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DHAKA: Bangladeshi women are calling for a high court ruling barring them from becoming Muslim marriage registrars to be overturned, saying the verdict breaches their constitutional rights.

The Dhaka High Court, citing “certain physical conditions,” last week rejected a petition by Ayesha Siddiqua, from Dinajpur in northern Bangladesh, who was refused employment as a Muslim marriage registrar on the grounds that she is a woman.

The court, referring to menstruation, said that women in the Muslim-majority country “cannot enter a mosque during a certain time of the month,” and this “physical disqualification” means they cannot conduct religious tasks such as registering marriage.

Women politicians, lawyers and activists reacted angrily to the verdict.

“It rejects the concept of equal rights for women. I protest against the decision,” ruling Awami League MP Meher Afroz Chumky told Arab News on Tuesday.

Chumky, the party’s women’s affairs secretary, and a former minister for women’s and children’s affairs, called the court decision “humiliating.”

“Women are allowed to offer prayers in the mosque in Saudi Arabia, but in Bangladesh we rarely see this. I think it’s time to change the people’s mindset,” she said.

Salma Ali, president of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said that “physical issues” should not be the basis for refusing women employment as marriage registrars.

“It’s very sad. The reasons mentioned in the verdict don’t justify barring women from acting as Muslim marriage registrars. If necessary, the court could seek opinions from Islamic scholars to find a reasonable way out,” she said.

Fawzia Karim Firoze, who is overseeing Siddiqua’s appeal to the Supreme Court, said that Bangladeshi women work in all sectors of society and should not be barred from job of marriage registrar.

“Our women even serve in the armed forces. So, they can’t be barred from joining as marriage registrars,” she told Arab News.

“Women have been performing as Muslim marriage registrars for many years in the UAE and Egypt also. The marriage registrar performs the registration of the marriage only and the person has nothing to do with religion. In Muslim marriage, the religious parts are taken care of by any imam.”

Mufti Mizanur Rahman, khatib of the national mosque, Baitul Mukarram, said that if other Muslim countries allow women to perform as Muslim marriage registrars, there is a chance that Bangladesh will review the decision “in the light of Islamic guidelines.”

 “The Holy Qur’an didn’t say anything regarding women working as marriage registrars,” he said.

Activists say that the ban ignores the country’s constitution.

“In our religion there is no guideline barring women from performing as Muslim marriage registrars. This type of decision is contrary to our constitutional rights,” human rights defender Khushi Kabir said.

“It seems like a gender-biased decision, and there is scope to review it after more consultation. I hope the Supreme Court will consider it in a pragmatic way,” she said.


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