India – the world’s largest democracy or hypocrisy?
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For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, there is much confusion between arranged marriages – where two families, with the agreement of the bride- and groom-to-be, agree on a partnership – and forced marriages, where one side is forced into a marriage against their will.
In small ponds of small villages, some small size fish try to gulp thunders. In the same way Neeraj, our little known identity and a frantic imaginative person, would often try to conquer the roaring waves of thoughts of his mind, churned out of the events of this wheeled universe. Like others his thoughts were also swift, fast and high.
Yet, he could capture few of his stray as well as beautiful and colourful feathers of thoughts which would fly high and fall back into the nest of his manifold ideas.
On a sunny morrow he began pondering over: “In Ancient India people used to wear dhotis. Generations changed and most people now wear trousers. People feel more convenient to wear trousers nowadays as it soothes their lifestyle. People no more feel shy or bad that they don’t wear dhoti any longer. In the same way like the extinction of use of dhotis, marriage in today’s society is becoming a contract. It is in the phase of extinction. After few generations, people will no more get married. Culture of marriage will totally get extinct and people will no longer feel awkward or bad or shy that they are not married. Marriage will no longer prevail in society any longer.”
Places where modernity tries to gain foothold through the pure pace of urbanisation, youthful energies capture such incongruous opinions. Deprived of nature’s blessings, people may lose sight, evolve as a pure product of marketing, may call fagging a lifestyle but how do they discard their analytics, curiosity and fantasy which take them to the horizons of million universes…
Neeraj, our little thinker, who occupied very little space in the world, would often wonder: “whether marriage should actually get extinct?” As a gift of modernity and techno savvy society, he inherited access to unbounded knowledge and liberal attitude. He happened to come to the knowledge that: “Before the marriage institution came into existence, woman was always the looser. After having relations with her, the male shirked his responsibility and left the female alone and destitute and sometimes with her child. With the advancement of social ideas it became necessary to prevent the male from shirking his responsibility. The institution of marriage came into being to centre the activities of the male around the maintenance and acceptance of the child and its mother and thereby to develop in him a consciousness of his duties and of pure love.”
His reflexes opined that: “Extinction of marriage or so called contract marriage would mean going back to primitive lifestyle and let two creatures go wherever they want when their sensual cravings are fulfilled. Opting to despise fellow partners in midst of woes, without any justified reason is something which is not natural to homo-sapiens whose DNA is wired for every kind of courage needed in face of danger.”
Neeraj, our great thinker, transformed to a quite bubble that was floating on his own sea of analysis. “Does marriage mean a law surrounding women welfare? If women would have been able to take care of themselves and their child alone, probably there wouldn’t have been any urge upon society to bind people under the vow of marriage.”
He thought again and again and his curiosity led him to the enlightenment that: “Humans crave for intellectual pleasure too. Marriage is like a bound book meant for two submerging souls to sacredly go through the holy chapters of joy, sorrow, success, failure, anxiety, frustration, reconstruction and renovation destined and sequenced for them as lessons. Wiseman said, man can realise divine presence through love for women and women can realise divinity in the joy of creation of progeny. When a woman finds a proud position by the side of man to stand as a silent leader and not merely as an object of lust, she can generously shower the warmth and love that respires in her heart like those wilful sunbeams of life that engrosses everything it touches to divinity. Marriage is like rhythm that imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody that imposes continuity upon the disjointed and harmony that imposes compatibility upon the incongruous. Marriage lets identity of opinion yet lets two hearts be merged into each other and become united. That united heart reaches zenith of horizon for a couple to hold un-swearing faith in each other and lead a sacred family. Marriage transforms them wise and intellectual.”
Neeraj had to let go all his unjust unfounded and wild ideas for he realised that: “Laws can be broken, Love is unbreakable; Marriage is not a Law but it is a bond of Love.”
“If you tell kids about sex, they’ll do it. If you tell them about VD, they’ll go out and get it. Incredible as may seem, most oppositions to sex education in this country are based on the assumption that knowledge is harmful. But research in this area reveals that ignorance and unresolved curiosity, not knowledge, are harmful. Our failure to tell children what they want and need to know is one reason we have the highest rates of out-of-wedlock teens pregnancy and abortion of any highly developed country in the world.” (What Kids Need to Know, Psychology Today, October 1986. Dr. Sol Gordon, Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University, and an expert on sex education)
“Say: Are they equal those who know, and those who do not know?” (Quran 39:9)
“Blessed are the women of the Helpers. Their modesty did not stand in the way of their seeking knowledge about their religion” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Although the Quran has placed so much emphasis on acquiring knowledge, and in the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Muslim men and women were never too shy to ask him questions including those related to private affairs such as sexual life, for Muslim parents of today, sex is a dirty word. They feel uncomfortable in discussing sex education with their children, but do not mind the same being taught at their children’s school by secular or non-Muslim teachers (of even the opposite sex), by their peers of either sex, and by the media and television. An average child is exposed to 9000 sexual scenes per year.
These parents should know that sex is not always a dirty word. It is an important aspect of our life. God Who cares for all the aspects of our life, and not just the way of worshiping Him, discusses reproduction, creation, family life, menstruation and even ejaculation in the Quran. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who was sent to us as an example, discussed many aspects of sexual life including sexual positions with his Companions.
The main reason Muslim parents do not or cannot discuss sex education with their children is because of the their cultural upbringing, not their religious training. They are often brought up in a state of ignorance in regard to sex issues. As a result, they may not be comfortable with their own sexuality or its expression. They leave Islamic education to Islamic Sunday schools and sex education to American public schools and the media.
What Is Sex Education And Who Should Give It?
Is sex education about knowing the anatomy and physiology of the human body or about the act of sex or about reproduction and family life or about prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy? Is giving sex ed equivalent to permission in engaging in sex? One sex educator at my son’s school told the parents, “I am not planning to tell your children whether or not they should engage in sex or how to do it but in case they decide to do it, they should know how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STD), venereal diseases (VD), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and pregnancy.”
The problem with this is that at the present time sex ed as taught in the public schools is incomplete. It does not cover morality associated with sex, sexual dysfunctions and deviations and the institution of marriage.
One of the basic questions is, “Do children need sex education?” Do you teach a baby duck how to swim or just put it in the water and let it swim? After all, for thousands of years men and women have been having sex without any formal education. In many traditional civilizations, sex education starts after marriage and with trial and error. Some couples learn it faster than others and do it better than others due to difference in sexual perception and expression of one partner. In my opinion having a dozen children is not necessarily proof of their love. An appropriate and healthy sex education is crucial to the fulfillment of a happy marriage.
With regard to the question who should teach sex ed, I believe everyone has to play his or her role. Parents have to assume a more responsible role. A father has a duty to be able to answer his son’s questions and a mother has the same duty to her daughter. We can hardly influence the sex ed taught in public schools or by the media, but we can supplement that with an ethical and moral dimension adding family love and responsibility. Apart from these players, some role can be played by Sunday school teachers, the family physician, the paediatrician and the clergy. Within a family, the older sister has a duty towards the younger one and the elder brother has a duty towards younger ones.
Sex Education In American Schools
Sex education is given in every American school, public or private, from grades 2 to 12. The projected 1990 cost to the nation was $2 billion per year. Teachers are told to give technical aspects of sex ed without telling the students about moral values or how to make the right decisions. After describing the male and female anatomy and reproduction, the main emphasis is on the prevention of venereal diseases and teenage pregnancy. With the rise of AIDS, the focus is on ‘Safe Sex’ which means having condoms available each time you decide to have sex with someone you don’t know. With the help of our tax dollars, about 76 schools in the country have started dispensing free condoms and contraceptives to those who go to school health clinics. Very soon there will be vending machines in school hallways where ‘children’ can get a condom each time they feel like having sex.
The role of parents is minimized by American sex educators and sometimes ridiculed. In one of the sex ed movies I was made to watch a film called, “Am I Normal?” as a parent at my son’s school. Whenever the young boy asks his father a question about sex, the father, shown as a bum and a slob, shuns him and changes the topic. Finally the boy learns it from a stranger and then is shown going into a movie theater with his girlfriend.
Sex education as promoted by some Western educators is devoid of morality is in many ways unacceptable to our value system. The examples of the teachings of one such educator are:
a. Nudity in homes (in shower or bedroom) is a good and healthy way to introduce sexuality to smaller (under 5) children, giving them an opportunity to ask questions. At the same time, in the same book, he also states that 75% of all child molestation and incest (500,000 per year) occur by a close relative (parent, step-parent or another family member).
b. A child’s playing with genitals of another child is a permissible ‘naive exploration’ and not a reason for scolding or punishment. He is also aware that boys as young as 12 have raped girls as young as 8. We don’t know when this ‘naive exploration’ becomes a sex act.
c. Children caught reading dirty magazines should not be made to feel guilty, but parents should use it as a chance to get some useful points across to him or her about sexual attitudes, values and sex exploitation, Like charity, pornography should start at home!
d. If your daughter or son is already sexually active, instead of telling them to stop, the parent’s moral duty is to protect their health and career by providing them information and means for contraception and avoiding VD. Maybe this its true for rebellious teens and their submissive parents!
Educators like the one referred to above do not believe that giving sexual information means giving the OK for sex. I just wonder as to why some folks after being told the shape, colour, smell and taste of a new fruit, and pleasures derived from eating it, would not like to try it? These educators say that even if your child does not ask any questions about sex, parents should initiate the discussion using i.e. a neighbours pregnancy, a pet’s behaviour, advertisement, popular music or a TV show. I wonder why these educators are obsessed with loading children with sexual information whether they want it or not.
The More They Know It – The More They Do It
Sex education in American schools has not helped decrease the teenager incidence of VD or teenage pregnancy. This is because it has not changed their sex habits. According to Marion Wright Elderman, President of the Children’ Defense Fund, in a recent report, out of every twenty teens, ten are sexually active but only four use conceptions, two get pregnant and one gives birth. In 1982, a John Hopkins study found one out of every five 15 year olds, and one in three 16 year olds are sexually active. The incidence increased to 43% in 17 year olds. The Louis Harris poll in 1986 found that 57% of the nations 17 year olds, 46% of 16 year olds, 29% 15 year old were sexually active. Now it is estimated that about 80% of girls entering college had sexual intercourse at least once. Going to church does not help either. 1438 teenagers, mostly white, attending conservative evangelical church were sent questions about their sex life. 26% of 16 year olds, 35% of 17 year olds, and 43% of 18 year olds said they had sexual intercourse at least once. 33% that responded also said sex outside of marriage was morally acceptable.
Hazards of Early Sex
The health hazards of early sex includes sexual trauma, increase in incidence of cervical cancer, sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy. We will take up each individually. A variety of injuries are possible and do happen when sex organs are not ready for sex in terms of full maturation. Some of these injuries have a long lasting effect. Cervical cancer has been thought to be related to sex at an early age and with multiple partners. Dr. Nelson and his associates in their article on epidemiology of cervical cancer call it a sexually transmitted disease,
About one million or more teenage girls become pregnant every year, at a rate of 3000 per day, 80% of whom are unmarried. Out of this I million, about 500,000, decide to keep their baby, and 450,000 are aborted. 100,000 decide to deliver and give the baby up for adoption. In 1950 the incidence of birth from unmarried teenagers was only 13.9%, but in 1985 it increased to 59%. It is a myth that teenage pregnancy is a problem of the black and poor. To the contrary 2/3 teens getting pregnant now are white, suburban and above the poverty income level. The pregnancy rate (without marriage) in 54,000 enlisted Navy women is 40% as compared to 17% in the general population.
What is the life of those who have teenage pregnancy? Only 50% complete high school and more than 50% of them are on welfare. They themselves become child abusers and their children, when grown up, have 82% incidence of teenage pregnancy. 8.6 billion dollars are spent every year for the financial and health care support of teenage mothers., The sexual revolution of the 60’s has affected another dimension of health care. In 1985 alone, 10 million cases of chlamydia, 2 million cases of gonorrhoea, I million venereal warts, 0.5 million genital herpes and 90,000 syphilis were diagnosed. The plague of AIDS is adding a new twist to our fears. 200,000 cases have been diagnosed in the US alone, out of which 50% have already died. The disease is growing at a rate of one case every 14 minutes and so far there is no effective treatment. Father Bruce Ritter in New York, who operates shelters for runaway children, says the biggest threat to the nation’s 1 million runaways is the threat of AIDS now.
Why do children get involved in sex?
There are many reasons why children get involved in sex. The most common is peer pressure. Their common response is “since everybody is doing it.” One of the reasons is their desire for sexual competence with adults and a way to get ahead. Another common reason is their lack of self-esteem which they want to improve by becoming a father or mother. Sometimes it is due to a lack of other alternatives to divert their sexual energies. It could also be due to a lack of love and appreciation at home. Detachment from home can lead to attachment elsewhere. Sexual pressure on them is everywhere, at school from their peers, from the TV where about 20,000 sexual scenes are broadcasted in advertisement, soap operas, prime time shows and MTV. Music affects our sexual mood. It does so by activating melatonin, the hormone from the pineal gland in the brain which is turned on by darkness and turned off by flashing lights. It is the same gland which has been thought to trigger puberty and affects the reproductive cycle and sex mood.
What is the true role of parents?
American educators are putting the blame for their failures (i.e. teenage pregnancy) on the parents. In fact in Wisconsin and many other states the grandparents of a baby born to a teenager are responsible for the financial support of the child. Remember parents are not needed if their teenage daughter needs contraceptives or abortion. Faced with such hypocrisy, the parents job is to instill in their teenagers mind what is not taught in sex ed classes, i.e. reason not to engage in sex, reason not to get pregnant, etc. At the same time, they should divert their energies to some productive activities like community work, sports, character growth, or Sunday schools. Another role of parents is to help their children make the right decisions.
In Islam anything which leads to wrong is also considered wrong. Therefore parents should control the music children are listening to or the TV program they are watching, the magazines they are reading, and the clothes (which may provoke desire in the opposite sex) they are wearing. While group social activity should be permitted with supervision, dating should not be allowed. When American teenagers start dating, sex is on their mind.
In fact during a recent survey, 25% of college freshman boys responded by saying that if they have paid for the food and the girl does not go all the way, they have a right to force her to have sex. Many of the rapes occur at the end of the date and are not reported. Anything which breaks down sexual inhibition and loss of self-control i.e. alcohol, drugs, parking, petting or just being together for two members of the opposite sex in a secluded place should not be allowed for Muslim teenagers. Kissing and petting is preparing the body for sex. The body can be brought to a point of no return.
In summary Muslim parents should teach their children that they are different from non-Muslims in their value system and way of life. Having a feeling and love in your heart for someone of the opposite sex is different and beyond control, while expression of the same through sex is entirely different and should be under control. Muslim children should be told that they don’t drink alcohol, eat pork, take drugs, and they don’t have to engage in pre-marital sex either.
Islamic Concept of Sexuality
Islam recognizes the power of sexual need, but the subject is discussed in the Quran and the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a serious manner, in regard to marital and family life. Parents should familiarize themselves with this body of knowledge.
Sayings of Prophet Mohammed
1. “When one of you have sex with your wife, it is a rewarded act of charity.” The companions were surprised and said, “But we do it purely out of our desire. How can it be counted as charity?” The Prophet replied, “If you had done it with a forbidden woman, it would have been counted as a sin, but if you do it in legitimacy, it is counted as charity.”
2. “Let not one of you fall upon his wife like a beast falls. It is more appropriate to send a message before the act.”
3. “Do not divulge the secrets of your sex life with your wife to another person nor describe her physical feature to anyone.”
Concept of Adultery in Islam
God says in the Quran, “Do not go near to adultery. Surely it is a shameful deed and evil, opening roads (to other evils)” (17:32). “Say, ‘Verily, my Lord has prohibited the shameful deeds, be it open or secret, sins and trespasses against the truth and reason”‘ (7:33).
“Women impure are for men impure, and men impure are for women impure and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity” (24:26). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), has said in many place that adultery is one of the three major sins. However the most interesting story is that of a young man who went to the Prophet and asked for permission to fornicate because he could not control himself. The Prophet dealt with him with reasoning and asked him if he would approve of someone else having illegal sex with his mother, sister, daughter or wife. Each time the man said ‘no’. Then the Prophet replied that the woman with whom you plan to have sex is also somebody’s mother, sister, daughter or wife. The man understood and repented. The Prophet prayed for his forgiveness.
Adultery is a crime not against one person but against the whole of society. It is a violation of marital contract. 50% of all first time marriages in this country result in divorce in two years and the main reason for divorce is the adultery of one of the partners. Adultery, which includes both pre-marital and extra marital sex, is an epidemic in this society. Nobody seems to listen to the Bible which says frequently, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” The Quranic approach is, “Do not approach adultery.”
What does it mean that not only is illegal sex prohibited, but anything which leads to illegal sex is also illegal? These things include dating, provocative dress, nudity, obscenity and pornography. The dress code both for men and women is to protect them from temptation and desires by on lookers who may lose self-control and fall into sin. “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity, and God is well acquainted with all they do. And say to the believing woman that they should lower their gaze, and guard their modesty” (24:30-3 1).
Concept of Marriage in Islam
Islam recognizes the strong sexual urge and desire for reproduction. Thus Islam encourages marriage as a legal sexual means and as a shield from immorality (sex without commitment). In Islam the marriage of a man and woman is not just a financial and legal living arrangement, not even just for reproduction, but providing a total commitment to each other, a contract witnessed by God. Love and joy of companionship is a part of the commitment. A married couple assumes a new social status and responsibility for himself, his wife and his children and for the community. The Quran says, “Among His signs is that He created consorts for you from among yourself, so that you may find tranquillity with them, and (He) set love and compassion between you. Verily in this are signs for people who reflect” (30:21).
Sayings of Prophet Mohammed
“Marriage is my tradition. He who rejects my tradition is not of me” (Bukhari, Muslim).
“Marriage is half of religion. The other half is being God-fearing” (Tabarani, Hakim).
In Islam there is no fixed rule as to the age of marriage. It is becoming fashionable for young Muslim men not to marry until they have completed their education, have a job, or reached age 26-30 or more. Similarly young Muslim girls say they want to marry after age 24. Why? When asked, they say, “I am not ready for it.” Not ready for what? Don’t they have normal sexual desire? If the answer is yes, then they have only one of the two choices a) marry or b) postpone sex (abstinence until they marry). The Quran says, “Let those who find not the where withal for marriage, to keep them selves chaste till God find them the means from His Grace” (24:33).
The Prophet said, “Those of you who own the means should marry, otherwise should keep fasting for it curbs desires” (Ibn Massoud). The Western reason for delaying marriage is different than ours. When I suggested this to one of my sexually active young female patients, she bluntly said, “I don’t want to sleep with the same guy every night.”
Role Of Muslim Parents And Muslim Organizations
I am not proposing that all Muslim youth be married at age 16. But I must say that youth should accept the biological instinct and make decisions which will help to develop a more satisfied life devoted to having a career rather than spending time in chasing (or dreaming about) the opposite sex. Parents should help their sons and daughters in selection of their mate using Islamic practice as a criteria and not race, colour or wealth. They should encourage them to know each other in a supervised setting. The community organization has several roles to play.
a) To provide a platform for boys and girls to see and know each other without any intimacy.
b) Offer premarital educational courses to boys and girls over 18 separately to prepare them for the role of father and husband and of mother and wife. The father has a special role, mentioned by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “One who is given by God, a child, he should give it a beautiful name, should give him or her education, and training and when he or she attains puberty, he should see to it that he or she is married. If the father does not arrange their marriage after puberty, and the boy or girl is involved in sin, the responsibility of that sin will lie with the father”
Marriage of Muslim girls in the USA
Marriage of Muslim girls in this country is becoming a problem. I was not surprised to read the letter of a Muslim father in a national magazine. He complained that in spite of his doing his best in teaching Islam to his children, his college-going daughter announced that she is going to marry a non-Muslim boy whom she met in college.
As a social scientist I am more interested in the analysis of the events. To be more specific, why would a Muslim girl prefer a non-Muslim boy over a Muslim? The following reasons come to mind:
# She is opposed to and scared of arranged marriages. She should be told that not all arranged marriages are bad ones and that 50% of all love marriages end up in a divorce in this country. Arranged marriages can be successful if approved by both the boy and girl. That is, they need to be a party to the arrangement. I am myself opposed to the blind arranged marriage.
# Muslim boys are not available to her to make a choice. While parents have no objection or cannot do anything about non-Muslim boys with whom she talks or socializes at school or college for forty hours a week, she is not allowed to talk to a Muslim boy in the mosque or in a social gathering. If she does, they frown at her or even accuse her of having a loss character. As a Muslim boy put it, “If I grow up knowing only non-Muslim girls, why do my parents expect me to marry a Muslim one?”
# Some Muslim boys do not care for Muslim girls. On the pretext of missionary work after marriage, they get involved with non-Muslim girls because of their easy availability. Muslim parents who also live with an inferiority complex do not mind their son marrying an American girl of European background but they would object if he marries a Muslim girl of a different school of Islamic thought (Shiah/Sunni) or different tribe like Punjabi, Sunni, Pathan, Arab vs. non-Arab, Afro-American vs. immigrant, or different class, Syed vs. non-Syed. Both the parents and the body should be reminded that the criteria for choosing a spouse that was given by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was not wealth nor color but Islamic piety.
# She may have been told that early marriage, that is, age 18 or less, is taboo and that she should wait until the age of 23 or 25. According to statistics, 80% of American girls, while waiting to get settled in life and married, engage freely in sex with multiple boyfriends. However, this option is not available to Muslim girls. Every year nearly one million teenage girls in this country who think that they are not ready for marriage, get pregnant. By the age of 24 when a Muslim girl decides that she is ready for marriage, it may be too large for her. If she reviews the matrimonial ad section in Islamic magazines, she will quickly notice that the boys of the age group of 25 to 30 are looking for girls from 18 to 20 year age group. They may wrongfully assume that an older girl may not be a virgin.
Thus, unless these issues are addressed, many Muslim girls in the US may end up marrying a non-Muslim or remain unmarried.
Curriculum For Islamic Sex Education
Islamic sex ed should be taught at home starting at an early age. Before giving education about anatomy and physiology, the belief in the Creator should be well established. As Dostoevsky put it, “Without God, everything is possible,” meaning that the lack of belief or awareness of God gives an OK for wrongdoing.
A father should teach his son and a mother should teach her daughter. In the absence of a willing parent, the next best choice should be a Muslim male teacher (preferably a physician) for boys and a Muslim female teacher (preferably a physician) for a girl at the Islamic Sunday school.
The curriculum should be tailored according to age of the child and classes be held separately. Only pertinent answers to a question should be given. By this I mean that if a five year old asks how he or she got into mommie’s stomach, there is no need to describe the whole act of intercourse. Similarly it is not necessary to tell a fourteen year old how to put on condoms. This might be taught in premarital class just before his or her marriage. A curriculum for sex ed should Include:
a. Sexual growth and development
* Time table for puberty
* Physical changes during puberty
* Need for family life
b. Physiology of reproductive system
* For girls- the organ, menstruation, premenstrual syndrome
* For boys- the organ, the sex drive
c. Conception, development of fetus and birth
d. Sexually transmitted disease (VD/AIDS) (emphasize the Islamic aspect)
e. Mental, emotional and social aspects of puberty
f Social, moral and religious ethics
g. How to avoid peer pressure
Sex Education after Marriage
This essay is not intended to be a sex manual for married couples, although I may write such someday. I just wanted to remind the reader of a short verse in the Quran and then elaborate. The verse is, “They are your garments, and you are their garments” (2:187).
Husbands and wives are described as garments for each other. A garment is very close to our body, so they should be close to each other. A garment protects and shields our modesty, so they should do the same to each other. Garments are put on anytime we like, so should they be available to each other anytime. A garment adds to our beauty, so they should praise and beautify each other.
For husbands I should say that sex is an expression of love and one without the other is incomplete. One of your jobs is to educate your wife in matters of sex especially in your likes and dislikes and do not compare her to other women.
For wives I want to say that a man’s sexual needs are different than a women’s. Instead of being a passive recipient of sex, try to be an active partner. He is exposed to many temptations outside the home. Be available to please him and do not give him a reason to make a choice between you and hellfire
The issue has hit the headlines in the UK, where Home Secretary Theresa May is due to outline how forced marriage will become a criminal offencein England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A similar law was introduced in Scotland in November, giving courts there the power to issue protection orders to those at risk: if breached, offenders could face two years in prison.
|“Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.”
Consider the numbers: An estimated 8,000 young people were forced into marriages in the UK in 2009. The proportion of young men who are forced may be small (some say 15 per cent, against 85 per cent women), but they are also victims of this crime. Stories of women forced into marriage are more harrowing (with a five-year-old girl thought to have become a victim of forced marriage) but a Muslim imam, Ajmal Masroor, has recently revealed his own personal story of suffering such a marriage 20 years ago and the effects it had upon him and his family. These women and men often suffer in silence; many are powerless to stand up against the cultural pressure and the emotional blackmail of their parents, families and tribes.
Since 2008, courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been able to issue civil orders, under the Forced Marriage Act, to prevent forced marriages in order to protect victims. But the government is planning to criminalise forced marriages. Is this the best solution?
‘Forced marriage is not marriage’, according to Islam
The definition used by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is one adopted by the government and senior police officers (“A Choice by Right”, published by HM Government in June 2000): “A forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties where duress is a factor.”
Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. As such, forced marriage is an abhorrent practice and is an indefensible abuse of human rights. It imprisons two souls without any respect and dignity for either. Some say it is little more than slavery. Victims of forced marriage, particularly women, suffer from isolation, eating disorders, depression, substance abuse and attempted suicide as well as other physical and mental illnesses. Some violence in the name of so-called honour or “honour killing” is linked with forced marriage.
|“It is astonishing that forced marriage is still prevalent in some, mainly tribal, cultures in the name of religion.“
Marriage-based family life has been the bedrock of human society since the beginning of our journey on Earth and to force that union is an anathema. Love is and should be the fountain of marital union; it is a gift that human beings are bestowed with. Forced marriage tears love and sacrifices a man and a woman at the altar of others’ whims. Love is the inner passion that cannot be coerced and traded with family or tribal honour and culture.
Main world religions, particularly the Abrahamic ones, have (or should have) nothing to do with coerced partnerships. Forced marriage is “morally and legally wrong”, says the Church of England. It is against Jewish law as well.
Forced marriage is not even treated as marriage in Islam. For marriage to be valid in Islam, there must be consent of parties which is duly witnessed. The Prophet of Islam annulled a marriage which was conducted forcibly and which the woman did not accept, by saying: “If a man gives his daughter in marriage in spite of her disagreement, such a marriage is invalid.”
It is astonishing that forced marriage is still prevalent in some, mainly tribal, cultures in the name of religion. Sadly, that includes some Muslim cultures as well. But mainstream Muslims have been outspoken against forced marriage. In a high-profile seminar on forced marriage in 2009 at the East London Mosque, its main imam spoke alongside legal figures and clearly stated: “Marriage is an important part of Islam; a free and willing contract between a man and woman to spend their lives together. Islam teaches us that parents are the guardians of their children’s welfare and security; forced marriages go against this teaching.”
Is a law enforceable?
There is a convergence of opinions between both proponents and opponents of the government proposal that forced marriage is a criminal act. However, the main issue is about whether it will be enforceable.
|“The other concern on criminalisation is there are genuine grey areas between an arranged marriage and forced marriage.“
The government consultation says there were strong arguments both for and against the creation of a new offence. So, the question is, if a system works within existing laws, then is it necessary to use the blunt instrument of legislation to address such a complex issue, particularly when enforcements may not be easy? Those who hold the view that it should be a crime in law suggest that “it will raise awareness and it will act as a deterrent – just as it is doing in places where it has become a crime, such as Australia, Germany, Belgium, Cyprus and Denmark”.
To opponents, the overriding concern is that criminal proceedings could deter victims, which would then lead to fewer civil or criminal sanctions, and ultimately result in forced marriage being driven further underground. The fear that victims may not come forward cannot be underestimated. Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who introduced the Forced Marriage Bill that led to the 2008 Act, said: “There is already plenty of criminal law to tackle murder, kidnapping, abduction, rape and all the other evil manifestations associated with forcing people into marriage against their will.” He suggested that the family law approach was better than the criminal process which, he said, “has not proved to be an effective way of tackling a major social problem”
The recent Delhi High Court verdict upholding the marriage of a 15-year-old Muslim girl has come as a rude shock. The court validated its judgment on the basis of Mohammedan law on marriage, which says that a girl could marry a person of her choice if she has attained puberty.
In the present case, the Delhi High Court ruling has come over “elopement marriage” of a minor girl, who fled from her home to marry her paramour against her parent’s wishes and happens to be a Muslim. The girl’s marriage also comes under the purview of child marriage.
The judgment of an Indian court over this issue, despite her parent pleading to declare the marriage null and void and treat it as a case of abduction, threatens to raise serious repercussions in several ways now.
First, the court has seemingly approved “elopement marriage” of a legal minor, which might open floodgates prompting minor children to elope and marry their lovers, deriding their parents’ wishes. The ruling also threatens to create social chaos and rip apart India’s fabled traditional ethos. In recent times, honor killings have become rampant in the wake of abrupt increase in “elopement marriages”. Though, I am strongly against such honor killings, but the same is absolutely not true with majority of Indians.
Second, the court ruling is a tacit approval to child marriage citing Mohammedan law as a ruse. In India, child marriage is widely prevalent among Hindus, and is seldom found among Muslims. However, Indian laws strongly disapprove of child marriage, and social activists have been constantly waging a war against this. The court’s verdict also brings into question the issue of child rights and the fundamental Right to Education. Apparently, the court deliberately ignored these vital factors while pronouncing its judgment.
Third, the court, while upholding women’s rights, has appeared to be insensitive towards girl child and her rights. The judgment is solely based on the girl’s physical puberty, and completely ignores her mental puberty. Instead of taking a holistic view, the court acted inhumanely and anti-girl child, which is surely not expected from the upholders and guardians of law.
Double Standards of Muslim leaders/Organizations
As expected, this bizarre and absurd judgment has been warmly welcomed by Muslim clerics and leaders. Maulana Anisur Rahman Qasmi of Patna-based Emarat-e-Shariah hailed the ruling and said that there is nothing wrong in it. Mufti Mohammed Mukarram Ahmed, the Shahi Imam of the Fatehpuri Masjid in Old Delhi, said that as per Muslim law a 15-year-old girl can marry. Prominent members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) Kamal Farooqui and Raheem Quraishi have welcomed the Delhi High Court ruling saying that the court did the right thing. Justifying the marriage of minor Muslim girl, Kamal Farroqui said that today kids are very mature, know a lot about sex and can make their own choices. Muslim organizations like All India Muslim Majlise Mushawarat have also hailed the verdict.
Much to chagrin, the AIMPLB has even gone to the extent of demanding an amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act to exempt Muslims from it. According to AIMPLB, marriage is one subject where the Sharia should be applicable under the Shariat Application Act. In demanding this, the AIMPLB is acting as though the issue of marriage is the be all and end all for Muslims and it is what concerns them the most. The AIMPLB is completely insensitive toward the rights of Muslim girls and their education and upbringing.
The fact is that most Muslim leaders are debauch as far as important issues of the community are concerned. These self-serving leaders and Muslim organizations like AIMPLB, AIMMM and others flagrantly practice double standards and mostly believe in the concept of “meeting, eating and shitting” (holding meetings and seminars, eating luncheons and shitting to prepare for the same routine next day), They tend to propagate retrogressive ideas for the community and strongly pitch for their implementation; as in the present case of the marriage of a minor Muslim girl.
A glimpse into the personal lives of some these prominent Muslim leaders is enough to prove that they are downright progressive in their day-to-day lives and deeply abhor the implementation of retrogressive ideas or Shariah laws in their own families. You won’t find a single Muslim leader who married off their children at the age of 15 years. But, see how shamelessly these leaders are supporting child marriage in the name of Shariah and supporting the Delhi High Court verdict.
Even reputed organizations like AIMPLB are doing a great disservice to the community in seeking the exemption of Muslims from the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. People like Kamal Farooqui have only used AIMPLB to further their own selfish political agendas and join political parties. Farooqui is presently a member of Samajwadi Party. If AIMPLB can continue to accommodate people like Kamal Farooqui, then why not people like BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain be also made member of AIMPLB.
Islamic sects divided over marriage age
There is a lot of contention on the permissible marriage age in Islam. According to some Islamic sects, Muslim marriage law permits marriage of minors. Shafi school of thought has declared that the age of 15 years should be taken as marriage age. However, other schools of Islamic thought are at variance with each other and do not give any specific age of marriage. But, most of them agree that the age of marriage can be different in different regions depending upon the age of puberty.
According to English Common Law, a male at the age of 14 and female at the age of 12 years were allowed to marry with their parents’ consent. The English Marriage Act of 1753 abolished English Common Law but still permitted previously established marriage age. In 1927, the English legislature raised the marriage age to 16 years for the both sexes.
In the U.S., English Common law was initially followed, allowing the male of 14 and female of 12 to enter into a marriage contract. However, the law kept on changing continuously, and presently the marriage age for both sexes is different in different states of the United States.
In 1962, the UNO adopted a ‘Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages’. There are 55 countries which are parties to the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages, which requires them to specify a minimum marriage age by statute law, thus overriding customary, religious and tribal laws. The Article 2 of the resolution states that parties to the Convention shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouses. However, the states who have not fixed the marriage age, whether signatories or not, have legislated differently for age of marriage.
Different countries have formulated a lower bar for male and female to marry with consent of their parents. The Muslims living in these countries are bound to follow the coded marriage age. The age and other requirements vary between countries, but generally it is set at 18, although most jurisdictions allow marriage at slightly younger ages with parental and/or judicial approval, or in case of pregnancy. When the marriageable age under a law of a religious community is lower than that of the state (“country”), the state law prevails. However, some religious communities do not accept the supremacy of State law in this respect.
According to Wikipedia, here are the marriage age being currently practiced in some the Muslim countries around the world. Algeria: 21 for males and 18 for females, lower with judicial permission if necessity or benefit is established; Egypt: 18 for males and 18 for females, the age was raised in 2008 from 16 to 18 for females; Libya: 20, lower with judicial permission on grounds of benefit or necessity and with wali’s agreement; Morocco: 18. (This is not always followed in rural areas and many judges do not uphold this law and let women younger than 18 marry.); Afghanistan: 18 for males and 16 for females, more than half of marriages involve females under 16; Azerbaijan: 18 for males, 17 for females. 17 or 16 correspondingly in special cases; Bangladesh: 21 for males and 18 for females, lunar calendar; penal sanctions for contracting under-age marriages, though such unions are not considered invalid; India: 21 for males and 18 for females. If any partner(s) engages in marriage at a younger age, (s)he can ask for the marriage to be declared void / annulled. A recent recommendation by the Law Commission aims to equalize the marriage age for males and females to 18, automatically declares marriages under 16 as “null and void”, while marriages at the age of 16 or 17 are “voidable”. In 2012, high court has declared that Muslim women can marry at 15; Indonesia: 19 for males and 16 for females, younger ages with parental consent; Iran: 18 for male, 16 for female; Iraq: 18, 15 with judicial permission if fitness, physical capacity and guardian’s consent (or unreasonable objection on part of guardian) are established; Jordan: 16 for males and 15 for females, lunar calendar; court permission required for females under 18 to marry men older by 20 years or more; Tunisia: 20 for males and 17 for females, lower with judicial special permission for pressing reasons and on the basis of a clear interest for both spouses; Malaysia: 21, 18 with parental consent. Muslim girls under 16 can marry with the permission of shariah authorities, and some girls as young as 14 have been permitted to marry; Maldives: According to custom, the minimum age for marriage is 15; the Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child discourages marriage before the age of 16; Pakistan: 18 for males, 16 for females; Palestinian territories: 16 for males and 15 for females, lunar calendar; and Saudi Arabia: None currently, legislation for age 18 is being considered.
With the given statistics, it is apparent that in most Muslim counties the permissible marriage age for girls is 18 years. In the Indian context, the legal marriage age for girls is also 18 years. The Delhi High Court judgment in the case of a 15-year-old Muslim girl is therefore mala fide, communally biased, anti-girl child, anti-development, anti-progress and anti-education. If India is still not a signatory to UNO ‘Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages’, then it is incumbent on the Government to immediately sign it without losing further time and legislate a minimum age of marriage for all the citizens of the country, which should be mandatory and binding on them irrespective of religion, language, caste and creed.
Fallacy of Muslims
The Holy Quran does not state a specific age as the age of marriage. Surah an-Nisa’ 4:6 requires that when orphans reach the “age of marriage” or “a marriageable age” they can be tested for “sound judgment” or “maturity of mind.” This indicates that a marriageable age is linked to soundness of judgment and maturity of mind. The onset of puberty alone is no indication of sufficient maturity for marriage.
When it suits their convenience, Muslims, particularly Clerics and proponents of child marriage, expertly cite the marriage of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to Aishah, whom he married at the age of nine, taking as the exemplary age of marriage for Muslims. But, after all why Muslims and the Mullahs simply ignore the fact that Prophet Mohammad’s (SAW) first marriage was to a businesswoman Khadija, a widow 15 years older than him? Apart from this, Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) other wives included widows, divorcees and slaves.
Forget about marriage to widows and divorcees, in present times marriage to older girls is looked down upon by Muslims. After all, why is Prophet’s Sunnah being completely ignored in this context? Shouldn’t the Mullahs and Muslims also ponder over the issue of marriage with older girls, widows and divorcees, just in the same vein as they have welcomed Delhi HC verdict upholding the marriage of 15-year-od Muslim girl?
Hazards of marrying girls below the age of 18
Several studies have been carried out elaborating the harmful effects caused to girls marrying below the age of 18. Such marriages result in grave consequences, including denial of childhood and adolescence (the loss of childhood and adolescence, the forced sexual relations and the denial of freedom and personal development have profound psychosocial and emotional consequences on girls); denial of education (once married, girls tend not to go to school); health problems (these include premature pregnancies which cause higher rates of maternal and infant mortality and cause hormonal and physical changes which confuse the girl child’s body growth. Teenage girls are also more vulnerable to sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV); and, abuse (this is common in child marriages. Research in several countries found that women who marry before the age of 20 were more likely to report experiences of physical or sexual violence when they started living with their husbands).
Why not implement Uniform Civil Code?
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, whose views are mostly seen as communally biased and anti-Muslim, has rightly expressed concern over the recent Delhi High Court judgment allowing Muslim girls attaining puberty the right to get married. Thackeray said in a recent editorial in the party mouthpiece Saamna: “This is nothing but promoting ‘balika vadhus‘ (child brides) among the Muslims, while the same (child marriage) is illegal among the Hindus.” Thackeray elaborated saying that as per the Indian laws, no girl below the age of 18 and no boy below 21 are legally permitted to marry.
Firebrand Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray deserves praise for speaking out his mind on this absurd judgment and showing concerns and large heartedness on the issue of Muslim girls, who continue to remain subjugated under the male-dominated Muslim society.
If Indian Muslims are already following the law of the land in civil and criminal matters, then why shouldn’t they also follow Indian laws on matters of marriage, inheritance and rights of women? In fact, the Government of India should consider the process of implementing Uniform Civil Code taking into account vital issues related to Muslim Family Personal Law. The Government of India should make it mandatory on all the citizens of the country, irrespective of religion, caste, language and creed, to marry their girls at the age of 18 years.
Muslim organizations like AIMPLB should become more proactive, particularly on issues where Muslim women are being suppressed. Today, a majority of Muslim women are being deprived of their rightful share in their parent’s properties, which strictly goes against the teachings of Islam. My late mother has herself been a victim of this parental and brotherly apathy. After all, what role has AIMPLB played so far except paying lip service and ultimately doing nothing. I find that Hinduization of Muslims is complete in India today. However, Islamization of Muslims is the need of the hour, both in letter and spirit. Or else, only Muslims will be held accountable for their own misfortune and backwardness.
The other concern on criminalisation is that there are genuine grey areas between an arranged marriage and forced marriage. What about situations in which no violence or actual force is applied? It would then be extremely difficult to define whether the threshold for forced marriages has been reached. There are then the issues surrounding the intent and the “burden of proof”.
Laws work best with the mobilisation of public opinion for them; the moral acceptance by majority population is thus important. Raising awareness about and creating a revulsion against forced marriages is vital. As criminal law already provides punishment for offences that may be committed when coercing someone into matrimony there is no necessity, in my opinion, to create a new law.
Two women were held for more than 15 days in a reform home because they were assumed to be prostitutes based on the fact that were eating a late dinner at a Mumbai eatery and yet a man was not arrested for almost a week in Bangalore for domestic violence and actually raping and molesting his three-year-old child!
While protesters want to gather in the day in Mumbai to show their annoyance against the implementation of laws which were written over half a century ago, which is curbing the city’s nightlife, Bandra (a suburb in Mumbai) is filled with posters which clearly state that if you attend the rally, severe action will be taken against you and you might even be (as an added incentive) beaten up. Freedom of expression and thought be damned – we live in a hypocrisy ooops, democracy.
We love cricket, live cricket and breathe cricket and as a nation completely support this one incredible sport but we’re absolutely shocked and devote reams of newsprint when other sports persons don’t really seem to give importance to National Sports Bodies and seemingly walk all over them. There is no point in having National Sports Bodies if the sport is never even really promoted nationally.
When the Mantralaya burns in Mumbai we lost 4.82 crores of paper and files which had relevant data like the Adarsh files and other high profile cases. As India slowly strives to work her place up to being a world super power, digitizing files and backing up relevant data on computers seems an even slower process for us. Thus when the fire broke out and caused the unfortunate loss of life, it gave new life to some scamsters who now have a little or no evidence against them.
We arrest a woman who makes liqueur chocolates in her house, but take no action against doctors who kill female foetuses.
We stand up for the National Anthem before every film, but we use election day as a holiday rather than going out and voting.
The government takes no action against Kasab for fear of how the world will view us, losing face in the eyes of the billions who they are supposed to be serving.
Democracy – a government by the people and for the people providing political and social equality.
Hypocrisy – the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs and principles but not actually having them.