By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD: Though theirs is a love marriage, with full support of their family members, it certainly has not been an easy â€œgameâ€ for either the Indian tennis star Sania Mirza (23) or Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Iqbal (28). Beating even Bollywood movies and Indo-Pak diplomatic â€œfeudsâ€ over the drama staged from day one, the â€œnewsâ€ generated has had the media and public across the sub-continent â€œunitedâ€ at least in being totally interested in developments regarding this wedding.
Soon after their engagement was formally announced, in addition to the media coverage and congratulations the couple received, strong objections were raised from several quarters. The primary one being from Ayesha Siddiqui, claiming to be Shoaibâ€™s first wife. She is also said to have furnished substantial evidence of being married to him through the telephone. Though Shoaib claimed to have been tricked into having married Ayesha, over telephone, the matter continued to hit headlines, till the former finally signed the divorce papers.
Interestingly, while most politicians across the sub-continent have described the Sania-Shoaib wedding as their â€œpersonalâ€ decision, a few with an anti-Pakistan attitude have gone overboard in criticizing it. These include Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who expressed apprehension over Saniaâ€™s marrying a Pakistani. Despite Sania having clarified that she would continue playing for India, the likes of Thackeray said that after her marriage she would cease being an Indian.
Of course, Sania-Shoaibâ€™s wedding is not the first instance of a marital bond between families from India and Pakistan. Numerous marriages between Indian and Pakistani Muslims have continued to take place, even though Indo-Pak ties have often been fairly tense. Nevertheless, theirs is one of the few weddings between celebrities and one that has had people with the media keeping a track of developments taking place.
Credit must be given to Sania and her family for having virtually remained unfazed by hue and cry raised over Ayeshaâ€™s claims and objections to her marrying a Pakistani. Defending Shoaib, Sania even said that her family had been aware of Ayeshaâ€™s stand from the beginning.
Sania and Shoaibâ€™s wedding is also one of the few ones that has kept the Indian Ulema (Muslim clerics) fairly busy. When Ayeshaâ€™s claims were in the news, clerics were busy answering questions on whether her nikah with Shoaib was valid or not. Interestingly, even though Shoaib has signed the divorce papers, doubts prevail over the authenticity of â€œevidenceâ€ provided by Ayesha. The intriguing questions raised are regarding identity of witnesses from the two sides at the time of nikah over phone in 2002; what prevented the two from living together since then and so forth. In general, it was held, irrespective of whether Ayeshaâ€™s claims were correct or not, Sania and Shoaibâ€™s wedding could not be prevented by them. This is because, Shoaib can have two, three, even four wives at one time, as per the Muslim law. In this context, rather than encourage speculations about Sania being his â€œsecondâ€ wife, by signing the divorce papers on April 7, Shoaib clearly laid out that she would be his only wife. Besides, as Ayesha had also filed an FIR against Shoaib, blaming him for fraud and criminal intimidation, he apparently was against the case getting more complicated and controversial.
Explaining his decision to finally sign the divorce papers, even though earlier he had claimed that Ayesha had tricked him into nikah over phone, Shoaid stated: â€œI am no one to judge what is wrong or what is right as the one above knows the truth. I have done what was the best amicable thing to do as it was getting beyond reasoning as each day unfolded.â€ â€œI have realized that media is part of my family, and request all of you to pray for me and Sania as we are embarking on a beautiful journey of marriage,â€ Shoaib said.
Seldom has any wedding created furor over fatwas, as that of Sania and Shoaib. It may be noted, in secular India, while the respected clerics have their right to issue fatwas on what they view as important, individuals are not bound to follow the same. A few clerics voiced objections to Sania and Shoaib appearing together for press conferences, before their wedding. They also objected to Shoaib staying at Saniaâ€™s residence. Describing these activities as â€œforbiddenâ€ in Islam, a Sunni Ulema board issued a fatwa against these and even asked Muslims to stay away from their wedding.
Saniaâ€™s family promptly responded to this fatwa, by issuing a statement: â€œWe would like to clarify that there has been a misunderstanding in some quarters. The groom has not been staying in the Mirza residence for the last few days.â€ Shoaib had been staying there since his arrival from Pakistan on April 2. His family members, however, remained there while Shoaib moved out in keeping with traditional customs.
Meanwhile, when questioned on this fatwa, All India Sunni Ulema Board (AISUB) stated: â€œWe have nothing to do with this outfit. Such fatwas cannot be issued.â€
The date of the wedding also kept all wondering as to when would it take place. At one point, â€œreportsâ€ floated of their getting married on April 9, later the actual date was said to be April 15, while â€œnewsâ€ also circulated about it taking place on April 13. These speculations were settled with their finally getting married on April 12.
Now finally wed, how far will the two succeed in easing tension between India and Pakistan, is the diplomatic angle being accorded to Sania-Shoaibâ€™s â€œlove-match.â€