On Monday, Pakistani cricket ace Shoaib Malik married Indian tennis star Sania Mirza in the Indian city of Hyderabad, capping off a media firestorm. Young, photogenic, and from two sides of a volatile border, the union was bound to attract attention. But what really grabbed people were revelations that Malik was already married—to an Indian Muslim woman who claimed she’d wed him over the phone.
A resident of Hyderabad, Ayesha Siddiqui told Indian media that she married the cricketer in 2002 after a long-distance courtship, and threatened to sue if Malik didn’t divorce her before remarrying. After initially denying her claims, the cricketer finally admitted he’d signed a wedding agreement, although he said he’d been duped into it: Siddiqui sent him photographs of a younger, more attractive woman, he said. While the situation might sound unusual, phone and Internet marriages have “caught on in many Islamic countries, and India is no exception,” especially with people who live far apart, the Hindu newspaper reported. But the Malik-Siddiqui debacle left many wondering: are these types of unions actually valid?
Religious authorities are divided. According to the Hindu, Hyderabad’s oldest Islamic seminary declared phone marriages were invalid back in 1975; since then, authorities insist that power of attorney be produced. One religious official told the Times of India that if two people marry without seeing each other “believing the person they are marrying to be someone else,” the union is not legitimate. Others say a phone marriage could be valid if key religious requirements—like a formal proposal and having the appropriate witnesses in attendance—are satisfied.
Last week, with the help of Hyderabad community elders, Malik brokered a divorce from Siddiqui. Now that Malik and Mirza are officially married, public interest in the couple, from both sides of the border, should subside at least a little bit. As for their plans, the newlyweds are moving to Dubai.