The new Forced Marriages Act which came into affect in November 2008 promises to deliver protection to the ‘many’ who have been forced into marriage by their parents.
Foreign Secretary David Milliband said in a newspaper article on Sunday 14th December 2008 that “the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) had handled more than 1,500 reports so far this year. According to the FMU, 65% of all known cases of the practice in the UK involve people of Pakistani origin”.
The practice is also present in Hindu and Sikh communities.The Forced Marriage Act grants the UK courts (not foreign courts) powers to prevent UK forced marriages and grant protection for those who are victim of this.Anyone found guilty of trying to force an individual into marriage could face up to 2 years imprisonment. It also raises the marriage visa age from age 18 to 21.This legislation is the first to specifically target the issue of forced marriage.
In August 2008, a high profile case of Dr Humayra Abedin, a 33 year old GP became a perfect public relations exercise for the government to launch the new Forced Marriages Act.A statement issued to the court revealed claims that Humayra Abedin was tricked by her parents into leaving the UK to visit her mother in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On arrival she was manhandled by her family into the property and locked in a room and kept hostage for 4 months. The courts in the UK heard of her 4 month ordeal, where her parents forced her to marry without free consent and Dr Abedin agreed to the marriage contract under duress. She later managed to email a friend in the UK seeking help, and the UK high court under the new Forced Marriages Act 2007, was able to pressure the Bangladeshi courts to secure her release and her safe return. Injunctions were issued against Dr Abedin’s parents, a paternal uncle and the man she was allegedly forced to marry, by UK courts in December 2008.
This is not the first time that the topic of forced marriages has dominated Favours: How to reconnect with British domestic news.The remarks of David Muslims’:”Over the last couple of years, Blunkett, the then Home secretary in 2002, infuriated the Muslim community. Mr Blunkett was accused of attempting to create a debate on the issue in order to control immigration from South Asia, and labelling the Muslim community yet again.
Therefore the FMA (forced Marriage Act) has raised many questions in the minds of Muslims which must be addressed. The main issues have been to understand the motives behind the FMA and secondly what impact the FMA will have on Muslims or the issue of forced marriage.
WHY THE ACT?
When legislation is made targeting Muslims (stick approach), it comes with a carefully planned programme of re-culturing and redefining of Islam.Take the example of the anti-terror legislation introduced throughout the 2000’s; this was coupled with visits by a variety of MP’s and Muslim religious figures to Muslim areas, to discuss and ‘re-educate’ Muslims about who is a terrorist, why supporting resistance to occupation is encouraging terrorism, what is the supposed Shariah meaning of Jihad and the like.The visit by John Reid to Walthamstow in 2006 to address the Muslim community about how to monitor ‘future tell tale signs of terrorism’ in their own children certainly did not receive a ‘champagne reception’. It seems the lesson politicians learnt is never to repeat this kind of nonsense again. However the means by which the agenda of redefining Islam has become much more sinister.
The government has for the last 4 years (since 7/7) initiated a series of pilot initiatives, policies and research on the Muslim community in Britain under the guise of ‘rooting out extremism’ as evidenced by the reports published on CONTEST, PREVENT and PVE (Preventing Violent Extremism).They have identified that in order to integrate the Muslims in Britain, they will need Muslims who work at the grassroots level to work alongside them.The Community Cohesion Minister, Sadiq Khan wrote in a Fabien Society publication entitled ‘Fairness not Favours: How to reconnect with British Muslims’:”Over the last couple of years, the Labour Government has tried hard.We have shifted to more direct contact with grassroots organisations and established forums to engage with women and young people – two groups who are crucial in our ongoing debates”. The government is now targeting to entice Muslim personalities and in particular Muslim women and the youth who reside in our communities to vocalise and promote western values which in turn will dilute and label Islam in the process. By doing this they hope to create a lasting impact on our future generations.
In January 2008, Downing Street hosted the launch of NMWAG (National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group).This consisted of 19 women (hijabis and non¬hijabis) who the government hope will be the shining examples of ‘civic participation’ and ‘role models’ for Muslim women. Much funding has been made available for these women by the Women’s National Commission (WNC) as well as to 100’s of regional, local and national women’s organisations who have pledged their support to ‘root out extremism’ and some organisations are actively focussed on the issues related to forced marriages.
WNC have hosted workshops and awareness building projects in Muslim populated areas.The advisory group & supporting organisations have and wish to raise discussions within our community on a plethora of topics. Under Integration & Identity; discussions have been on multiple identities, integration, multiculturalism. Under Education and Gender roles; discussions have been on schools, universities and madrassahs, curriculum, cultural patriarchy Vs Islam, female imams and different interpretations of Islam!! Under Violence and Safety; discussions have been on the hijab/jilbab, terrorism, Islamophobia & Racism, domestic violence, honour killings AND FORCED MARRIAGE. Forced marriage is therefore just one topic amongst many that is directed at furthering the ‘rooting out terrorism’ agenda which is really aimed at diluting and redefining Islam.
IMPACT OF THE FMA ON FAMILIES
The impact of the publicity surrounding the FMA has been to wrongfully label Islam to be the cause of forced marriage rather than tradition and cultures alien to from Islam.The government have gone policing the Muslim community in public to meddling into relationships in the private life.The impact of the FMA could therefore result in the following for Muslims:
(a) Children using the FMA as a means to indulge in un Islamic practices such as dating, extra marital relationships and teenage pregnancies thinking the law will protect them.This will no doubt distance more youth from Islam and encourage them towards adopting secular values alien to Islam and strained parent-child relationships.
(b) Wrongfully label Islam as the cause, leaving cultural and secular values unquestioned which will allow the government to be successful in demonising Islam and Muslims but the practice will continue since causes are left unaddressed.
(c) Create division and mistrust in parent-child relationships.
In conclusion, the FMA will not irradiate the problem of forced marriage and will only generate a new set of obstacles for Muslims.
CAUSES OF FORCED MARRIAGE
It is true to say that forced marriages do take place in a minority of Muslim families. In some cases, girls have been taken abroad and emotionally blackmailed into marrying their cousins in order to secure visa’s or inheritance. Other cases have been due to parents noticing misconduct from their child, such as free mixing with the opposite sex or having boyfriends, which has driven parents in desperation to force their own child into marriage in order to avoid dishonour to the family. In the most severest of cases, it has resulted in honour killings in the UK and abroad. Such topics are taboo to discuss in the Muslim community, but it is necessary to distinguish between the practice of Islam and that of foreign cultures. Due to such cases being present in Muslim communities, Islam has become a prime target for attack. However what must be clear is that Islam does not condone forced marriages at all, and puts as the pivotal pillar in marriage the free consent of the two parties entering a marriage contract. Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission is sought”. Ibn Abbas narrated that a young virgin came to the Messenger of Allah (saw) and mentioned that her father had given her in marriage against her wishes. So the Prophet (saw) gave her the choice of repudiating the marriage”.
Therefore any marriage contract conducted by force is considered void in Islam.
So if Islam is not the cause behind forced marriage, what is? The problems stems from two sources:
(i) Asian/Arab customs:The idea of ‘izza’, pride towards ones tribe or family background, wealth or nationality often has been the cause behind many parents rejecting decent marriage proposals and resorting to forced marriage. Abu Hatim al-Muzani reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “When someone whose character and morals are agreeable to you approaches you for marriage give your daughter to him in marriage. If you do not then there will be tribulation and immense corruption in the earth”.
(ii) Secular values: Secular values in society have generated a mirrored problem of dating and free mixing among the youth in the Muslim community.This has created a chasm within families where parents wish for the child to not indulge in the lifestyle of indecent and promiscuous behaviour and to maintain their Islamic values and identity and in some cases the child doesn‘t.Through sheer desperation in many cases, parents resort to taking the child abroad and coercing them into a forced marriage to avoid the humiliation it would bring to the family if the child was allowed to continue in such behaviour. However this approach has led to youngsters running away from home rather than resolving the problem of the dating culture amongst youth. Furthermore, government initiatives have only sought to promote such attitudes amongst Muslim youth.The Borders and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne stated:”British citizens have the right to marry whoever they choose. But we want newcomers to succeed in our society and sign up to the standards we have in common.That means freedom, not being forced to marry someone, and it means newcomers quickly acquiring a command of English, with consequences for those who break the rules” This means the law will also grant protection for Muslim girls to marry or cohabit with non-Muslim men which completely goes against Islam and promotes freedom for an individual to do as they wish without accountability to Allah (swt).
TACKLING FORCED MARRIAGE AS A MUSLIM COMMUNITY
The UK Government has a failed track record of solving Muslim community problems and an excellent track record of creating them.This legislation will not rid the problem of forced marriage from the community, any more than the anti-terror legislation will rid ‘terror’. Rather these legislations only serve to target further policing of the Muslim community and attempts to create division (a Muslim with another, a parent with child), increase Islamophobia in society and strip Muslims from the Islamic values and identity.The agenda to integrate Muslims and create a ‘British Islam’ has been propelled through curriculums for madrassahs, training of home grown imams, laws protecting the age of consent and sex before marriage, prostitution or immigration.The FMA is just another to add to the list of attempts by the government to show they are aiding the Muslim community but really are in the process of promoting secular values.The Muslim community must therefore deal with its own problems as a community from the Islamic basis.
IN RESPONSE THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY MUST:
a.Accept that such problems (though not a norm) happen in the Muslim community and needs to be tackled.
b. Understand that Islam does not condone forced marriages but rather puts the consent as the factor that makes the marriage legally binding in accordance to Shar’iah.The problem that exists in the community comes from eastern/Arab traditions and secular values and not Islam.
c. Encourage parents and children to use Islam as the basis to resolve parent-child disputes not culture and tradition or secular values.
d. Present the correct Islamic viewpoint on forced marriage to those who carry out this practice and raise our youth to refer to Islam in their actions as well as ourselves.
e. Solve its own issues as a community through a concerted effort to live by Islam and maintain our identity and not wait on the government to try to solve it for us.This will only lead the community into compromising on our values and principles and further the integrationist agenda.