Islam is a religion that takes marriage seriously, as a concept sanctioned by god and enshrined in holy law1. Muhammad said that God hates divorce2. In Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, it is illegal to have sex outside of marriage3. But this rigidity all too frequently descends into barbarism and a denial of human rights, including wifebeating, endorsed in Qur'an 4:34 and several Hadiths. Take the 2007 case of Lina Loy, in Malaysia. She converted to Christianity and wanted to marry her Christian fiancé. It is illegal there for Muslim women to marry Christians and despite her case reaching the highest courts, she was refused permission to legally convert to Christianity in order to marry. This was a routine denial of the human rights of belief, of family life, and of privacy. She now lives in hiding after receiving death threats (as has the lawyer who defended her)4. Throughout Muslim countries, marriage is an institution where women are utterly dominated by men and women are legally inferior in the Qur'an1. Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslims (but men can)1. The practice of forced marriages (i.e. ba'l2) is nowhere more popular than it is in Muslim countries. Worse, child marriage is given sanction in Qur'an 65:1-4 which also allows pre-menstrual girls to be divorced after having sex with them. Countries such as the UK have legislation specifically to deal with such abuses.
The fundamental problem is twofold: (1) The Qur'an's rules on marriage are not suitable for the modern world where women are no longer the property of men, and (2) a number of traditional cultures, who are now Islamic, have practices that are offensive to current values of fairness, equality and decency.
Thankfully, most Islamic communities live with a much more modern outlook. Proto-liberal Islamic scholars such as Tariq Ramadan point out that it is compatible with strict Islam to accept national laws on marriage even where they contradict how marriage would be ran in a purely Shariac-compliant framework5.
Islam is as misogynistic as other Abrahamic religions, with much that is oppressive towards femalekind. Women are legally inferior in the Qur'an1 and face a long list of one-sided restrictions on basic freedoms, such as where they can go, who they can see and what they can wear. Although at its foundation, Muslims like to say, Islamic law was progressive and included an element of protection for women, in today's world where equality and fairness are the norm, Islamic law looks as barbaric as does Christian law during the Dark Ages-->. It is often worse, especially as Islamic cultural practices sometimes (far) exceed what is proscribed in the Qur'an.
“In the minds of many Muslims, being faithful to Islamic teachings with regards to... marriage and divorce... means doing what was customary in their country of origin or what 'the ulama from back there' used to say. [...] Imams find 'Islamic' justifications for 'fast-track' marriages, without any preparatory official administrative procedures, leaving women without security or rights, abused and deceived by unscrupulous individuals. Divorce is made very difficult, even when it is clear that the woman is defending her most basic rights. [...] It is true that these practices have sometimes been affirmed and advised in the countries of emigration, and one can certainly find ulama in the traditionalist and literalist schools who declare that these are Islamic teachings. But it is essential that we go back to scriptural sources to evaluate these practices (and to draw a clear distinction between customs that are culturally based and Islamic principles).”
Maritability Options: "A Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim, but the children must be raised in the Islamic faith; a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim"1.
Politics and Pragmatic Marriage: Using Afghanistan as an example, where things are bad for women, "women are regarded as property of men and as pawns in economic and political exchanges, with marriages, enforced or otherwise, used in a way to end tribal feuds, to cement alliances between clans, or to increase a family´s prestige"8 - although men are as tied to these marriages as women, the pairing choices are made purely by men and they don't suffer the loss of freedom that women do.
There are some minor differences between the major Islamic denominations. In Sunni Islam, the bride isn't a legal entity and cannot enter into a contract, therefore, a male guardian (usually her father), has to establish the marriage contract in her name1. Shia Muslims accept that women can enter into this contract of their own free will, without requirement for a male guardian1.
Arranged marriages are specifically condoned in Islamic law and in most Islamic schools of thought. Although it may offend Westerners who are exposed almost exclusively to romantic marriages, much of the world has practiced arranged marriages, especially historically. It is often a source of surprise (and some disbelief) to learn that arranged marriages can be as happy as any other kind. Frequently, parents typically choose a wife or husband for their child (sometimes at an age that is illegal in the West) on the grounds of (a) political advantage (with regards to family-family relations) or (b) Western immigration law (in order to import people from Muslim countries to Western ones). (More on this below.)
But far too frequently, arranged marriages offer little or no protections for those involved, and in most traditional and Islamic cultures, women fare far worse than men.
“Storhag and Karlsen have called forced marriage 'a modern-day commerce in human beings.' They've also pointed out a fact that most European politicians would prefer to ignore - that a forced marriage will likely involve forced sex, sometimes on a daily basis. Human Rights Service studied ninety cases of forced marriage in Norway and found that only three of the wives were not raped. [...] One girl said that when she screamed for help, her new in-laws, still celebrating the wedding in an adjoining room, 'just turned up the volume on the music.' Another girl said, 'I'll never forget the day after the wedding night. Everyone must have seen the pain in my face. But even my own mother gave no sign that I could ask for the least amount of support and comfort from her.'”
Muslims are capable of adapting their cultural practices to their Western situations, but sometimes it seems that the West is complicit in undermining integration by putting into practices policies which encourage large-scale non-integration, with little or no oversight of the total effect:
“Traditionally, in Muslim countries, a new wife moves in with her husband's family - never the opposite. Among European Muslims this custom has been entirely overthrown. Nowadays, when a transnational marriage between Muslim cousins takes place, the spouse that migrates is invariably the non-European spouse, whose first residence after migrating is, as a rule, his or her in-laws' home. These marriages - which in Norway have acquired the name "fetching marriages" - accomplish two things. They enable more and more members of an extended Muslim family to emigrate to Europe and to enjoy Western prosperity. And they put the brakes on - or even reverse - whatever progress the European-born spouse might have made toward becoming Westernized.”
"While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" by Bruce Bawer (2006)9
Strange as though it sounds, although some European countries have implemented new laws to curb strategic marriages, others actually make it easier for the system to be abused. Bawer continues:
“In many Western European countries, indeed, some laws are different for natives than for immigrants. For native Swedes, the minimum age for marriage is eighteen; for immigrants living in Sweden, there is no minimum. In Germany, an ethnic German who marries someone from outside the EU and wants to bring him or her to Germany must answer a long list of questions about the spouse's birth date, daily routine, and so forth in order to prove that the marriage is legitimate and not pro forma; such interviews are not required for German residents with, say, Turkish or Pakistani backgrounds, for it is assumed that their marriages have been arranged and that the spouses will therefore know little or nothing about each other.”
"While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within" by Bruce Bawer (2006)10
Not only is this reverse discrimination - whereby many immigrants are forced to follow stricter procedures than some (Muslim) others, but it also undermines Western ideas of morality, where marriage is a free enterprise with no element of compulsion. For these two reasons, such exemptions should be removed, and all people and all religions should be treated equally under law, as is the ideal in fair democracies.
For more, see:
Polygamy is the marriage of a husband to multiple wives. The Qur'an allows males to marry "two or three or four" wives as long as they are treated justly (if not, only one is permitted) (Qur'an 4:3). It works solely in the male's favour, with the power to divorce often being purely his. There are instances where wives have over periods of years requested divorce due to abuse, only to be turned down by her husband in front of Sharia courts. On the other hand, a husband who wants to divorce a wife merely has to demand it. This inequality is made even worse when husbands can have multiple wives: his life is secure, their's are not.
The language used is purely that of male dominance; there are some detailed rules as to who can or can't be selected as a wife. The Qur'an addresses only males in this discussion, talking of "your wives", always assuming that the reader is male, and the power is his.
Polyandry, where a wife has multiple husbands, is not allowed. Although in historic Arabic culture, it was once a custom for a woman to have multiple sexual partners before choosing which one to stay with11 - a practice called nikah ijtimaa. But such female-led decisions are not compatible with Shariah and was firmly rejected. The rejection of female concern is a recurring theme in Islamic holy text through this life, and the next: Males in heaven have a dozen virgin wives to please them; women's desires and concerns are not reflected at all in Islamic depictions of heaven.
“A woman's husband is obliged to provide for her and her children, but polygamy is accepted, and a man may take up to four wives, provided he looks after them equally. He may also take an unlimited number of concubines.”
“[There are] arguments being presented by female legal experts that the Qu'ranic laws on marriage actually favour monogamy. Azizah al-Hibri refers to legal experts of the classical period, who considered that a second marriage was not recommended if it was prejudicial to the first wife. [...] The Muslim League of Women, assert that since the second wife is not legally recognized under civil law, she cannot be afforded equal status: which means the situation does not conform with Islamic law a priori, given that polygamy is only considered legitimate if all wives receive strictly equal treatment.”
Their logic only holds true as long as International and National laws remain secular and non-Islamic; in an Islamic state where such marriages are indeed recognized by civil law, polygamy can be freely indulged in by men.
"Secret under-age marriages" sounds like a typical sensationalist tabloid newspaper headline, but unfortunately in the UK Muslim authorities have been caught arranging marriages between adults and children, for example in the London borough of Islington and in the city of Peterborough. Multiple voices, including those of Muslim leaders, have spoken out against the practice.
“[...] A Sunday Times reporter goes undercover and asks an imam to "marry" his 12 year old daughter [and] the imam agrees but only if the father will keep it a secret. Imam Mohammed Kassamali, of the Husaini Islamic Centre in Peterborough said "I would love the girl to go to her husband's houses as soon as possible, the younger the better. Under sharia there is no problem. It is said she should see her first sign of puberty at the house of her husband. The problem is that we cannot explain such things if the girl went tomorrow [to the authorities]."
Abdul Haque, an imam at the Shoreditch mosque in east London agreed to officiate but recommended that the reporter "tell people it is an engagement but it will be a marriage". He added "In Islam, once the girl reaches puberty the father has the right, the parents have the right, but under the laws of this country if the girl complains and says her marriage has been arranged and she wasn't of marriageable age, then the person who performed the marriage will be jailed as well as the mother and father".
This isn't news. In January of this year, the Islington Tribune reported that girls as young as nine are being "married" in sharia courts in that borough. Diana Nammi, leader of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO) told the Tribune that the children are "still expected to carry out their wifely duties, though, and that includes sleeping with their husband".
A couple of months later, it was reported that a five year old had been "married" in London and had "received assistance" from the Government's Forced Marriage Unit. The same report declared that around 400 children had received the same assistance in only one year.
According to the Sunday Times report, Farooq Murad, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "We are strongly opposed to it on the basis that it is illegal under the law of the land where we are living and even under sharia it is highly debateable". (My emphasis). Note he is against it not because it is an abhorrent crime which causes immense damage to young girls, not because it takes young girls out of school and hands them to men to live a life of servitude and sexual slavery. No, none of this. He also said "under sharia it is highly debateable". But, who exactly is going to win that debate and what happens to these girls in the meantime?
When I wrote to the Justice Department on behalf of the One Law for All campaign asking why they were permitting sharia courts to discriminate against women, make child custody decisions that can be dangerous for the children involved, and allow domestic violence (among other human rights abuses) they replied saying "we do not prevent people living in accordance with religious beliefs or cultural practices". Indeed. Apparently though, this is the latest response from the Home Office: "Child marriage is totally unacceptable and illegal. Perceived cultural sensitivities and political correctness cannot and will not get in the way of preventing and uncovering such abuse".
[...] Why aren't the police demanding a list of "marriages" being carried out under sharia law in this country and why aren't they checking whether these girls are being raped as alleged by IKWRO? Why is sharia family law being permitted in any way, shape, or form in the UK when we know this is going on?”
Needless to say, that if this occurs, secretly, in the UK, which has a good democratic government with a strong rule of law and an established embrace of all of the fundamental human rights, then it must be so much worse elsewhere in the world. Robert Spencer reports that more than half the teenage girls in Afghanistan and Bangladesh are married, "Iranian girls can get married when they are as young as nine with parental permission, or thirteen without consent" and a study in Jordan indicated that 26 percent of reported cases of domestic violence were committed against wives under 1814.
The practice of child marriages is given sanction in the Quran. Qur'an 65:1-4 discusses divorce, and the waiting-period if you unsure if your wife is pregnant. 65:4 makes it clear that the same rules apply "to those who have not yet menstruated". Allah's eternal word is encompassing and giving divine sanction to those who have not only married pre-menstrual girls, but who are also divorcing them after having sex with them.
There are many verses in the Qur'an commanding restraint, and that reconciliation in marital relations is the best route. But it isn't the only route for a husband. The infamous sura of Qur'an 4:34 instructs men to beat their wives if they are not obedient; it says "Men have authority over women [...so as] for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them". Aside from the Qur'an, this is affirmed clearly in the Hadiths too. Although Muhammad once said of wives: "do not beat them" (Dawud 11:2139), this didn't last and was overridden by two later sayings. A community leader later complained to Muhammad that "Women have become emboldened towards their husbands", so Muhammad gave permission to beat them. When women complained to his family, Muhammad said that they 'are not the best among you'. In case this was not clear enough about the status of women in the family, the Prophet also said "A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife". Both of these were recorded in the canonical Hadiths, Kitab Al-Nikah ('Marriage'), book 11 from Sunan Abu-Dawud, numbers 2141 and 2142. There are other hadiths that recount the normalcy of wife-beating.
Robert Spencer (2005) brings our attention to some horrible reports; "the Pakistani Institute of Medical Sciences has determined that over 90 percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or abused sexually [some for] cooking an unsatisfactory meal [others] punished for failing to give birth to a male child"15.
All the problems highlighted in this text also haunted Christian communities for over a thousand years. As with Christians, in the Western world, Islamic marriages are now largely modern, without the barbarism of history. Proto-liberal Islamic scholars such as Tariq Ramadan point out that it is compatible with strict Shariah Islam to accept national laws on marriage, as marriage laws don't fall within the areas of life that are absolutely essential for Muslims to follow. If a country treats Muslims fairly, then, Muslims can also come to accommodate norms on marriage that they wouldn't otherwise accept; Ramadan argues that Shariah-compliant compromises can be pronounced on the topic of marriage, as they are on other topics.5
“The shari'a, following the Qur'an, discourages divorce, calling it 'the worst of all possible things', but nevertheless recognizes that sometimes it is unavoidable as a last resort. A man may divorce his wife unilaterally, by pronouncing the talaq, the formula 'I divorce thee!' three times. The first two pronouncements must be followed by a waiting period, in order to determine that the wife is or is not pregnant. If she is, she will have custody of male children until the age of 7 and female til the age of puberty, defined by the various schools of law as 15 or 18. The same rule applies to custody from the form of divorce known as khul', which is divorce instituted by the wife. In this case, the wife forfeits the dowry received from her husband on marriage. This form of divorce can only be validated with the consent of the husband, except under Maliki law, which recognizes the authority of the court in this matter in cases of irreconcilable differences.”
Islam has oppressed women more comprehensively than any other force of history. Although Christianity was once the greater oppressor, where women were forbidden to preach and learn, and were subject to their husbands' rule, the restrictions under Islam are much worse and enforced much more strictly. There are many barbaric practices associated with Islam that negatively affect women, such as female segregation, female genital mutilation (FGM: which removes the clitoris in order to prevent women wanting to cheat), multiple wives, male ownership and domination of women, restrictions on work and education of women, honour killings and forced marriages. Some of those, such as FGM, are nothing to do with Islam and occur in only some Islamic countries, and predate Islam. Although in its day Islam granted some rights to women that they did not otherwise have, the unfortunate side-effect is that women's rights have been frozen at a partial state in Islamic countries. Almost half of all women in Muslim lands are illiterate. No matter to what extent misogynistic and patriarchal brutality have been cultural rather than Islamic, in Muslim lands women's rights have remained severely restricted because the religion does not promote women's rights apart from a few specifics. Many practices which subjugate women are derived from the Qur'an so that in "most Muslim countries privilege a system that [...] gives priority to the husband in divorce proceedings"7. Even in places like New York City, far removed from Arabic culture, Mosques refuse to let a woman speak an address.
Much of the negative doctrine about women comes from the Qur'an and the canonical hadiths which record Muhammad's sayings. Suras 24:30-31 and 33:59, and hadiths 4092 and 4092 of Abu-Dawud, instruct that women must dress modestly, completely covered, with only hands and face showing. Sura 4:34 states clearly that men have authority over women, and can beat disobedient women. Recorded hadiths confirm that men can beat their women, and that the women who complain about it are reprehensible (Abu-Dawud 2141,2142); rates of wifebeating are very high in Muslim countries, according to Pakistan's own medical institute the rate there is 90%. The hadiths have Muhammad preach that women are inferior intellectually and religiously (Sahih al-Bukhari 6:301, Sahih Muslim 1:142). Sahih al-Bukhari 59:709 states that a nation ruled by a woman will not be successful. Muhammad's most beloved wife Aisha says that men have such rights over women, that if women understood, they would happily wipe the dust from their husband's feet with their faces. Women's testimony is worth less than a man's, and women inherit less. The Qur'an is addressed to males and the text assumes that males are reading it, males are enforcing the rules, and women are subordinate (i.e. Sura 4:15-6). Wives are given permission to do things by their men; never the other way round. Hadiths 3367 and 3368 in Sahih Muslim record that God is only happy with a woman if her husband is happy with her, and, if he calls her to bed for sex, she should comply. The language in the Qur'an is objectifying and talks of women in terms of ownership. Qur'an 2:225 says that "women are fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please". The influence of the Qur'an and the Hadiths, and the entire religion of Islam and all of the countries where it is dominant, have in total formed a system of thorough male dominance and the systematic abuse of womankind. It is rooted in the core of the religion. Like the Christians, Muslims must learn to ignore and overlook the misogynistic verses in their holy text. Until they do that, Islam will remain an enemy of women.
For more, see:
Most religious traditions have subjugated womankind16,17,18,19. The religious restrictions and taboos on womankind have ranged from the openly oppressive and inhumane, to subtle limitations. Women have been barred from leadership, prevented from religious learning and even from secular education, forbidden to hold power, denied fair inheritance and land ownership, denigrated, physically dominated, and sometimes even forbidden to speak20. All in accordance with holy texts, religious laws and guidelines. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam have been the worse; but also Hinduism and Buddhism have played roles in the long-term subjugation of women. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Woman's Bible" (1898)21 she bemoans that "all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible"22. The much more neutral scholar of comparative religion, Moojan Momen, normally writes positively on nearly all aspects of religion, but when it comes to women, even he is forced into a multiple-page criticism of the historical role of religion19. Although some of this stems from ancient cultural sources before it happened to be codified in world religions23, organized religion has clung on to patriarchalism long after secular society has liberalized. Feminist groups have frequently been anti-religion simply because it is religion that has presented itself as the most consistent oppressor of womankind. The problems from traditional religions are not just historical: even today, religious organisations and powerful international religious lobbies hold back gender equality across the world24.
There is good news. The most readily accepted cure for both intolerance, religion and superstition is widely shown to be education. The position of women improves as education improves and as traditional religions lose their grip on society. Modern society has come to either ignore their traditional texts (as most Christians do) or to abandon religion (as many Westerners have done). Also many new religious movements and alternative religions such as Paganism, Wicca, the New Age and even Satanism practice full gender equality. As long as traditional religions continue to decline and secular society and new religions both grow, the situation of women continues to improve.
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