Early last month, ITV aired an episode called ‘Forced to Marry’ as part of their TV series called ‘Exposure’. The episode followed two undercover reporters as they approached 56 masjid (mosques) in the UK asking whether they would agree to perform the marriage of a 14 year old girl. The majority, 67% (38), refused and stated that they found the request objectionable. Despite this, the media decided to focus on the 18% of masjid that did agree to carry out the underage marriage. Although this can be seen as a fair tactic since the aim of the show was to highlight this issue, it is undeniably a tactic which contributes to an increasingly nasty and pervasive anti-Islam rhetoric found in the media. It also paints victims of forced marriages with one brush which is extremely dangerous as potential and/or current victims who do not fit this image are more likely to be overlooked, thus falling through the cracks.
The documentary seemed to blur the lines between culture and religion – in this case Islam – as they solely sought out masjids and some of the Imams themselves incorrectly believed that forcing someone into marriage was in accordance with Islamic Law. It is important to note that forced marriage is a cultural practice that has been conducted for centuries all over the world and it is not accepted within Islam or any other mainstream religion.
The Holy Qur’an explicitly states that women must not be made to marry without their permission and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself never allowed for women to be married against their own will.
The documentary highlighted a serious issue and we must respond to it. We must shift the focus off of demonizing Islam (thus contributing to an Islamophobic rhetoric and feeding a xenophobic political agenda) and put it on coming up with practical and well thought out solutions that will prevent forced marriages and that will benefit the victim – because it should be about them. It cannot be denied that many have used Islam as reason to carry out forced marriage but solely focusing on religion rather than educating the perpetrators and going into different masjids to speak with the congregation does very little to solve the problem.
At the JAN Trust we value grassroots work which is why we work closely with local masjids and also the perpetrators of forced marriages. To see a video of our work with perpetrators of forced marriage please look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bhaa7-pMfyY By working with the masjids and the perpetrators we begin by tackling the issue from a cultural and religious angle. We have found that masjids are more likely to engage with us if they see that we understand the Islamic stance and are not coming from and contributing to the damaging, inaccurate and Islamophobic rhetoric that so often accompanies any response to forced marriage. This culturally sensitive approach enables us to oversee and guide real, long-lasting and widespread change to the mentality behind forced marriage, as it allows us to really engage and work within the affected communities. Changing the mentality is the most effective goal as it means that we can minimize the occurrence and the after-effects of forced marriages now and in the future.
Please visit our Against Forced Marriages website for more information about our work:
Please also visit our Crowd Funding page and donate whatever you can so that we can continue our work in stopping Forced Marriages in the UK: