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
tax-payers' money to subsidize welfare
benefits for polygamous Muslims' extra wives.
Sheikh Ahmad Nutty of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario,
: "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.
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
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
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
, and misyar dispenses with this requirement.
In misyar marriage the couple does not live together, but makes
nuptial visits to each other.
April 12, 2006
the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly
in Mecca gave its approval for such unions. Misyar marriages are
in Saudi Arabia, with some Saudi marriage
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
Some traveling Muslims use temporary marriages to engage in sex
tourism 'Islamically". Last
Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla quipped that he saw
nothing wrong with Arab men engaging in "temporary marriages" with
Indonesian women. In
five Saudis were deported from an
Indonesian resort for engaging in temporary marriages with local
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
. Iranian sociologist Amanollah Gharaii
of such marriages: "Short-term marriages are a
form of legalized prostitution. A state must not and cannot
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
by women's rights activist Ghada Jamshir.
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
, a Muslim businessman convinced several
women that such marriages were Islamic. He
, and also convinced some of his "wives"
that it was lawful to have sex with his daughters. He was
to 32 years' jail and 24 strokes of the
cane for raping five of his daughters.
Another bizarre form of Muslim marriage contract is
, 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
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
, Syria amended its constitution to outlaw
forced marriage. In Saudi Arabia, forced marriage was made
. This resulted from a fatwa issued by
Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh. President Hamid Karzai of
to this fatwa to urge Islamists in his
country to abandon forced marriages. In
, 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
, 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.
the UN reported that as many as 57% of
marriages in Afghanistan involved girls under 16. Some were only
nine years old. In
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."
the New York Times
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
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
In Turkey, forced marriage continues, particularly in the Kurdish
communities of the southeast. A
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
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 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.
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
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
in Norway, with 60 cases in 2003 alone. In
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
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
, 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
In France in
a report by the government body the High Council of
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
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
Many French forced marriages have taken place with young people
involved, and as a result in
the authorities raised the minimum age
of marriage from 15 to 18 years. One
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
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.
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
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.
the UK government suggested that it could make
forced marriage a crime, but after many deliberations, it is still
not illegal. In
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
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
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.
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'."
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
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,
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
has been claimed by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to have
cases of forced marriage. The Danish
Immigration Service has
to "root out" suspected cases of forced
marriage. Earlier this month the Danish Social Liberal Party
, aimed at teachers, to help them
identify the signs of young people being pressured into forced
In Germany, a study amongst female Turkish immigrants, conducted
, found that 24% of respondents had been forced
into marriage. ARD, a German national television network, claims
that there are
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.
is strong opposition to interference with Germany's culture of
forced marriage and "honor".
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
"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
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.
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
, 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.