Concept of forced marriages in Islam

Sahibzada Hassan Mohi ud Din Qadri
President Supreme Council
Minhaj-ul-Quran International

The issue of forced marriages has become an immensely contentious one, resulting in media frenzy over such cases and highlighting a growing problem amongst those communities which in particular belong to the Asian sub-continent. Unfortunately, if a Muslim is involved in such matters it has become the norm to assume that Islam must thus condone such actions. This article thus deals with the issue of forced marriages and tends to explore Islamic perspective on it. The issue of marriage itself is a vast topic and all of its facets cannot be addressed here. This article will merely focus on the legal position of these marriages in Islamic law.

In order to appreciate the Islamic stance on forced marriages, it is necessary to understand basic Islamic principles regarding freedom of choice. A fundamental aspect of Islamic ideology and law is the right of free will and consent and the negation of compulsion and coercion within the human life. This principle has been categorically emphasised in many verses of the Holy Qur’an and Prophetic traditions, in general as well as in specific situations.

It is stated in the Holy Qur’an;

“There is no compulsion in religion, the right path and wrong path, both have been clearly explained and explicitly differentiated from each other”. (2:256)

A person is therefore given the choice to either accept the faith and become a Muslim or refuse and remain a non-Muslim. Indeed, within the Holy Qur’an the Prophets of Allah (s.w.t), throughout the ages, were always given this principle; their duty was to communicate the word of God to humankind, leaving the decision of acceptance in the hands of the recipients of that message.

Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tabri states, whilst interpreting Surah Al-Baqarah (2:256) that some of the local citizens of Madina Manawarra had already imbued their children with the Jewish and Christian faith during their childhood before the migration of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to Madina Manawarra. However with the advent of Islam, the elders embraced Islam with their free choice and in doing so tried to enforce Islam upon their now grown-up children. Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tabri states that it was within this context that Almighty Allah revealed this Qur’anic verse on the Holy Prophet, commanding that there is no compulsion and coercion in religion. Forcing children and trying to compel them to become a Muslim was categorically prohibited since acceptance of the deen of Islam was declared a matter of free will and choice. Imam Razi and Imam Qurtabi also report the same event from Sayyidina Abdullah Ibn Abbas.

It is pertinent to note that Iman is the most superior value of Muslim life. It is a sacred spiritual contract between a person and his Creator, the benefits of which will be reaped in the Hereafter. If compulsion is prohibited within this sphere of the deen then it naturally follows that any person, be the parent or guardian of an individual, cannot force his/her children to enter into a marriage contract with anyone against their free choice and consent.

Unlike secular law, marriage within the ambit of Islam is not only a civil contract but a religious and spiritual contract between two people – which must be entered into freely and with mutual consent. According to Islamic custom, parents and guardians have specific rights in this matter; to arrange the marriage ceremony and conduct it as a respectful family event; give their advice and recommendation for a life partner for their children. These rights are encapsulated within the philosophy of ‘willayah’. However, Islam does not allow parents, guardians or other relatives to enforce their will or choice on a boy or a girl since it is they who are the real parties to that contract. The right to exercise free will and consent in choosing a spouse is a God given right. This is also clearly evident from important commandments given by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in numerous Hadith, which lay down the foundational principles of formulating a marriage contract. In the Sahih Al-Bukhari, for example, a chapter in the book of marriage has been given the heading: “No father or mother or any close relation can force his/her children to marry any one against their free will and consent”

Within this chapter Abu Hurairah transmits from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who said: “No female whether a widow or divorcee will be forced to marry any one unless her express and categorical consent has been freely taken and in the same way a woman not previously married can never be forced to marry anyone unless her free consent and permission is taken”

Imam Bukhari has set another chapter heading within the book of marriage: “If parents force their daughter to marry someone against her wish then the marriage will be void”.

Under this chapter Imam Bukhari reports a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) from Khansa Bint e Hizam Al Ansariyah. She states that her father married her off to someone forcefully whom she did not like. She took her case to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and upon listening to her; the Holy Prophet (PBUH) rejected the marriage and declared the marriage as void”.

In another Hadith in the Sahih of Imam Bukhari it is narrated by Abdullah Ibn Abbas (r.a.d) that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that if a woman wants to marry and is already a divorcee or widow, her right of free consent and free choice is superior then the right of her guardian. If she is not previously married and this is her first marriage even then her parents or other guardians cannot enforce their choice on her. They are not allowed to force her to marry any one against her free choice and free consent.

It is thus clearly apparent that forced marriages are totally unacceptable in Islam. Islamic commandments as mentioned above are very categorical in nature. Those who invoke Islam in order to justify their actions do so for ulterior motives. There is a need to educate all and sundry on these issues. In most of the cases, forced marriages are the result of monetary gains, local and tribal traditions and caste affiliations. Strict legislation accompanied by media awareness campaign could be helpful in stemming the trend of the forced marriages.

(The writer is a PhD scholar in Islamic Law at an Egyptian University, Cairo)

This Article was printed in Daily The Frontier Post on June 15, 2009