Women Under Islam (Part Two of Four)
Under Islam, even “normal” marriages, let alone forced marriages, can be viewed to Western sensibilities as trafficking in human beings, or bondage. FSM Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan reveals what Western governments are doing about it, and his report will shock you.
Women Under Islam
(Part Two of Four)
By Adrian Morgan
Part one can be found here.
Legal Marriage And Forced Marriages
A man in Islam can have four concurrent wives, though a woman is denied more than one husband. In most Western nations, polygamy is illegal, but Britain allows tax-payers' money to subsidize welfare benefits for polygamous Muslims' extra wives.
Sheikh Ahmad Nutty of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, writes: "The stated requirements of marriage in Islam are as follows: Full consent of both partners to the marriage, expressing the above consent through ijab (offer) and qabul (acceptance), finally the presence of two reliable witnesses. Apart from the above, in the case of females, their guardian's consent has been considered essential for the validity of marriage according to the majority of imams and scholars. Imam Abu Hanifah, however, is of the view that a mature woman is fully capable of contracting her own marriage. Thus in his view, marriages finalized without guardian's consent shall be considered as valid so long the woman has chosen someone who is considered as compatible."
The fact that a young woman has to have the consent of her guardian, or Wali, indicates that the woman is not really a free agent and cannot readily marry someone of her own choosing. In Malaysia last year, a 22-year old woman who had married a 32-year old man and was five months' pregnant, was taken to an Islamic court by her father. He claimed that, being her Wali, he was not consulted before the marriage. The Islamic court annulled the marriage.
There are other bizarre variations on standard marriage, including "temporary marriages" called mut'ah and misyar. Misyar is a Sunni custom and it became legitimized in Egypt in the early 19th century. Ibn Baaz, the Salafi Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993-9 made a fatwa sanctioning misyar, expecting it to make it easier for wealthy single women to get married. Traditionally, a Muslim husband presents his bride with a dowry or mahr, and misyar dispenses with this requirement. In misyar marriage the couple does not live together, but makes nuptial visits to each other.
On April 12, 2006 the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly in Mecca gave its approval for such unions. Misyar marriages are becoming common in Saudi Arabia, with some Saudi marriage officials claiming that 7 out of 10 of their contracts are misyar arrangements. Misyar is a temporary marriage, but can be extended to become full marriage. It does not have a fixed time in which it must end, like Mut'ah marriage.
Some traveling Muslims use temporary marriages to engage in sex tourism 'Islamically". Last June, Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla quipped that he saw nothing wrong with Arab men engaging in "temporary marriages" with Indonesian women. In August 2006 five Saudis were deported from an Indonesian resort for engaging in temporary marriages with local women.
Mut'ah marriage can be engaged in for as little as a few hours, with the man paying the "bride" for this contract. Mut'ah is illegal in Saudi Arabia, but is allowed in Iran, where it is called sighe. Iranian sociologist Amanollah Gharaii Moghaddam has said of such marriages: "Short-term marriages are a form of legalized prostitution. A state must not and cannot legitimize prostitution."
Such a marriage appears to be sanctioned in the Koran, Sura 4:24, where it is written: "Also married women (are forbidden to you in marriage), except those whom you own as slaves. Such is the decree of God. All women other than these are lawful for you, provided you court them with your wealth in modest conduct, not in fornication. Give them their dowry for the enjoyment you have had of them as a duty; but it shall be no offense for you to make any other agreement among yourselves after you have fulfilled your duty. Surely God is all-knowing and wise."
Mut'ah is also, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, permitted in Iraq. It is allowed in Bahrain, where it has been condemned by women's rights activist Ghada Jamshir. Ms Jamshir said on Al-Arabiya TV: "This is a violation of children's rights! This constitutes sexual assault of the girl. What does 'pleasure from sexual contact with her thighs' mean? It means deriving sexual pleasure from an infant. How old is an infant? One year, a year and a half, a few months?"
In Singapore, where temporary marriage is illegal, a Muslim businessman convinced several women that such marriages were Islamic. He fathered 66 children, and also convinced some of his "wives" that it was lawful to have sex with his daughters. He was sentenced in April 2006 to 32 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane for raping five of his daughters.
Another bizarre form of Muslim marriage contract is Ash-Shihgar, where a man marries off his daughter to another man, and marries the other man's daughter in exchange. No "bride-price" (mahr) is paid. In January 2007 two septuagenarian businessmen from Riyadh married each others' daughters. The brides were aged 17 and 19. One of the old men said: "I did not ask my daughter. I don't have to. I know what is beneficial for her. When I told her what I had planned, she was happy. If she hadn't been, she would have told her mother."
After briefly describing some of the ways that marriages can take place in Islam, where a young woman can marry a man only of her guardian's choosing, it is not surprising that forced marriages regularly occur. In 2001, Syria amended its constitution to outlaw forced marriage. In Saudi Arabia, forced marriage was made illegal in April 2005. This resulted from a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan referred to this fatwa to urge Islamists in his country to abandon forced marriages. In November 2005, Afghan leaders committed themselves to abolishing forced marriage by 2008.
In Afghanistan, the minimum legal age for a male to become married is 18, and for a girl, 16 years. Despite this, marriages are arranged involving girls far younger than 16. In October 2006, the Globe & Mail reported that a 13-year old girl, who escaped a forced marriage with a 50-year old man, was placed in jail. The girl's crime was to have broken the marriage contract, which had been arranged by her father.
In 2004 the UN reported that as many as 57% of marriages in Afghanistan involved girls under 16. Some were only nine years old. In 2005, the US State Department quoted the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, who said that "between 60% and 80% of marriages in Afghanistan are forced marriages which give women no right to refuse. Many of those marriages, especially in the rural areas, involve girls below the age of 15."
In July 2006 the New York Times produced a report on child marriage in Afghanistan, containing startling photographs by Stephanie Sinclair of young girls sitting beside their grizzled, elderly husbands. When a bride is pre-pubescent, and unable to make a decision on her future, such marriages can only be classed as "forced". A UN report from 2005 quoted Paul Greening of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who said: "Badakhshan [northeastern province] has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and one of the main reasons is under-age marriages - even as young as seven in some cases. This needs to be addressed." A midwife at Malalai hospital in Kabul said: "It is a shame to say that even in the capital Kabul we treat pregnant mothers as young as 12 years of age."
In Turkey, forced marriage continues, particularly in the Kurdish communities of the southeast. A 2004 report stated: A study in several provinces in east and southeast Turkey found that 45.7 per cent of women were not consulted about their choice of marriage partner and 50.8 per cent were married without their consent. Women forced into marriages are often under age. Those of them who refuse their family's choice of husband risk violence and even death. Men have used forced marriage to evade punishment for sexual assault, rape and abduction. There are also cases in which families, either deliberately or through neglect, fail to ensure that the sale of their daughter to a potential husband does not end up with their daughter being internally trafficked for forced prostitution. In other instances families fail to protect children from sexual exploitation."
On 24 May, 2006, Yakin Erturk, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, went to Batman and three other cities in southeastern Turkey, to investigate a curious increase in suicides amongst young women in the region. She later concluded: "I have found that the patriarchal order and the human rights violations that go along with it - for example, forced and early marriages, domestic violence, and denial of reproductive rights - are often key contributing factors."
In the West, forced marriages are becoming increasingly common. In 2003 in Norway, the authorities moved to dissuade the custom by demanding that foreign marriage partners should be over 23, or capable of supporting a partner. Last year, a school counselor claimed to be annually contacted by five to six students, who said their studies had to cease because they were being married against their will.
In March 2004 Norway’s immigration minister Ema Solberg launched a campaign to inform all immigrants that forced marriage and female genital mutilation were forbidden under Norwegian law. In May 2005 two people became the first to be jailed for plotting a forced marriage. The Kurdish father and brother of a 17-year old girl had planned to make her marry a man from northern Iraq. Between 1999 and 2004, cases of forced marriage tripled in Norway, with 60 cases in 2003 alone. In September last year Terje Bjøranger, who advises a government taskforce, claimed that there were 2,000 cases of forced marriage between 2004 and 2006.
Norway was the only country in Europe where forced marriage was illegal until last year. In March, 2006 Belgium's cabinet approved a move to outlaw forced marriage. A study from 1999 found that 27% of Turkish and Moroccan women over 40 had been forced into marriage. Forced marriages affected 13% of Turkish girls aged 17 to 24, and 8% of Moroccan girls of the same age. The proposed legislation would invoke a jail term from one month to two years, or a maximum fine of between 500 and 2,500 Euros (equivalent to $596 and $2,978 US). In November 2004, a Belgian senator of Moroccan origin, Mimount Bousakla, was forced to go into hiding, after receiving death threats. Her crime had been to criticize forced marriages, at a meeting held by the Council of Europe on this subject.
In France in 2003 a report by the government body the High Council of Immigration found that there were 70,000 cases of marriages in the country which had been arranged using force. A French women's rights group claims that 30,000 forced marriages have taken place in France since 1990. One arranged marriage which began with apparent consent ended in tragedy. Samira Bari, a woman brought up in France, had married a man eight years her senior, who had been brought up in southern Morocco. When Samira refused to have sex with him, he ripped out her eyes, a court heard in March this year.
Many French forced marriages have taken place with young people involved, and as a result in March, 2006 the authorities raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. One obstacle faced by young women who are not born in France and are subjected to forced marriages is the law itself. Even if she holds a permit of residence for 10 years' duration, if she is taken to live outside of France for three consecutive years, she loses the right to live in France.
Many marriages amongst Muslims are "arranged" marriages. In October last year, the Islamists who then ruled Somalia ordered that any marriages conducted without parents' permission were against Islam. In many cases, it is hard to say where an "arranged marriage" becomes a "forced" marriage. In Britain, the majority of cases of honor killings have involved victims who rejected arranged marriage, or chose their own partner. Most British forced marriage cases involve a girl being sent to the Indian subcontinent to become wed to a relative.
In May this year, the Home Office reported that an 11-year old British Muslim girl had been rescued from a forced marriage, which had taken place in Bangladesh. A more typical case involves three sisters, aged 21, 22 and 15, who in 2000 had been sent to Pakistan, on the pretext of seeing their dying grandmother. Once there, the girls found that there were three men already arranged to be their husbands. The sisters were kept as virtual prisoners in their grandmother's house for six months. Narina Anwar said: "They wanted me to marry my first cousin. He was 26 and I had not seen him since I was 11. He was uneducated and could not speak English or even write Urdu." The girls escaped and telephoned the British High Commission who sent people to rescue them.
In 2001 the UK government suggested that it could make forced marriage a crime, but after many deliberations, it is still not illegal. In 2004, when 200 forced marriage cases were happening each year, the government again announced that it may change the law, and made the same claim in 2005. On June 6, 2006 the government announced that it had bowed down to Muslim pressure and had abandoned its plans.
The Muslim Council of Britain, co-founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, had argued that such a law would see children giving evidence at their parents' trials. This happens in abuse cases, and forced marriage is abuse. The MCB also said such cases would make the Muslim community further "stigmatized".
Sometimes, the threats and pressure involve emotional blackmail. In 2002, a marriage was annulled in Edinburgh which had taken place when the girl had been 16. Her mother later admitted that she had threatened to commit suicide to force her daughter into marriage. The girl had met her "husband" only a week before the wedding. The husband's mother had wanted her son to gain British citizenship.
In July, 2006 another forced marriage was annulled. The girl had been taken for a "holiday' in Pakistan, ostensibly to celebrate the end of her school exams. She was kept in Pakistan in a remote location, and had her passport removed. Both her parents threatened to commit suicide if she did not marry her cousin. After some months she relented and, aged 17, married. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Munby, told the High Court in London: "Forced marriages, whatever the social or cultural imperatives that may be said to justify what remains a distressingly widespread practice, are rightly considered to be as much beyond the pale as such barbarous practices as female genital mutilation and so called 'honor killings'."
In 2004 it was announced that The Council of British Pakistanis Scotland had found that nearly half the marriages between Scottish south Asians and a partner from abroad had involved coercion. Labour MP Ann Cryer announced that a 15-year old girl from Bradford was "sold" by her father for the sum of $30,000, to pay off his gambling debts. The girl was due to be sent to Bangladesh to marry a far older man, a friend of her father. Ms. Cryer said: "The girl is absolutely petrified. I am terrified the family will put her on a plane within the next few days."
In Scotland, which has its own parliament, it was revealed in one report that in Edinburgh alone, 85 people a year were being forced into marriage. Malcolm Chisholm, Scottish Communities Minister, suggested that imams and clerics who presided over forced marriage could be jailed for up to five years. This proposal was never made into law.
In Denmark, there is a law that requires that both partners in a marriage involving someone from abroad must be at least 24 years old. This law, introduced in 2002, has been claimed by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to have reduced cases of forced marriage. The Danish Immigration Service has guidelines to "root out" suspected cases of forced marriage. Earlier this month the Danish Social Liberal Party launched a leaflet campaign, aimed at teachers, to help them identify the signs of young people being pressured into forced marriage.
In Germany, a study amongst female Turkish immigrants, conducted in 1996, found that 24% of respondents had been forced into marriage. ARD, a German national television network, claims that there are 30,000 women who are in forced marriages in Germany. There are an estimated 3 million Muslims in Germany, mostly from Turkey. In Austria, where Turks comprise most of the 400,000-strong Muslim community, the figure for women in forced marriages is said to be less than 1,000. In Germany, women in forced marriages also come from Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Iran and India.
There is strong opposition to interference with Germany's culture of forced marriage and "honor". Seyran Ates is a Turkish-born woman lawyer, who specializes in defending women trapped in forced marriages or on the receiving end of domestic violence. She has been fiercely attacked by male relatives of the women she defends, and was once shot by the husband of a woman client.
Seyran Ates has condemned the liberal climate in Germany, where the politically correct turn their backs on what goes on in Muslim communities, and thus ignore the plight of many Muslim women. She has written: "I want to know, and many thousands of Muslim girls and women have a right to know, why understanding and infinite tolerance is practiced with particular cultural traditions that are clearly oppressive of women. Human rights are universal and unconditional. And that goes most certainly for religious objectives.
It is only girls and women who are forced to wear head-scarves. And it's also a majority of girls and women who are affected by forced marriage. I don't want to enter into the debate about women and schoolgirls who wear the headscarf of their own free will, or about the difference between arranged and forced marriages. Just one note: silence cannot be understood as assent. But very many girls are brought up to be silent on such topics....
...Of course, we mustn't forget the boys and men. They too are affected by these archaic traditions. They are forced to play the man, the protector of morals and family honour. They bear the responsibility for keeping the sexuality of the female members under control. A free, autonomous life, the esteem for a person's individuality is seen to endanger the far more important community feeling, the group identity. In extreme cases, men are turned into murderers because the social system demands this of them. Because otherwise, they cannot live after their honor has been violated. What will become of the Muslims who don't have the personal strength to defend themselves against the community and the clan because of this outmoded tradition? What will become of the little machos who already play the Pascha in kindergarten and grade school?"
In September, 2006 Seyran announced that the constant threats to her life had put her into so much danger she would retire. She felt that her daughter would be placed at risk. She received belated support from politicians within her own party, the SPD, and has since returned to defending her women clients.
A 2005 report by the Council of Europe's Directorate of Human Rights makes for grim reading. Even though forced marriage itself is not generally illegal in Europe, there are nonetheless laws against kidnapping and false imprisonment on many country's statute books. Sadly, these laws are rarely invoked.
Figures on such marriages in the United States and Canada are scarce, but is highly likely that the authorities are not geared up to look for such cases. In such a laissez-faire climate, as Seyran Ates noted in Germany, this abuse may be more common than the authorities would wish to acknowledge.
In Australia in 2005, tough laws were introduced to prevent young girls being sent abroad to engage in forced marriages. Many of Australia's Muslims are of Lebanese origin, and a dozen Australian girls under the age of 18 had sought help from the Australian consulate in Beirut. These girls, with one as young as 14, had been taken to Lebanon by their families to engage in forced marriages. Under Australian law, anyone who forces someone to engage in marriage, even outside the country, can receive a 25 year jail sentence.
Chris Ellison, the Australian Justice Minister, said: "This is an outrageous activity, one we won't tolerate and we're intent on stamping out. It is an offence to traffic a young person, a juvenile, overseas for sexual servitude, or indeed bondage, and a forced marriage could well constitute that sort of behavior."
Many young people who are made to enter forced marriage are sent to their parent's homelands to be married off against their will. In Europe, young people have been sent to Afghanistan, Mali, Morocco, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey. For British victims of forced marriage, these homelands tend to be India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In the latter country, the traditions of marrying off children against their will carry on in full defiance of national law. What will shock Western readers is the way in which children as young as babies are promised in marriage, often to compensate a family for a crime committed by a male. Sometimes girls are sold in markets for marriage purposes.
I will discuss these cases in Part Three.
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