Federal Shariat Court declares swara as un-Islamic

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) has declared the custom of swara as un-Islamic.

A three-judge bench, headed by FSC Chief Justice Noor Mohammad Meskenzai, observed that the tradition of giving away a minor girl to settle disputes was against the injunctions of Islam.

Taking up a petition filed by one Sakeena Bibi, the bench held that Ulema had developed a consensus that vani, or swara, was against the teachings of Islam.

Swara is a custom where girls, often minors, are given in marriage or servitude to an aggrieved family as compensation to end disputes, often murder. It is a form of arranged or forced child marriage and the result of punishment decided by a council of tribal elders called jirga.

The petitioner, a concerned citizen, challenged the custom of vani for many reasons. According to the petition, the tradition which is being practiced in jirgas and panchayat — the traditional fora for dispute resolution — usurps the fundamental rights of a woman or young girl.

It argued that jirga or panchayat misconstrued the concept ‘badl-i-sulah’ — compensation to settle a dispute by offering a young girl to the aggrieved family. The petitioner requested the court to declare this custom as illegal.

Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, Jurist Consult at FSC, said vani violated at least four fundamental rights. According to him, since the girl is offered by the accused family, she in most of the cases is deprived of even basic facilities, hence subjected to discrimination.

Secondly, she is wedded to a man without her consent. Thirdly, she is not entitled to dower, and fourthly, she cannot file legal suit for khula — dissolution of marriage.

According to Dr Khaki, the legitimate way to settle a murder is payment of diyat or blood money, which is acceptable in Islam; however, traditional forums for dispute resolution consider vani or swara as legitimate way to settle dispute. But Ulema do not accept the practice as Islamic.

Originally Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2021

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