr Cheema’s findings fake news. Some PTI members admitted that Mr Khan had proposed to the lady but had not married her. Most hurled abuses at the investigative journalist on social media because he works for a media house whose owners are detested by PTI leadership. As is the nature of Pakistani politics, the news became a butt of jokes in the social media about Imran Khan’s priorities in an election year and the rumours that he had married a spiritual person whose blissful company would bring him good luck and lots of victories in the forthcoming electoral battles against Mrs Khan’s political rivals, and enable him to achieve his grand vision about Pakistan.

Mr Cheema broke another news on the evening of 18 February maintaining that while Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi had actually got married on 1 January, the marriage was re-enacted on 18 February in Lahore for media consumption. This time PTI did not deny the news and owned it the next day. Imran Khan also hosted a Walima at his residence for selected invitees but decided not to travel for Umrah or honeymoon.

On 5 March Mr Cheema came out with another intriguing piece of information about the reported marriage on 1 January that it was held inside the period of Iddat of Bushra Bibi after her divorce with her former husband on 14 November last year. This raised many an eyebrow in Pakistan, an Islamic country where religious injunctions are taken seriously especially when these apply to public figures who are both the spokespersons of the nation and public models for its youth. The journalist was, however, unable to get Mufti Saeed to admit or deny the report. Apparently, the Mufti has promised Imran Khan that he will honour the latter’s request not to share the details of his marriage with anyone.

It is a legitimate question to ask whether the public have a right to poke their nose into a private matter between two individuals who are now happily married. The answer is yes because it is not the standard first-time marriage of a political leader who was already a popular public figure long before he entered politics, and also because the marriage itself is mired in mystery and drama often attached to celebrities. Now an additional layer of religious confusion has been added to it by the news about Iddat. So what is it that the News journalist doesn’t know but is willing to share and what is it that the Mufti knows but is not telling us?

According to Surah 2 verse 235 in the Holy Quran, Muslim men who intend to marry divorced women are allowed to pass a hint to them that they wish to marry them; if they cannot keep such a desire to themselves for the time being. However, they are not allowed to formally propose to such women, nor enter into a secret arrangement with them, nor contract a marriage with them until the end of their Iddat.
وَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا عَرَّضْتُم بِهِ مِنْ خِطْبَةِ النِّسَاء أَوْ أَكْنَنتُمْ فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ عَلِمَ اللّهُ أَنَّكُمْ سَتَذْكُرُونَهُنَّ وَلَـكِن لاَّ تُوَاعِدُوهُنَّ سِرًّإِلاَّ أَن تَقُولُواْ قَوْلاً مَّعْرُوفًا وَلاَ تَعْزِمُواْ عُقْدَةَ النِّكَاحِ حَتَّىَ يَبْلُغَ الْكِتَابُ أَجَلَهُ وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُ وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللّهَ غَفُورٌ حَلِيمٌ

Mr Cheema’s investigative reporting reveals that Mufti Saeed did not know that the Iddat of Bushra Bibi had not completed by 1 January when he conducted the Nikah of Imran Khan with Bushra Bibi on that day. Since Mr Khan was in the habit of not making his marriages known immediately, the ceremony was kept to close friends and family members of the couple and not publicised. That was also his good luck and saving grace because it turned out to be a terribly wrong timing for him.

Ibn Katheer in Tafseer Quran-Al-Azeem (774 AH) writes that the marriage of a man to a divorced woman within the period of her Iddat stands nullified for violation of Allah’s commandment in Surah Al-Baqarah, chapter 2 verse 235. In offering an explanation of this verse in Jamia-Al-Ahkam-Al-Quran, Sheikh Qurtubi (671 AH) mentions that during the time of Caliph Umar there was a woman from the tribe of Quraish who married a person from the tribe of Thaqeef before her Iddat was completed. This was done in ignorance. But Umar annulled their marriage and forbade the couple to marry each other again even after the completion of the Iddat. They were spared the punishment of ‘Had’ because they had not consummated the marriage before it was annulled. There is a difference of opinion among scholars on the question whether the same couple can remarry after the completion of the period of Iddat. One group of scholars says that after the annulment of their marriage they cannot remarry each other ever again. The other group says they will have to get married again if the consummation of marriage had not taken place during the period of Iddat.

Mufti Saeed, being a scholar of Islam must have advised Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi after learning that her period of Iddat had not come to an end on 1 January that their marriage stood null and void and required a fresh Nikah after the end of the Iddat. Mr Cheema tells his readers that this period ended on 14 February being exactly three months after Bushra Bibi’s divorce was materialised on 14 November 2017. The couple were remarried on 18 February by Mufti Saeed after meeting the requirements of Surah Al Baqarah verse 235. Therefore, both the dates (1 January and 18 February) uncovered by Mr Cheema are correct because on these dates the ceremony of Nikah between the same couple was presided over by Mufti Saeed twice, but the first Nikah got nullified and the second had to be conducted again to validate their marriage according to Islamic injunctions.

Nobody expects people who are not religious scholars to know the legal requirements of Islamic marriage as prescribed in the holy book and confirmed by the sayings of prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. It was an honest omission on the part of the Mufti not to ask the details of the Iddat from the divorced lady out of courtesy. It is also admirable that after he discovered that the marriage he conducted on 1 January was null and void, he advised the principals properly and they took his advice and contracted the marriage again on 18 February after the requirement of Iddat had been met.

Imran Kham may have feared that if he admitted the fauxpas of I January he will become a political football and his rivals will reduce him to pieces. But it was a misplaced fear. Leaders are not infallible but their measure lies in their ability to rise from a fall quickly and honestly. The PTI leader should be bold enough to admit the Mea-culpa and come clean on the mystery of his third marriage. He should also acknowledge that as long as there are good investigative journalists like Mr Cheema in the country, the future of an independent media, working as the watchdog of society, is bright.

6 March 2018

Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a retired diplomat and contributes regularly to a religious blog http://www.rahbar.co.uk. He can be reached at sharaf.sharfuddin@gmail.com