Why forced marriages?

Sahibzada Hassan Mohi ud Din Qadri
Chairman, WAAG (Pakistan Branch)

Since Islam firmly believes in upholding certain basic moral values such as chastity and modesty, which are considered the building blocks of society, it is preferred both morally and ethically that a boy and a girl should not go directly and give his or her offer of marriage to the second party. This arrangement should be done through a third party, preferably the family. Islam most definitely encourages arranged marriages but categorically prohibits forced marriages. Perhaps this is where the basic problem arises requiring the Muslim community to address the issue. The family needs to determine whether it is truly arranging a marriage with the full participation and consent of their children or it is forcing its own consent and views on their children, either through forceful methods or sometimes by emotional and sentimental blackmail.

Given Islamic position on the matter, one may ask why this basic problem still exists. If Islamic law is so categorical then why does the Muslim community continue to abuse their position? Why are Muslim children still being forced to marry against their will? These are the questions that need to be understood and answered.

Firstly, there is a fundamental difference in Islam regarding rights and duties as compared to secular law and culture. According to the Islamic societal order and family structure, parents are compulsorily responsible to take care of the upbringing of their children, to provide for their education, their food, their clothing, their lodging and most critically fulfil all of their needs up to their marriage and attaining adulthood. As the parents reach their old age and have no independent earning, during that period of life it is then the responsibility of their children, in particular the son, to look after the parents. This mutual and reciprocal fulfilment of rights and obligations continues between both the parent and the child, right from the birth till death. Indeed parents, children and other blood relations continue fulfilling the rights of one and another even after the death in the form of charity and other pious deeds. In this way the spiritual, secular, earthly and ethical relations, rights and obligation continue from generation to generation.

In contrast, within other societies, as soon the children attain adulthood or maturity they are not expected to support their own parents in any manner but are free to live totally independent lives. The parents are no more obligated to support their children who in turn have no duty or obligation to help their own parents, even if they are elderly and in great need.

The beauty of the Islamic system of rights and obligations is to maintain a balance between both parties, each knowing their rights but also their limits. However many Muslim parents continue to further their responsibilities, going over and above what is legally required of them. In the particular case of marriage, for example this can include payment of all expenses of the marriage ceremony and settlement of the newly wedded couple. Often this includes even buying a new residence until the son becomes financially independent and he is able to bear the expenses of his family or in the case of a daughter, they will support her until she moves to her husband’s house. Parents invest so much time and effort in their children but then expect something in return for their benevolence.

Problems occur, unfortunately, when Muslim parents and their children cross their limits and raise their expectations of each other, often disturbing the whole beauty of the system. When parents keep on investing extra-ordinarily in their children until their wedding, they begin to expect their children to accede to their wishes completely in the choice of the life partner, or think that it is their parental rights to do so.

This is an undue and unlawful expectation and is an act of transgression and not the justified lawful response. This amounts to snatching the right of free choice from the children or depriving them of their free and independent decision of choosing their life partners which Almighty Allah has vested in them. The ideal manner to deal with such expectations is that the children should help and serve their parents throughout their life. They should not neglect their needs and requirements that is often the case in Western secular society but continue to provide them with both financial and emotional support. Islam has placed great emphasis on the rights of parents, since they have brought up their children often making great sacrifices in order to provide the best for their children. Children should then give parents the confidence through their actions that they will still be there for them once they are married.

A second reason for forced marriages is that often immigrant families have other family members that are still residing in that part of the world they themselves came from. Thus they look for ways and means to bring their nephews and nieces and other close blood relations abroad. They hope to get them settled and the best course available to them is marriage. In most of the cases parents find totally un-matching partners for their children and ignore the relevance and necessity of equality of education, equality of understanding and equality of intellectual ability. Parents need to look and listen to their children. They have been educated in a society totally different from Pakistan, India and other countries of the Asian sub-continent. Their ways of thinking, communicating and understanding are different. It is extremely difficult for spouses, who have been brought up in different cultural and social environments to have a marriage free of discord.

For a resolution of such disputes, there needs to be a friendly dialogue and democratic consultation between parents and children based upon mutual respect and good will. It is through greater understanding and engagement that such issues can be taken care of. Media can be a very good vehicle in this day and age, which can remove confusions, misunderstandings and build bridges. Religious scholars also have an important role to play here aimed at educating people about the Islamic perspective on such issues.

(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 17, 2009

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