Seeing the developments that occur in Tunisia, I notice that after having written about Bhutan, Tunisia appears to be yet another ‘tiny’ nation which puts some of the ‘BIG’ countires on the globe to shame. And this time it puts to shame the ARAB as well as MUSLIM countries.
A brief introduction to get a visual idea of how tiny this nation is:
Tunisia is a tiny country located at the northern border of the continent of Africa sandwiched between two giants Algeria and Libya. It has an area of 165,000 sq km coming at 89th in the world in size slightly larger than Nepal.( while Pakistan is 35th and almost 4 times as large as Tunisia in area) with about 10 million population ( half of the estimated population of Karachi and one-eighteenth of Pakistan’s population.). It is the smallest nation along the south of Mediterranean.
Having befriended a lot of Tunisians as colleagues and neighbours, I found them strikingly different from the rest of the Arabs. They are simple and poor like us, yet very secular and modern in their outlook. Tunisians have a beautiful blend of Islamic and Westernised life style mainly due to their French colonisation. And most of them strike a very neat balance between the two supposedly diametrically opposed cultures.
Here I do not repeat the glories of it’s Jasmine revolution or the way their youth fought on streets bravely to drive President Ben Ali out of not only power, but out of their continent. It is about a unique personal issue which we muslim countries are struggling at—namely the status of women, polygamy, divorce laws etc.
Thanks to a very dear friend of mine, Ali Boubakri, from whom I learned a lot about the Tunisian culture, and came to possess their beautiful handicrafts. But more than anything else what information really fascinated me was about the existence of THE CODE OF PERSONAL STATUS in Tunisia which is unique to TUNISIA in the whole of Arab and Muslim World. I could not, initially, believe the existence of this Law in a Muslim country and that too since 1956.
THE CODE OF PERSONAL STATUS in Tunisia remains one of the most progressive civil codes in the Middle East and the Muslim world which was enacted just five months after Tunisia gained its independence in 1956. The brain behind the code being their Independence leader and the first President Habib Bourguiba.
The code was meant to end GENDER INEQUALITY and update family law, to enable greater social and economic progress and make Tunisia a fully modern society. Highlight of the Law are and I copy the original text mostly in order to avoid distortions:
– the principle of the CONSENT of the two spouses as a requirement for the validity of all marriages.
– an obligatory MINIMUM AGE for marriages, fixed first at eighteen years(18) for men and fifteen (15) years for women, the precise text that: “Below this age marriage cannot be contracted, except by the special authorization of a judge who may not grant it, except for serious reasons and in the well understood interests of both spouses. In this same case, consent for the marriage of a minor must be given by the closest parent who must fulfil three conditions, namely being of sound mind, adult and masculine.” It has now been amended to 20 years for males and 17 years for females.
-POLYGAMY is FORBIDDEN , even if the second union is not “formal “. Whosoever being engaged in the bonds of matrimony shall contract another before the dissolution of the preceding shall be liable to A YEAR’S IMPRISONMENT t and to a FINE.” Bourguiba referred to a Sura of the Koran to justify this measure:
“We have abided by the spirit of the Holy Book… which indicates monogamy. Our decision in the matter contradicts no religious text and is found to be in agreement with mercy and justice and the equality of the sexes.”
-The code also prescribes that , “ Each of the two spouses must treat each other with kindness, live in good rapport, and avoid all prejudice,” thus ABOLISHING THE WIFE’S OBLIGATION TO OBEDIENCE to her husband.
-At the same time , the text obliged the wife who was in possession of goods to CONTRIBUTE to the family’s expenses, so that the husband not have the powers of administrationover the wife’s possessions.
– It expanded the right of mothers to have custody of their children. It made the registration of marriages and divorces mandatory, something that was not systematically the case earlier. It made adoption legally valid.
– The Code, to the contrary, instituted a DIVORCE procedure that “COULD NOT TAKE PLACE EXCEPT BEFORE A COURT” which decided “the dissolution of the marriage.”
– It is also stated that: “material harm would be RECOMPENSATED (to the woman) in the form of a MONTHLY ALIMONY payment… to the level of life to which she was accustomed during married life, here including residence”. Once more, Bourguiba justified himself by the decree of the Koran.
-The Code also instituted the principle of the equality of men and women in relation to CITIZENSHIP. Moreover, if a child did not possess his own goods, the necessary costs of his upbringing were PREDICATED on those of the FATHER.
And after my firsthand interaction with my Tunisian friends, I can say with confidence that this is not just a law that exists in the books only, but is actually been practiced. A colleague of mine who had divorced his first wife for some personal reasons still paid her the monthly alimony.
It is important to note that their leader Habib Bourgeba had this vision in 1956 and the law is enforced since then. Unfortunately we in 2011, and calling ourselves the leaders of Islam and Muslim countries, possess nuclear weapons, but still struggle with the extremist mindset at the general level.
Hope we too get at least one BOURGUIBA amongst us now in 2011, from the 180 million who rises above the *talking mode* and does something concrete, when one could be born in Tunisia from just 10 millions almost 45 years ago in 1956.
Only time will tell.
But the hope remains…
15 Jan 2011