x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Match point: divorced Shoaib Malik free to marry Sania Mirza

The Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik will marry Sania Mirza, the Indian tennis star, in a small religious ceremony at the bride's home on Friday, according to Malik's uncle.

Indians show solidarity with Ayesha Siddiqui, who claims she is married to Shoab Malik, in front of her residence in Hyderabad. Noah Seelam / AFP
Indians show solidarity with Ayesha Siddiqui, who claims she is married to Shoab Malik, in front of her residence in Hyderabad. Noah Seelam / AFP

The Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik will marry Sania Mirza, the Indian tennis star, in a small religious ceremony at the bride's home on Friday, according to Malik's uncle. Malik, 28, said yesterday that he had divorced the woman he claims tricked him into a telephone marriage eight years ago, clearing the way for his wedding to Mirza, 23. The ceremony, or Nikah, on Friday will be followed by a large reception on April 15 in Hyderabad and then a traditional Walima dinner in Lahore, due to be hosted by the Malik family a week later.

"Today everything has been decided, it will be a very big wedding," said Ashiq Hussain, Malik's uncle, who lives in Abu Dhabi. "We are so happy for the couple," added Mr Hussain, whose eldest sister, Farooq Sultana, is Malik's mother. The sporting couple have already chosen a home in Dubai, he said The wedding that should have represented a bridge over the bitter political divide between India and Pakistan has been mired in controversy after a woman from Hyderabad, Ayesha Siddiqui, said she was still married to Malik.

The cricketer denied her claim but then admitted to a 2002 wedding over the telephone. He said the marriage was not valid because the photographs of the woman sent to him were not the actual person he had been having his telephone relationship with. At a press conference in Hyderabad yesterday it was formally announced that a "settlement has been reached" and a formal Muslim divorce agreement, prepared by a local Muslim Qazi, had been signed by Malik and Ms Siddiqui.

The Siddiqui family have now withdrawn a police complaint they made against Malik over the wedding. The complaint had led to the former Pakistan captain being quizzed by police and having his passport confiscated. Mr Hussian, who is the vice president of the Pakistan Community Welfare School in Musaffah, said he approached the Pakistani Embassy yesterday, armed with a copy of his cricketer nephew's passport, for a visa to India.

"We also want to join them and take a gift from Abu Dhabi, but we do not yet have the wedding invites," the proud uncle explained. "The embassy told me 'let's see', so it may be difficult because my family of four hold Pakistani passports." The couple have already chosen their Dubai home, he added, but he did not know the location. "I had wished that the wedding took place in Dubai," joked the Abu Dhabi resident, who has not yet met Mirza. "That way it would be closer and we could have definitely gone."

Yesterday's divorce was announced at a press conference organised by local Muslim community leaders and friends of the families involved. Malik, who has been staying at Mirza's Hyderabad house since Friday, said today that he felt sad for having troubled many of his fans and others in the past few days. "I hope everything will move in good order now and everyone around Sania and me is happy with us," said Malik, in a statement.

Farisa Siddiqui, Ayesha's mother, said she would now happily bless Malik and Mirza's wedding. "My daughter has been under severe hardships for past several days since Shoaib began denying the [marital] relationship. Now she feels happy and relieved after receiving this divorce." Abid Rasool Khan, a Congress Party leader, who played a key role in the negotiations to resolve the dispute that has gripped much of India and Pakistan, said: "The whole country was dragged into this ugly controversy and now we are happy that we have been able to put an end to this. We should switch our attention to the marriage between Shoaib and Sania now."

Following the divorce, Malik will pay 15,000 rupees (Dh1,236) in maintenance to Ms Siddiqui for a three-month period, as per Sharia law, Mr Khan added. Major Imran Qadri, another negotiator, said: "The entire Muslim community has been suffering because of the controversy and, in some other broader sense interests of India and Pakistan too got involved in this issue." Mirza has been a nationwide celebrity since 2005 when aged 18 she became the first Indian woman to win a WTA Tour title.

Malik is currently serving a year-long ban for indiscipline.
asafdar@thenational.ae Shaikh Azizur Rahman reported from New Delhi