English convert to Islam, Ruqaiyyah
Waris Maqsood, speaks out against the practice, common among south Asian Muslims
in Britain, of marrying off teenage girls against their will to unsuitable
husbands from "back home".
'Truly Allah has totally forbidden
disobedience (and the subsequent hurt) to mothers, burying alive daughters,
with-holding the rights of others, and demanding that which is not your right.'
(Hadith Muslim 4257. Recorded by Mughirah b. Shuba).
With these simple words our
Beloved Prophet expressed so much that should convince any Muslim person seeking
to force a marriage upon a daughter (or son) that what they are intending is not
only terribly wrong, but also in direct opposition to the true spirit of Islam.
At first glance, it looks as if it
is ammunition to be used against the daughter who does not want to accept the
proposed husband and is going against her mother's wishes, but further insight
reveals there is far more to it than that. There are three further totally
forbidden things that the parents should 'take on board'. It is quite clearly
NOT the right of the parent to enforce a marriage; and Muslim parents are NOT
allowed in Islam to withhold the rights of their daughters. One could even make
out a case for extending the interpretation of the phrase 'burying daughters
alive' to refer not only to the desert practice of being rid of infant girls by
putting them face down in the sand shortly after birth (rather like drowning
baby puppies before they have drawn breath), which hardly applies to our
situation today - but the practice of 'burying them alive' in a forced marriage.
What could be more like being buried alive than being forced to share a bed and
distasteful intimacy with a completely unwanted spouse?
This seems to be a part of the
Asian culture that no-one wanted to see prolonged here in the UK. It has nothing
to do with Islam - the practice is also carried out by Hindus and Sikhs as well.
It is a practice totally alien to Muslims of most other societies. To be quite
frank, I assume that the real reason for it happening at all is not the wish of
parents to make their children unhappy, for surely most parents dearly love
their children. I assume one of the main reasons for it probably lies in the
strong sense of duty and honour and obligation that is shared by Asian Muslims -
and these are not bad things, of course. However, the young girls are being used
as pawns in a bit of wheeling and dealing. It may be that the original family
members who came to the UK had benefited from a great deal of financial help
from their families (and even whole village communities who perhaps 'clubbed
together'). Those immigrants may not have intended to remain in the UK, and
thanks to the increasing use of the telephone, never really felt completely cut
off from their roots. Even in the 90s, when I married a Pakistani man, I found
he remained in daily contact with his family back home.
When the scene changes to a few
years on, and a daughter arrives at the useful age of fifteen or so, the chance
arises for another person from back home to come to the UK as her husband.
Pressure might have been put on the parents in the UK to arrange this, those
parents perhaps being in the very difficult position of not feeling able to
refuse relatives or groups who had previously helped them. Hence the 'holidays'
back home, and an unwanted marriage or engagement just when the young girl is in
her most important year at school, and might indeed have gone on to student life
at college or university to fill the enormous need we have here of educated and
professionally qualified Muslim women. Don't get me wrong, I am not at all
against educated girls marrying noble young men from Pakistan and Bangladesh, or
Azad Kashmir, if they are genuinely suitable. Their young men are just as noble
and intelligent as young men anywhere else, and might very soon take advantage
of education opportunities here as soon as they are able. To be under-educated
does not mean one is unintelligent, and we should be far more understanding
about this. I can also understand
parents of girls here having a close look at some of the young Muslim men here
who have given in to corrupt practices and been thoroughly spoiled, and been
quite alarmed and not wanted them for their girls.
But this is not the problem at
issue here. The real problem is that many of our Muslim parents who are very
devout Muslims think that forcing their offspring into an unwanted marriage IS
the Islamic thing to do - of course the girl will resist and be shy about it,
and make a fuss, but it will all die down once it is achieved, and she will
learn that her parents were really right all along, and end up accepting it, if
not being blissfully happy about it.
What we are getting is girls
running away, getting into real dangers, families being ruined by hostile
feelings, parents cutting their children off, girls getting involved with
unsuitable people as a result of their parents' foolish pressure, perhaps ending
in pregnancies, depression, suicide, drunkenness, drugs etc. We are getting
girls seeking refuge with the authorities, and protection from the very people
who should be loving and supporting them into adulthood.
Another major problem is that the
mothers of the girls are often quite opposed to what the fathers want, but dare
not go against his wishes for one reason or another. Sadly, this reason is
frequently because the father is abusive and a bully - both highly unIslamic
attributes. It is extremely hard in practice for a wife or daughter to stand up
against the father of a family; and sometimes the girls involved are going
through agonies of grief and soul-searching because they really do not want to
cross their parents. What advice can one give them?
As I understand it, the ruling in
Islam is that womenfolk should accept their menfolk as their natural leaders,
and do their best to please them - except when what they request is going
against Islam and the wishes of Allah. On those occasions, they have the right
(whether or not they can find the courage) to point this out, and refuse to do
the unIslamic thing. A forced marriage is not only totally unIslamic, in
shari'at law it is considered null and void, and could be dissolved immediately.
Unfortunately, we have to go by the rules of the land, and here a long divorce
procedure would be necessary to get out of the marriage, once it has been
physically consummated. (If the girl never consummated the marriage and could
prove to a doctor that she was still a virgin, the marriage would be null and
void by British law, incidentally).
I will close by quoting the case
of Qaylah, which is perfectly clear on the points I have raised. Qaylah bint
Makhramah had several daughters. When her husband died, her husband's brother
Athub b. Ashar seized them, intending to arrange their marriages to the persons
of his choice. None of the girls wanted these particular marriages. Qaylah
managed to rescue and hide one of the girls, Hudaybah, and set off with her to
find the Prophet (pbuh). Hudaybah was rolled up in a woollen blanket. They got
away, but were so terrified of Athub that when their camel suddenly refused to
go on they supposed he was using sorcery against them. By the time they got
moving again, they could actually see Athub in pursuit in the distance. However,
they got to Madinah, where Qaylah had a sister residing, but Athub caught them
before they could gain shelter in her house. A struggle ensued, in which this
'Muslim' man struck Qaylah with the flat of his sword and knocked her bleeding
to the ground. Then he seized the terrified girl and carried her off over his
shoulder. Qaylah managed to get to her sister's house, and in the morning was
able to join the deputation of Bakr b. Wa'il of Banu Shayban that had come to
see the Prophet (pbuh). They arrived at the mosque at the time of fajr prayer,
and in the darkness Qaylah joined the rows of men until the man next to her
realised she was a woman and directed her to the women's rows behind them. When
the sun came up she got her interview with the Prophet (pbuh), who passed judgment
in her favour, and had his scribe write for her on a piece of red leather: 'Qaylah
and the daughters of Qaylah should not be oppressed or forced to marry. Every
faithful Muslim should offer them help. Muslims should do good deeds and not
evil ones.' As a result, Athub was
obliged to let her daughters go.
What could be a clearer case than
that, of the Prophet's (pbuh) genuine care for the plight of young girls being
forced into marriages against their will? May God bless all Muslim parents with
wisdom and understanding, so that they may carry out their genuine duties with
nobility and tact and gentleness, and not tyranny (tughyan); and may God bless
all those who are obliged to face up to tyranny - whether from state, boss,
parent or anyone else, - with courage and humility and unswerving sense of fair
play and respect for the 'opponent', but above all the desire to put Allah's
will and guidance into practice.