Islam,  Women's Rights

Forced and underage marriage: three perspectives

Religious commentators are certainly capable of spinning a more benign reading out of unpalatable doctrine – such as those Catholics who can’t quite bring themselves to deny Hell but ingeniously suggest that perhaps, even though it certainly exists, no one is actually there.

There are various ways in which people can grapple with the (contestedly contested) age of Aisha on marriage and its applicability to Muslims today. Although it is high profile Hamza Tzortzis whose take on this issue at a recent debate has received most attention, Faraz Nomani’s response to the initial challenge is even worse. On being questioned – quite gently – about the implications of the case of an eight year old girl who died of internal injuries following her marriage to a forty year old man in Yemen, Nomani asked (1:55).

Had she reached puberty?

An audience member responded:

Does it matter?

to which he replied:

Of course it matters

I wondered at this point whether the more adroit Tzortis found his colleague’s intervention fully helpful.

Amina Wadud by (welcome) contrast, finds in her religion more reason to restrict than encourage underage marriage:

Despite this flexibility and diversity there are still certain principles against which no law can be deemed “Islamic”. The number one principle is “justice”. Ibn al-Jayziyyah has stated, “the objective (or maqasid) of Shari’ah is justice”. Should anyone be able to show that justice cannot be met, then the law must be reformed. In the case above, the overwhelming evidence shows that child marriages are harmful, even fatal, thus cannot be “Islamic”.

Next, an interesting profile in the New York Times of senior prosecutor, Nazir Afzal:

Mr. Afzal does not mince words when he speaks about the “hundreds of young British girls who have their clitoris cut off in genital mutilation every year.” He is adamant that human rights must always trump cultural rights. “There are problems in minority communities that can’t be taboo,” he said. “No community should be allowed to give refuge to men who commit crimes against women.”

Forced marriage is a particular concern:

It was in 2004 that Mr. Afzal, a father of one daughter and three sons, had his own wake-up call when a group of women came to see him. One told of a girl who had burned herself to death to avoid a forced marriage. She had been 17, the same age his daughter is now. Another recounted the story of a woman who had been on the run from her family for more than eight years after refusing to marry a man she did not know. His visitors pressed Mr. Afzal to use his office to bring honor crimes and forced marriages out of the shadows and into the courtroom.

Finally – returning to the topic of conciliatory Catholics – perhaps I missed something, but I’m surprised this news of the Pope’s suggestion that atheists might be saved didn’t attract still more attention:

Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.