Vol 8 - No. 11




Farzana Hassan

Hilla: a DocuMovie on Divorce in Islam
By Hasan Mahmud

Reviewed by Farzana Hassan

Hilla, a powerfully-woven Documovie by Hasan Mahmud, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, has recently taken the Bangla-speaking population by storm with its incisive commentary on the destructive effects of Shariah law in many parts of the Muslim world.  In Bangladesh, as in other Muslim countries, a very literal application of Quranic injunctions on divorce continues to destroy innocent lives.  Stipulations regarding irrevocable divorce and hilla, the intervening marriage that makes it legal for the original couple to remarry, account for much grief and tragedy for helpless Muslim women. This provision, drawn from the Hanafi and Sahfi schools of thought is being strictly enforced in parts of Bangladesh, where the story in Mahmud’s DocuMovie unfolds.  

“You are so enchanting, your shadow is lovely too,” says Monowara’s petulant husband Abu, as the Movie kicks off. The very first scene opens with a silhouette, perhaps symbolising the perpetual subjugation of women when sharia rules their lives.   

"Your rage will destroy our home and brun me alive," says Monowara, as she fears her husband’s wrathful nature despite his love for her. Her words turn out to be prophetic. It is indeed shocking to see a husband as infatuated with his wife as Abu is, to divorce her over a poorly prepared meal.  Many may believe this exaggerates the triviality of pretexts for divorce among Muslims. Tragically, it does not.

Abu pronounces the divorce three times in one go. According to sharia, the couple now stands divorced and must now undergo a hilla marriage if they wish to remarry. The hilla marriage would come with its own strictures. Not only would the marriage with a new husband have to be consummated, but the second husband would also have to give the divorce freely if the integrity of the exercise is to be protected.

A lengthy discussion on the meanings of various sharia laws, Islamic jurisprudence and Quranic injunctions ensues in the makeshift open-air court soon after Abu divorces his wife. It allows disputants to evaluate the various shariah provisions in light of the Quran. 

 Mukti, a bright and perky female university student often questions the logic of shariah provisions. She asks why women, whose lives are most affected by these injunctions, are almost universally barred from helping to formulate these laws.  She also informs the court that the prophet did indeed repudiate the notion of pronouncing a divorce three times at once.  

In the end, everyone present agrees that the imam must represent the village folk at a forthcoming meeting of scholars with a proposition to eradicate the curse of hilla marriages. This would also enable imams to annul such whimsically pronounced divorces.

It is quite telling how the women come up with the most perceptive comments on these discriminatory laws as the drama comes to a close. The mother of Montaj, an older woman and sole witness to Abu’s divorce pronouncements, makes the incisive observation that while marriages in Islam require two witnesses and several rituals to authenticate, their dissolution does not.  She therefore emphasizes the importance of stringency with respect to divorce as well.  

The overall intent of the movie is to demonstrate how man-made sharia law deviates drastically from both the letter and spirit of the Quran.  The movie also highlights precedents from other parts of the Muslim world on such matters, noting that a divorce pronounced three times at once is often annulled and revoked without hurdles elsewhere.

Mahmud uses cogent arguments and Islamic references to demonstrate the unislamic nature of these divorces and just how fundamentally they betray the intent of the Quran.  It is a very revealing account of such events, convincingly highlighting many of the destructive social outcomes. The insights the movie brings to these issues are commendably clear and profound.  

 Most importantly, the DocuMovie has been performed in the vernacular language, though subtitled in English. It therefore, has wide reach among the people who continue these practices. It is a well-acted play on a very pressing social issue. 


[Farzana Hassan is a Freelance writer, public speaker and author of  "Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest" and host of the radio program Islam: Faith and Culture.]

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