Fighting forced marriage in Scotland

I've been kind of bummed out with news recently. With all the bloodshed in Nigeria (read this excellent Associated Press report about a pastor who was killed by Muslim extremists as he prepared communion) the bombing in Kabul right after President Obama signed a pact in Afghanistan, what the Chinese government is doing to the family and friends of Chen Guangcheng and all the torture in North Korea, sometimes the news is just hard to handle. But the BBC has a rather nice story about a Muslim scholar who is on a campaign to end forced marriage in Scotland:

A Muslim scholar has launched a groundbreaking campaign against forced marriage in Scotland.

Shaykh Amer Jamil says the practice has no place in Islam.

During the next few weeks leaflets and sermons are being given in mosques as part of an initiative to educate the community.

"In the Muslim community there's a misconception amongst some people that religion allows this, that parents have an Islamic right to choose partner of their children, and that they don't have a choice in this," says the Glasgow-based Imam.

The article goes on to explain that the scholar receives calls, emails and texts every week from young people at risk of marriage against their will. The news alerts push forth a rather shocking number of stories about the plight of forced marriage around the world. And that includes Germany, Scotland and even in the United States. You may remember that the San Diego family of the murdered Shaima Alawadi -- we discussed coverage of her murder here, here and here -- was allegedly forcing a daughter into a marriage she opposed. (By the way, ever since the family drama was unveiled, coverage of that story has fallen off dramatically, but I did find this related story with another interesting religion angle to it.)

The story mostly gives the perspective of Jamil and has him explain what the youth are saying. We learn that his goal is to explain to parents that forced marriage is unethical, immoral and religiously wrong.

While there is a long standing tradition of arranged marriages in Muslim communities - that have the consent of those taking part - forced marriages can involve kidnapping, physical and mental abuse.

Although the majority of victims are women it also affects men.

I spoke to a young, successful businessman in the city.

Last year relatives in Pakistan forced him into a marriage against his will while he was there on holiday. It was to protect the family's honour, which is why he does not want to be identified.

"There was a guilt factor about the image it would leave in the family. The relationship it would leave my mum and dad with the elders in Pakistan forced me into doing something I would never have done otherwise," he says.

What frustrated me about this piece is that I wished for much more explanation of why Jamil teaches it is wrong to force a marriage. There are vague references to Mohammad being against it -- and you can certainly find more about that on the internet but it would be nice to get some specifics. But what would also be helpful is to know how various other Muslims justify the practice, particularly in light of what is said about forced marriage in Islam's sacred texts.

Here's the bulk of the religion content in the story:

Shaykh Jamil believes that it is time for religious leaders like himself to educate the community that forced marriage is not allowed in Islam.

"The only thing that can break a cultural norm for Muslims is the religion," he explains.

"So when you come down and say in Islam the prophet was against this practice, nobody can argue with you," he says.

Shaykh Jamil admits it is a position that has made him unpopular with more traditional elements of the community.

"You're seen as a troublemaker. But there's a responsibility to young people who are suffering."

Argh. Wouldn't it be nice to hear from some of those people who are engaged in the practice or are advocating for it? It's a huge hole in the story. I mean, I guess it's possible that we're talking about masses of Muslims throughout the world who have never heard what Muhammad said and will turn on a dime once they do, but something tells me the story is infinitely more complex than that. Are there ambiguous scriptures that others use to defend the practice? Since forced marriage is something that happens, sadly, in many diverse Muslim countries -- from Asia to Africa and the Middle East -- it's not something that can just be chalked up to cultural traditions, but clearly cultural traditions are an issue and are shaped by many factors.

I'm left very confused as to why forced marriage remains such a humongous problem in some Muslim communities and this story doesn't really do anything to change that.

I love that we learn about this campaign and how religiously focused it is, but more details would be helpful.

Image of bride via Shutterstock.

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