Forced marriages and Divorce…and kangaroo sharia courts

I was asked to speak about forced marriages on a local radio show; I didn’t get to say a lot in a few minutes but there is a lot to be said under the current climate.

I wasn’t actually ‘forced’ into an arranged marriage. I was slowly coerced, manipulated and brainwashed by my dad and his family members over a short period of time, when I went on holiday with him at the age of 16. Soon after arriving, I was given some clothes and a ring. My engagement was announced without my knowledge or consent. I thought it was just a gift from my uncle. He had taken me shopping. I chose the ring and clothes myself without any idea that they were gifts for my own engagement! My father, whom I loved very dearly, emotionally blackmailed me. Dad and his extended family had planned it for years behind my back and without my mother’s knowledge. She was dead against marriage to cousins and wanted me to study, but even she couldn’t win against the male hierarchy, even though she was a strong progressive-thinking woman. I want to emphasise that behind my teen marriage and that of many many Muslim marriages abroad, is the fact that we are used as a British Passport. I am ashamed to say that years ago, I sat through two forced marriages, knowing that the young British women involved did not want to marry their cousins. In both cases the men were relatives from Pakistan, and the women were emotionally blackmailed – forced to consent in the name of family honour. They had to ensure that the cousins gained a visa before any divorce proceedings went ahead, in order to get out of the marriage. I wish I had spoken up in hindsight but at the time I was one of the silent majority.

I believe the divorce rate is much higher than assumed amongst British Muslim women, due to many escaping such marriages. Both these women refused to consummate the marriage; both divorced the cousins regardless of the pressure or ‘family honour’. In both situations the young women faced stigma, and suffered depression. One even faced threats and emotional and verbal abuse from her father.

I would also like to state that the research and work I now do as a counter extremism/Jihad activist, involves acknowledging the roots of the problem. We now face an ideology, where Islamists attempt to reverse the mindset of the community back to medieval times, and continue subjugating Muslim women. Imams and clerics in many mosques are still teaching our men that in Islam it is permissible to marry off your daughter as soon as she reaches puberty or even slap a woman because God ordained it…Which then feeds into the oppression and abuse of Muslim teenagers and women.

What needs to be highlighted is that these backward practices are damaging to the lives of Muslim women, as twisted theology is being used. In many cases I accept that it can be addressed as ‘culture’ but I argue otherwise for Muslim women. The fact that family honour depends on the behaviour and virginity of the Muslim females is deeply embedded into the mindset. We are expected to submit, remain silent, abstain from relationships with the opposite sex, reject ‘westernisation’ and sacrifice our own free will and choice – to be good Muslim women. There are so many true love stories of unrequited love and heartbreak because of this unreasonable practice and expectation.

My marriage ended two years later after he was granted a visa. I simply did not love him. There was a clash between his cultural upbringing and mine..the clash between west and east mindset, so to speak. I left home after the death of my first-born. I was only 18. I knew I would not get support if I wanted a divorce, and the pressure was too much for me to deal with. I was abandoned, ex-communicated for a while, even though I was suffering from depression. Nobody supported me for my Islamic divorce although I was granted a decree nisi. Islamically I was still ‘married’ for another two years until the ex wanted to get married again. That was his way of gaining a permanent stay in the country. I endured the stigma of being a divorcĂ©e. Twenty four years on, I know I am not the only one to whom this has happened and that this systematic abuse persists. Schoolgirls are still taken out of school and taken on these so-called holidays. Even those who gain an education are still under pressure to marry a cousin. We face being stigmatised, abandoned and blacklisted for walking out, and making our own life choices. Love marriages can still be frowned upon, hence women can be victims of so called ‘honour’-based crime. And yet our culture, movies, music, poetry are all about love. It’s extremely sad.

What isn’t being highlighted is how extremism feeds into the oppression of Muslim women. British laws have to acknowledge our plight and seek to protect our rights, not give in to Muslim appeasement and political correctness . We are more likely to be used as British passports for extended family to gain visas into the country, than to have a love marriage.

It’s happening to young teenage lads too, forced into marriage with cousins from villages and then those same lads can commit polygamy. I have known it to happen. Young uneducated wives from abroad can be treated as ‘slaves’, controlled by extended family, abused by the mother-in-law; many endure domestic violence, depression and isolation.

If child bride marriages, polygamy and domestic violence are against British Law, then why has our plight been ignored for over forty years? We do not live in Medieval times any more.

My hero is Jaswinder Sanghera from Karma Nirvana. Jaswinder wrote her book Shame, that resonated with many Muslim women. It took a British Sikh woman to address the abuse Muslim women have silently endured, and she continues to highlight these serious issues . It was identified that 65 percent of the problem of forced or coerced marriages stemmed from the Pakistani and Bengali community. She has challenged the Muslim leaders who deny that forced marriage or honour crimes are a serious issue in our communities. Southall Black Sisters deserve an award and utmost respect for the work they have been doing for years on the same issues and yet their funding has been slashed.

I will also state that men who are trying to implement Sharia law Councils in this country do not give a damn about the emancipation of Muslim women. They are planting the first seeds of Sharia law using the forced marriage situation and divorce plight of Muslim women. Many who seek their freedom are abandoned so one issue feeds into other related issues. Muslim mosque leaders and male-dominated organisations do nothing for the emancipation of Muslim women either. Take for instance Inayat Bunglawala from the MCB who always has to say something to camouflage or dispute our social realities and the truth. Now another organisation dominated by clerics, Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, are using the forced marriage issue in order to normalise their kangaroo sharia courts with ‘judges’. Islamists suddenly want to use our plight to establish Sharia law courts. What hasn’t been realised by Muslims and non Muslims is that members of MAT are influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood teachings. Men like Sheikh Faiz Siddqui want Sharia courts in Britain. Wahhabis like Sohail Hassan from Leyton Road mosque already use the divorce plight in order to establish sharia courts. This man once said on Newsnight, when advocating polygamy, ”what will women do, they will either become nuns, prostitutes or be left on the shelf”. I was so insulted as a lone parent. Sharia law is all about family law, the lone mother is absent from the Islamic conscience. These Islamists are not the men we should be turning to. A few men like Nazir Afzal and Dr Ghayauddin Saddiqui support the rights of Muslim women and speak up against honour crimes and forced marriages regardless of threats and intimidation. Our freedom, choices, and human rights have been ignored and unaddressed for over forty years in Britain..Any kind of Sharia court using our plight must be dismissed. Forced marriage is a crime and we don’t need clerics who are influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood to tell us that. We don’t need kangaroo sharia courts who use our plight so that they can manipulate their own political agenda.

The fact is a backward wave is still dominating our lives and wherever there is extremism in a Muslim community, you will also find Muslim women who are oppressed, abused mentally and physically . Every aspect of their lives is controlled by what they wear, where they go, who they see. They are suppressed and abused not by strangers but by their own family members. But as Jaswinder once said in a meeting – we need to re claim our honour back as Women. How many more have to be killed or threatened, abused or humiliated in the name of family honour, religion or culture?

That’s why I love my country Britain because ultimately I had alternative choices here: rights, security and freedom that I might not have had in the Muslim country my mother was from.

Put it this way, when I was abandoned after escaping my situation, Britain, my Motherland, took care of me. I was given shelter, food, clothing and opportunities to train, educate myself, work and be independent twenty four years ago.

Freedom to live as a full human being, to educate myself and live my own life independently on my own terms as an equal in a civilised democratic society…That’s something Muslim women in many Muslim state are denied. Remember that’s something Islamists and Jihadists abhor…the emancipation of Muslim women. All oppressed women have alternative choices in a democracy, they just need the courage and support to take the first steps to get out alive, it’s better than being buried alive.

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