BIGGEST muta’ah payment fair, said columnist Salleh Buang (NST, March 17). I beg to differ. It looks more like a lifetime of luxury. A RM30 million muta’ah means an ex-wife will enjoy RM100,000 a month for the next 25 years. It’s excessive and may not have been calculated from any acceptable or legal formula.
Muta’ah is an Islamic concept of a consolatory gift awarded to a former wife to allow her to begin a new life after divorce. As the then chief Syariah judge Harussani Zakaria rightly ruled, the goal of mu’taah was to “hide shame felt by the wife, avoid false accusations and help her begin a new life on her own”.
Muta’ah, we are told, originates from the Arabic word al-Mataa, meaning things that may delight the heart and can be put to good use. It is a Syariah practice that dates back centuries. Section 56 of the Islamic Family Law Act (Federal Territory) 1984, prescribes that a husband should pay a fair amount. Muta’ah claims in other Islamic nations recommend a minimum of 30 dirhams as the consolatory gift. Translated into gold, the often accepted currency, this would amount to 100.8g or a ringgit value equivalent to about RM14,000.
The suggested muta’ah rate, while no less than 30 dirhams or the equivalent, can also be not more than half of the acceptable dowry (mahar misil). An acceptable dowry is rated according to the dowry of the other female siblings of the wife’s kinship who share the same parents, or the same father or an aunt. Other factors to be considered in determining an acceptable dowry include beauty, wealth and geographical location, because dowries are rated differently in different states. Each state has its own custom and tradition. Similarly, maturity of thought, piousness, morality, knowledge and gracefulness are taken into account.
In the feud between the former wife of Sarawak entrepreneur Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, Shahnaz Abdul Majid (plaintiff), however, sought RM100 million in this Islamic consolatory concept. One’s understanding as a layman from all this is that it should be a fair amount to start life anew, and not necessarily a quantum to live and bask in wealth from a failed marriage. If an aggrieved wife wanted more for all that she had provided for her husband’s success during their marriage, she can pursue matrimonial assets division, or harta sepencarian. In this instance, the plaintiff is asking for a separate RM500 million (quantum raised from a previous RM300 million filed). How interesting.
So was the RM30 million award excessive? By Malaysian standards, this is the highest award ever, said her lawyer. The highest muta’ah award prior to this was recorded in the Shah Alam Syariah Court in a litigation that arrived at RM1 million. This is 3,000 per cent more. How was this quantum arrived at? What was the formula used? In other Islamic countries, formulas have been devised to cap muta’ah at between two and four years of maintenance. In Malaysia, we don’t seem to have a formula. Our Syariah courts should perhaps consider capping the muta’ah amount.
Despite the court describing the plaintiff’s claim as outrageous, the judge said the court based the estimated payout on the defendant’s affordability and his credit card expenses, which were close to RM1 million a month. One’s credit card expenditure cannot be an acceptable formula. Executives travel on business, stay in five-star hotels and dine in fine restaurants to cultivate more business on company’s account. The defendant is a businessman. Were these factors considered?
Syariah judge Muhamad Abdul Karim Wahab has set a precedent for upset ex-wives and wives on the verge of divorce, to pursue exorbitant claims without logical measure or formula. The Syariah High Courts will see colossal claims filed in the future. Adjudication will be complex. Perhaps, the government needs to intervene, as in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait and a few other Muslim nations, where the muta’ah quantum is more realistic, and calculated according to acceptable formulas.
Muta’ah is, after all, a consolatory gift and not a lottery jackpot.
Have we got the concept of muta’ah right? Is it not peacemaking between the parties from animosity during a divorce? After all, we were told that she was given a bungalow and vehicles when they separated, including monthly allowances. She was not left destitute. Was this taken into account?