Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Women Under Islam: Pakistan's "Compensation Marriages"


Most Muslim marriages involve becoming firstly engaged, followed by an official marriage. Such betrothal should involve partners who are able to give consent. However, in the Indian subcontinent, there are cases where families force children to make binding marriage vows. In May 2006 in Rajasthan, India, a 19-year old woman was forcibly separated from her husband, whom she had married when of legal age. The local community, supported by Muslim clerics argued that the woman's father had married her to another child on May 8, 1990, when she was only two years old. As local cleric Mufti Akhla-Ur-Rehman Kazmi explained: "Though it is wrong to marry a minor, it has been done. But she has not been divorced, how can she marry again? It is against our laws."

 In Pakistan, not only do illegal child marriages sometimes occur, they happen on the orders of village councils of elders. Under Pakistan's Muslim Family Law Ordinance, a girl must reach 16, and a boy must reach 18, before a marriage can take place. Both parties must give consent. Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child in 1990. In February this year in Dera Ismail Khan in Punjab province, a four year old girl was married to a 45-year old man. The child had been ordered to marry as "compensation" to settle a family feud by a local council of elders, to settle a family feud. The girl's uncle had transgressed custom by eloping with the 45-year old man's niece.

 This custom is known in Punjab and Sindh province as "vani", and in the tribal areas of North-West Frontier province, the practice is called "swara". Essentially it is the same in all three provinces; a tribal council (called a panchayat in Punjab, a jirga in Sindh and NWFP) orders a male to expiate a crime by sacrificing a girl relative in marriage. Vani marriage was outlawed at the start of 2005 by the Pakistani government, after a case in Multan in 2004 where a three-year old girl was married off to a 60-year old man. Muslim clerics solemnize these marriages, and even offer dire threats to girls and their families if they do not comply.

 In November 2005 a panchayat in the village of Sultanwala in Punjab ordered that if five girls did not comply with orders of vani marriage, they should be abducted, raped or killed. The girls had been ordered as vani compensation in 1996, when they were aged between six and 13 years, after a male relative had shot a family rival. The girls had then been married "in absentia" by an Islamic cleric.

 Vani marriages can be ordered against girl children who have not even been born. In Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab on April 7, 2006, a case of vani came to light where a council ordered that four as-yet unborn girls from one family should be promised as compensation for a murder committed eight years earlier.

 A few days later Naheed Akhtar, a 24-year-old woman from Mianwali in Punjab, lodged a police complaint against her father for having her married off. She and her "groom" had been only one-year-old at the time of the "marriage". The vani contract had been agreed in 1982, for a murder which had happened in 1960. The woman also sued Irfan, her "husband" who had been one at the time of the marriage. She also sued the "husband" who was married to her elder sister as part of the vani arrangement. An imam, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, had performed the "marriages".

 In the same month (April), a jirga had ordered a family in North-West Frontier province to provide a girl in "swara" compensation to a family whose daughter had eloped with one of their kin. The "guilty" family had no girl children, so it was ordered by the jirga to purchase a girl. A 13-year old girl was bought at a market in Peshawar for 53,000 rupees ($876). Because the girl was emotionally distraught, she was rejected by the family.

 On April 17, 2006, it was reported that two girls from Mianwali, aged 12 and 7, had been ordered as vani for an affair carried out by their brother. The 12-year-old was to be given to a 28-year-old man, and the 7-year-old to an 8-year-old boy. A Muslim cleric had performed a marriage ceremony without the girls present, but no marriage papers had been filed.

 In May 2006, a 9-year-old girl from Dera Ghazi Khan petitioned to have her father sued under Islamic law for marrying her off in a vani deal. Her brother had engaged in an affair with a girl from the family of her "husband". Her husband, Shaukat Hussain, had forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. The petition stated that an Islamic cleric, Manzoor Hussain, had been bribed to falsify marriage documents to claim that she was 18. A court petition was also launched by the girl's brother against the cleric, the girl's "husband" and father-in-law.

 Vani and swara marriages are abuses of young girls' human rights. In May last year an 11-year-old boy was strangled after being offered as a vani marriage partner to a family who had earlier kidnapped his elder sister. In June a local government minister in Sindh province was named as one of the members of a jirga which gave a girl away in vani marriage. Dr Sohrab Sarki of the Pakistan People's Party was a former member of the national parliament.

 The denial of a child's rights was highlighted in June where a man from Punjab province "sold" his 13-year-old step-daughter to one of his friends, to cover a 16,000 rupees ($266) debt. In the same month two Sindh girls, ages six and eight, were given in marriage to cover the price of three buffaloes. In the same month, the highest court in Pakistan annulled the marriage of five girls who had been given away by the jirga attended by Sohrab Sarki. Five girls had been involved, with the youngest being one year old, and the eldest five years. The same court also ordered an inquiry into the "buffalo" transaction.

 At the end of June 2006 a nine-year-old girl was given away in vani marriage to a 60-year-old man, to pay off the cost of an 880 pound bag of rice owed by her father. Maulvi Nek Mohammad, the Muslim cleric who solemnized the marriage, was under police interrogation. In July 2006, a jirga ordered that a 9-year-old girl be married to a 58-year-old man, and her 10-year-old sister should be married to a 50-year-old. The girls' parents refused to comply with the ruling, snatched their children back, and called the police. In the same month in Punjab province, a 16-year-old girl was given away in vani marriage to a 65-year-old man. In Sindh province, two infant girls aged one and two were promised in vani marriage to two infant boys, but the police were called before the "vows" were made.

 In August 2006 in North-West Frontier Province, a Muslim cleric, Umer Saeed, was among others arrested and charged after presiding over a swara marriage involving two baby girls aged three and eighteen months. By this time the laws against compensation marriage had been in force for 19 months. Officially, the maximum sentence for vani/swara is 10 years' jail, but no-one had been convicted. After Pakistan's then-Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ordered a police inquiry into a jirga apparently attended by a PPP local minister in Sindh, and the marriages of five children were annulled in June 2006 the reporting on cases of vani diminished in the Pakistani press. However it seems that to this day not a single person has been convicted under the vani laws.

 Though Muslim clerics have approved vani marriages, even when those they married were too young to talk, let alone be old enough to know what marriage entailed, vani and swara are tribal customs, not Muslim customs. Tribal councils - jirgas and panchayats - were given authority over local "justice" by the Islamist dictator General Zia ul-Haq who ruled Pakistan between 1977 and 1988. As a matter of policy, the dictator allowed local village courts to settle issues of "domestic" justice, without recourse to police or judiciary.

Allowing jirga justice to decide issues has progressively eroded women's rights. The most famous abuse of such justice came in June 2002, when a 28-year-old woman from the village of Meerwala Jatoi in the Punjab was ordered by a panchayat to be gang-raped. Mukhtar Mai had committed no crime but her younger brother, aged 12, had been spotted walking with a girl from another clan. Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped by four men from the village, and then publicly paraded naked. Her case would have been ignored, had it not been for a local imam who condemned the action during Friday mosque prayers. A journalist who attended the mosque wrote on the case, and it attracted world-wide attention.

 Mukhtar Mai was awarded compensation, which she used to build a school. She became a leading advocate of women's rights in a country where 72% of women are illiterate. On March 8, 2006, Mukhtar Mai led 3,000 women in a march for equal rights. Six of the men who were involved in her rape were convicted with firstly two, then five of these, sentenced to death. On March 6, 2006 however, the five appealed against their convictions to the High Court and won. Mukhtar Mai said: "My life is in danger, I am receiving death threats but I am more worried about my family. I and my family need government's protection." Shortly after this, Mukhtar Mai claimed: "The traditional landowners want me dead. And the government doesn't want me around either."

 Rape as a punishment continued. In April 2006 in the same region where Mukhtar Mai had been gang-raped, a woman was kidnapped and gang-raped because her brother had allegedly ran off with a member of another clan. Gang-rape is common in Pakistan. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HCRP) stated that there were 151 cases of gang rape in the first seven months of 2004. In 2005, there were 207 recorded cases of gang rape in Pakistan, according to HCRP. It is as a direct result of Islamic laws that a situation was created where rapists acted with impunity.


 Islamic Laws That Encourage Rape

 Sharia Law is derived from the Koran and the Hadith (traditions of Mohammed). Sura 24:4 states that anyone who accuses a woman of adultery, and cannot provide four witnesses, shall receive 80 lashes.

 As a result, Iran's law on adultery, implemented in July 1991 states: "Article 74: Adultery, whether punishable by flogging or stoning, may be proven by the testimony of four just men or that of three just men and two just women. Article 75: If adultery is punishable only by flogging it can be proven by the testimony of two just men and four just women. Article 76: The testimony of women alone or in conjunction with the testimony of only one just man shall not prove adultery but it shall constitute false accusation which is a punishable act."

 In Iran, punishments prescribed under Islamic law are called hodud in plural, and hadd in the singular. On February 10, 1979, General Zia ul-Haq introduced the so-called Hudood Ordinances, which imposed Islamic law onto issues of "zina" or illegal intercourse. These laws effectively removed any distinction between rape and adultery. Any woman who complained that she was raped would find herself convicted of adultery if she could not find four male Muslim witnesses (or combinations where two women counted as one male witness). The maximum punishment under these laws was stoning to death. Between 1979 and 1998 there were 26 sentences of stoning to death issued by courts. These were successfully appealed against, but despite this, raped women were imprisoned for transgressing the Hudood laws.

The notion that a raped woman should be punished is, to Western minds, unthinkable. In Islam, such behavior is "justified" by Muslim clerics. In Bangladesh on March 24, 2006 a 16-year-old victim of rape was sentenced to 57 lashes in Gaibandha district in the north of the country. The judgment was passed by two clerics from a local madrassa. The two rapists were also sentenced to be flogged, but they ran from the scene after receiving 27 lashes. The girl, Kanti Begum, endured 51 lashes before falling unconscious.

 In Saudi Arabia, similar injustices occur. In November last year a woman who endured a vicious gang rape by four men was sentenced to 90 lashes, because she had been alone in a car with a man - "khalwat". Being alone with a man led one 70-year old disabled woman to be thrown in jail in Saudi Arabia in June 2006. The woman had entered a shop where only the male storekeeper was present.

 In Pakistan, the Hudood Ordinances led to hundreds of women, often accompanied by their children, to be jailed. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated that of the 6,000 women and children held in Pakistani jails in 2005, 80% of the women were jailed for Hudood infringements. A report by Human Rights Watch claimed that most cases of Hudood are registered by a woman's husband or father.

 The Hudood laws were also used to discriminate against Christians. Between 1986 and 2004, 2,000-2,500 Christians in Sindh and nearly 5,000 in Punjab province had been charged under Hudood Ordinances. Michael Javed, then president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) claimed that victims were frequently booked by police on false charges.

 In such a climate, where rape victims were too scared to report their attacks, lest they be charged with adultery, rape cases proliferated. Rape was also used as a means of forced conversion to Islam. In the fall of 2005 a 12-year-old Christian girl named Sara Tabasum claimed that she had been abducted and raped by 16 Muslim men, who tried to force her to convert. It was subsequently revealed that her family was being threatened in an attempt to have the case withdrawn.

Twenty-two-year-old Christian woman Riqba Masih from Punjab province was also subjected to rape in September 2005 as a means of forcing her to convert. Her sisters were forced to leave school, taunted as "prostitutes" and Riqba and her family were threatened to make them drop charges. When a 13-year-old Christian girl was raped in front of witnesses in a church in Bahawalpur, Punjab province in 2005<!--[if !supportNestedAnchors]--><!--[endif]--> by an influential Muslim, police were reluctant to pursue the case. The girl, named Rukshana, her family and also Pastor Binyamin who witnessed the rape, were threatened with violence to abandon the case.

 Hindus were also subjected to rape as a means of conversion. Three sisters had been kidnapped and raped before they became Muslim, and their claims were sent to the Supreme Court in December 2005.

 In September 2006 the US State Department criticized Pakistan's Islamist laws, including the laws against blasphemy and the Hudood laws which "impose elements of (Islamic) law on both Muslims and non-Muslims and different legal standards for men and women." Article 25 of the Pakistan Constitution states that equal rights are guaranteed for everyone, irrespective of gender, race, religion or creed.

 A month later, a report by the group Sahil claimed that from January to June 2006, 213 girls had been gang-raped. Nearly 1,164 children were abused, with 401 cases of girls being abducted.

 In May 2006, Pakistan's minister for justice, Wasi Zafar, announced that his government intended to repeal the Hudood laws. A proposed law on women's rights was passed before Islamic committees, and on July 7, 2006 President Musharraf announced that a clause (497) of the Criminal Procedural Code, was withdrawn. This clause had denied bail to women accused of Hudood "crimes". 1,500 women were to be freed, but the process was slow. Many women had been rejected by their families and had no place to go.

The plans to amend the Hudood laws were greeted with stiff opposition from the six-party coalition of Islamist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA. This coalition has 65 of the 344 seats in the National Assembly. After Musharraf announced that bail restrictions would be lifted on jailed women, he asserted at the end of July that he would repeal the Hudood laws. At the start of August there were mass protests in Karachi, demanding an end to the Hudood laws. The MMA interfered and threatened, demanding so many amendments that in September 2006 the decision to shelve the Hudood laws was itself shelved.

 The government had intended to replace the Hudood laws with a law entitled the Protection of Women Bill, 2006. On November 14, this bill was finally introduced. It allowed a woman the right to choose to be tried under secular law if accused of adultery, and to choose to pursue charges of rape without being herself jailed under Islamic ordinances. A compromise was made in a vain attempt to satisfy the Islamists. A new crime was added to civil law, under Section 496B in Clause 7 of the Penal Code. This forbade "lewdness", offering a maximum penalty of five years and a fine of 10,000 rupees ($165).

 The government also agreed to a clause in the Penal Code which stated that the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed would have effect "notwithstanding anything contained in any other law." Asma Jahangir of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission called the amendments "the nail in the coffin.... They have hoodwinked women into believing that this is a law for the protection of women. It is a law for the protection of religious extremists."

 For the Islamists of the MMA, the amendments which had been introduced to appease them were unsatisfactory. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman of the MMA said: "This is an attempt to create a free sex zone in Pakistan. Existing laws are correct and should be maintained. There is no need for any amendment. The changes are not in line with Islamic teaching."

 Two months later, Islamists from the Red Mosque in Islamabad, with the full support of the MMA, took over a children's library, threatening suicide attacks if the government intervened. The Red Mosque's students demanded that Sharia Law be implemented across Pakistan. The situation has not been resolved, and has become the greatest internal crisis since Musharraf came to power.

 If Islamic law dictates that the testimony of a woman is only worth half that of a man, then women are not equal under Islam. Where people are not regarded as equal, they are open to abuse. Pakistan, which was founded in 1947 by Mohammed Jinnah as a secular state, has enforced Islamic law to the detriment of its women and girls. In the final part of this series, I will examine how traditional Islamic customs and the pronouncements of modern Islamists have been employed to subject women to barbaric acts of cruelty.

>>> Continued in Part 4
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Adrian Morgan, aka Giraldus Cambrensis Western Resistance is a British based writer and artist. He also writes for Spero News, Family Security Matters and He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.


Comments Notes: Make comments preferably in "single" paragraph, since it cannot separate paragraphs.

Wednesday July 11, 2007
10:11:08 -0700

We are told to be tollerant of Islam, but EVERYTHING in Islam is considered a crime in the west. Islam is a virus infecting the world. Islam is the most cruel, barbaric and inhumane religion on earth. Islam is a CRIME. Islam must be crushed.

Death to Islam
Thursday July 12, 2007
04:44:01 -0700

To accept Islam, one must be a true vermin. Islam is the worst religion.

Monday August 13, 2007
21:03:09 -0700

Well.........I love and believe in Islam and have heard that hadeeth where the beloved Messenger of God is supposed to have said NOT to cut severly.......and it is my understanding that he later completely prohibited any "female circumcision".In Islam it is considered cruelty to cot anything on a female...and it is not a MUSLIM practise.As was said correctly,it is an ancient African practise and therefore perhaps the prophet gave converted Africans and south Yemenis time to understand and accept/realise how wrong and odd it was to cut girls ritually.I hate the practise and refuse to accept it is part of Islamic tradition.It is NOT.God-willing soon our Somali brothers and sisters will disguard of such an ugly practise too.Don`t blame Islam.....blame ancient African tradition and see it for what it is.

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