When asked to sign a document you don't understand, just say no--even if your family tells you to. That's the bottom line from the case of Khalid Qayoum and Husna Obaidi, the children of Afghan immigrants who brought the tale of their soured marriage to court.
Khalid Qayoum signed an Islamic marriage contract he couldn't understand.
Today, the Washington state Court of Appeals ruled that Qayoum did not have to abide by an Islamic marriage contract he signed that required him to pay Obaidi $20,000 if they divorced. The problem: the contract was in Farsi, a language Qayoum neither speaks, reads, or writes. He was also told about the contract--called a "mahr"--just 15 minutes before he signed it.
So why, you might ask, would the groom, a Pullman pharmacist who had lived his life in the United States for all but two or three of his 26 years, sign such a document? "He went through the Afghan marriage process because his mother was concerned that he would lose even the small amount of cultural knowledge he had about Afghanistan," explains the court ruling. Reached by phone, Qayoum adds he himself was "trying to grasp back at my cultural upbringing."
Shortly after their December 2005 wedding ceremony, Qayoum and his 19-year-old Afhan Canadian bride went to live with his mother, a tricky situation for the best of marriages. In less than a year according to the court record, Qayoum was sending Obaidi away--first to war-torn Afghanistan for three-and-a-half months (he says she wanted to go) and then, upon her return, anywhere but his mother's house. She filed for divorce and, apparently, sought the $20,000 she had been promised.
The initial judge hearing the case, in Whitman County Superior Court, ruled essentially that Qayoum had made his own bed. "If you didn't like what you signed, uh, you could have cancelled it," said Judge William Acey. "Nobody was holding a gun or sword to your head."
In an opinion written by Judge Teresa Kulik, the Court of Appeals disagreed. There might not have been a gun to his head, but there family members whispering in his ear. That constituted "duress," Kulik wrote. Even more basic was the fact that Qayoum couldn't read a word of what he was signing. Therefore, there was no "meeting of the minds" in this contract, which she consequently ruled invalid.
Qayoum says he is now over his cultural yearnings and is not looking for another Afghan bride. A frequent traveler, he says, "I'm having too much fun right now."