Islam and Forced Marriage
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.
Force is not always force
It has been firmly established that forced marriage is anti- Islamic, however let us address the question of what constitutes as force. Parents may feel that they are meeting their Islamic responsibilities of allowing choice if they receive the permission of their child.
However, under what circumstances has that permission been granted?
Force is not always force, force is sometimes guilt, force is sometimes blackmail, emotional or psychological.
Ask yourself, you may not have been FORCED into marriage with someone, but if you refuse someone, are you at threat of having no other options? Might your family change the way they treat you? Are you at risk of being neglected in the home, ostracized even?
These repercussions of having a ‘choice’ are not often thought of as constituting force, but, if an individual is aware their ‘free will’ may result in rejection from the family, this is likely to encourage them to accept a marriage they may not otherwise consent too.
This is force.
It is important that forced marriage is looked at from several angles, an individual is less likely to have a gun held to their head while they sign documents, constituting as typically understood force, free will is lost when dealt the burden of shame while you reject families wishes.
The British government has acknowledged that the pressure put on people to marry against their will may be:
Physical – for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence,
Emotional and psychological – for example, making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family.
If you feel you are being subjected to either physical or emotional and psychological force, seek help because It is neither legally, nor Islamically just.