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News on Marriage: Big fat weddings weigh down Qatari grooms

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  • Zafar Khan
    Big fat weddings weigh down Qatari grooms Opulent ceremonies cited as reason for falling marriage rates in Gulf state, as costs deter many from tying the knot.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2013
      Big fat weddings weigh down Qatari grooms
      Opulent ceremonies cited as reason for falling marriage rates in Gulf state, as costs deter many from tying the knot.
      Jenifer Fenton Last Modified: 26 Mar 2013 06:22


      Doha, Qatar - The Gulf state of Qatar is among the wealthiest countries in the world. But despite the affluence, increasingly extravagant weddings in Qatar are making it difficult for men, who pay for the celebrations, to foot the bill.

      Jamal Qassim said he spent 450,000 Qatari riyals ($123,600) on his wedding. He worked and saved for nine years to pay for it. "I didn't even travel once outside of Qatar. I was saving and saving. I didn't buy myself a fancy car." He said he now regrets paying that much. At the end of 2012, he was in the process of getting a divorce.

      Marriage rates in Qatar have declined markedly over the last three years, which Qatar government statistics attribute to the high cost of marriage, as well as the advancing educational status of women and their rising participation in the work force.

      Figures also show Qatari women are having their first child at a later age and having fewer children overall. Divorce rates have risen since 2001. And local press reports say a quarter of marriageable Qatari women remain single. These are worrying trends for a country where nationals are already heavily outnumbered by migrants.

      Accordingly, Qatar has been taking measures to ensure "the continuity of cohesive families and large households", which it sees as "crucial to the national vision", according to Qatar's National Development Strategy Report. As part of that strategy, last week Qatar Charity launched Zawaj, a marriage programme, which will offer pre-marital counselling and financial assistance to Qatari couples.

      The couples may also be provided with free wedding tents "in a bid to reduce marriage expenses and help preserve the institution of marriage", according to Qatar's national news agency.

      The moves by Qatar Charity to reach out to prospective couples follow those of the Qatari government, which decided late last year to begin construction of a number of wedding halls to bring down the costs of getting married. They will be free for Qataris to use.

      Small weddings 'not an option'

      The halls will give Qataris more options to control the prices of weddings, said Hassan Al-Ibrahim, a Qatari commentator. Qatar is a small country where the nationals all know each other, he noted. "People are expecting you to invite them to your wedding. They are expecting you to invite them to your brother's wedding or your sister's wedding ... It is not an option to say, 'I want to have a small wedding.' Because if you wanted to have a small wedding, people might be insulted."

      Qassim said his bride-to-be's family "kept insisting on a big wedding, and when I tried to make it between families, they threatened to cancel the wedding", after he had already sent out a few invitations.

      Traditional weddings are expensive, and have become more so due to inflation and the growing consumer culture in Qatar. Due to a limited number of wedding halls, renting one costs roughly 30,000-150,000 riyals ($8,240-$41,200). Qatari men are also expected to give their brides-to-be a marriage gift, or mahr, which is usually accompanied by jewelry. The groom must foot the bills for two wedding celebrations, his and his wife's, as the parties are gender-segregated affairs.

      Banks in Qatar even make marriage loans available for nationals - Doha Bank, for instance, offers "attractive" interest rates with a repayment period of up to 60 months. Banks in other Gulf countries have similar loans.

      Lavish affairs

      For middle- and lower-class Qatari men, getting married can mean incurring debt, which can strain a marriage before it even begins. The men's wedding ceremonies are often very affordable, said Fadi Attieh of La Noce, a wedding and events company in Doha. The men greet each other, eat and leave. There is often little entertainment. But the women's weddings, Attieh explained, are often held to show how much more "Disney-like, crazy, something out of a dream wedding" it can be.

      The women's ceremonies can cost anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 Qatari riyals ($10,987 to $27,466), with average weddings starting at 100,000 and rising to 250,000 ($68,666), according to an informal study in 2006 on Qatari marriages. Prices are likely to have risen since then, with the largest weddings now costing into the millions of riyals.

      For the costs of nuptials in Qatar to be lower, female weddings would need to be more modest, said Attieh, who last year travelled to Milan to place a special order for a wedding. For another marriage reception, the hall was reserved six days in advance to prepare for the setup.

      Soon-to-be-divorced Qassim agreed, saying young women "cannot make a small wedding because they are afraid that other people will think that they are poor or something".

      Marriage fund

      The trend is not unique to Qatar. A 2012 survey by the United Arab Emirates Marriage Fund found that 87 percent of respondents blamed the high costs of marriage for low marriage rates in the UAE. As in Qatar, divorce rates in the Emirates are up - in Dubai, it increased by 25.6 percent last year, according to the Dubai Statistics Center.

      For more than 20 years, the UAE has been trying to tackle the issue: for instance, in 1992 a marriage fund was launched to help nationals get married to other Emiratis. Given the high costs of weddings, Emirati men often married non-nationals because of the lower costs. In 2012, the fund gave grants amounting to $3.32m to more than 3,300 citizens and organised five mass weddings for 224 grooms.

      "Sadly, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight and the [wedding] competition goes on", said Jane Bristol-Rhys, an anthropology professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. But given the new wealth in the region and the limited number of celebrations without strict "religious overtones" and "dos and don'ts", she explained, it is understandable that people enjoy such affairs.

      Olivier Dolz, a wedding planner in the Emirates, said he spent a few million dirhams on a royal wedding in Abu Dhabi. The affair took three months of preparation, 72 hours on-site setting everything up and 150 to 200 people on the ground to pull it all off. "The wedding is 600 [to] 4,000 people, then you have flowers, extravagance, you have singers." For a wedding in Dubai, the budget for the entertainment alone was several million dirhams for six performers.

      Four young, attractive and yet-to-be-married Qatari girls told Al Jazeera they consider weddings to be a "once-in-a-lifetime" event, and they want theirs to be special.

      One of the girls, Aziza, said coming from a large family means that a large wedding is required. She estimated that on her mother's side of the family, she would probably need to invite at least 100 relatives, and about 250 on her father's side.

      However, the four said they would value the man they are marrying over the extravagance of the parties. "I just want to have a happy ending," Aisha said.

      Sharia law ban and Muslim wives
      Muslim women in Kansas are hit by the Sharia law ban, as they are unable to claim compensation from their estranged men.
      Last Modified: 16 Feb 2013 15:18
      Rafia Zakaria


      When Kansas State Senator Susan Wagle voted for Senate Bill 79 that would ban Sharia law in Kansas, she said that a vote in favour of the legislation was "a vote to protect women". "In this great country of ours, and in the state of Kansas," Wagle said, "women have equal rights."

      Her words echoed the sentiments of many of the 33 Senators in Kansas, in March 2012, who voted in support of the law. The Bill passed and was signed into law by the Governor of Kansas. On July 1, 2012, the application of foreign or Sharia law was effectively banned in the State of Kansas.

      A mere month later, in August 2012, a court in Johnson City, Kansas, faced the consequences of the ban whose intent was to "preclude[s] the courts from applying foreign law, legal codes or systems that violate the public policy of our state or federal constitutions". It has been widely viewed as precluding courts from applying Sharia law.

      Before the Johnson City District Court came the Soleimanis, both from Iran and now divorcing in Kansas. The wife, Elham Soleimani asked the court to enforce their Islamic marriage contract which stipulated a payment of $677,000 from the husband to the wife in case of divorce.

      The facts of the case were a saga of love, betrayal and abuse. Faramarz Soleimani had left Iran decades ago, fleeing from the draconian changes brought on by the Islamic Revolution. With him, was his wife Zohra Bamani.

      The two arrived in Kansas and opened a restaurant, obtaining amnesty in their new country so that they would not have to return to a much changed Iran. They stayed for 30 years, until Soleimani, now nearly 60 years old, got on the internet and found love again.

      His new flame was Elham Moghadem, 24 years younger, living in Iran. Rapt in passion, Soleimani divorced Zohra Bamani and arrived in Iran to marry again. His second marriage took place on July 19, 2009, two years before the Sharia ban and long before either the new husband or the new wife could predict just how bad things would become between them.

      In the first heady months of romance, the newly married Elham and Faramarz Soleimani revelled in wedded bliss. To prove the eternity of his devotion to his new partner, Soleimani had her name tattooed on his chest. To prove she was a loving wife, Elham tried her best to get used to Kansas.

      The divorce case of the Soleimanis

      Based on the story told by court records, the end came hard and fast and with an avalanche of court proceedings. On June 1, 2011, less than two years after her marriage to Soleimani - the man she had found on the internet and followed across the world - Elham filed for divorce in the courthouse in Johnson City, Kansas.

      Surrounding the divorce petition were allegations and pleadings of domestic violence, assault and battery, rape and even a marital tort case for spousal abuse.

      By the time she filed for divorce, Elham, the once beloved bride, was alone, destitute, living in a domestic abuse shelter and looking to American courts to help her after her marriage became a harrowing ordeal.

      Her account was one of betrayal, of having been wheedled into marriage by a man who boasted about his great wealth and promised her a fairy tale life in luxurious America. What she had found instead, like so many immigrant women arriving with little known and hardly seen husbands, was a domineering and abusive old man who wished to keep her in servitude.

      So, betrayed Elham relied and asked for relief from the Johnson City court on the one thing she felt was in her favour: the Islamic marriage contract signed between the parties - which delineated a mahr (dowry) - during their wedding in Iran.

      Based on its stipulations, Elham Soleimani, the wife, could demand the payment of 1,354 gold coins (valued at $677,000) from her estranged husband in the event of divorce. With no other recourse and little prospect of help under the rules of marital property division under Kansas law, she asked the court to enforce the agreement and make her husband pay up.

      She was about to be disappointed again. On August 28, 2012, nearly two months after Kansas' much touted Sharia ban went into effect, the District Court in Johnson County refused to enforce the agreement between the parties and grant Elham Soleimani the money she believed was due from her husband under the terms of Islamic marriage contract.

      One of the most significant reasons offered by the court for its refusal to do so was the religious nature of the agreement, the precise sort they felt the Kansas Legislature had wanted to ban.

      Enforcing the agreement, the court concluded, would "abdicate the judiciary's role to protect such fundamental rights, a concern that was articulated in Senate Bill No 79". If they enforced the mahr agreement and force Soleimani to pay it, the court felt, they would be violating the ban on Sharia law in Kansas.

      Here is where the court in Johnson City, Kansas, went wrong. While it is indeed true that separation of Church and State provisions under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States prevents US Courts from interpreting religious texts, the court in Kansas disregarded longstanding precedent that insists that when the stipulations of a contract are clear, its religious origins do not preclude enforcement by a US Court.

      One determinative case in this regard was Avitzur v Avitzur (1983), decided in the Second District of New York, where a Jewish woman petitioned the court to force her ex-husband to obtain a religious divorce decree as they had agreed in a contract prior to their marriage.

      In Avitzur, the Supreme Court of New York decided that forcing the husband, Boaz Avitzur to obtain a Jewish divorce as per the agreement between the parties was not a violation of the separation of Church and State, and that the court could enforce the agreement despite its religious origins and content.

      Foreign law not banned in New York

      Unlike Kansas, the State of New York has not banned Sharia or foreign law and so it can safely be concluded that the same case decided in that state would have yielded a markedly different result.

      That is indeed exactly what happened in SB v WA - decided in New York in August 2012 - after the decision was issued by the court in Johnson City, Kansas. In that case, a Muslim-American woman married to an Egyptian immigrant, who subsequently divorced in the United Arab Emirates, was able to get a mahr payment of $250,000 enforced by the court.

      The court decided in favour of the wife even though the agreement, an Islamic marriage contract, was entered in a foreign country and had just as much of a theological origin as the case in Kansas.

      The issue at hand in both cases, fresh after the onslaught of Sharia ban that roared through the US, is not the issue of separation of Church and State - which has a long history of American jurisprudence attached to it - but rather the issue of the status of women, specifically Muslim women under Sharia law and the role of American courts in relation to it.

      The case in Kansas reveals that imposing a blanket ban that refuses to allow for the consideration of the specifics of a case or the particularities of the position of an individual Muslim female litigant like Elham Soleimani, does more harm than good.

      Where no ban would have resulted in an immigrant woman being able to avail of the resources that would allow her to begin a new life in the US and rehabilitate herself from an abusive relationship, a Sharia ban enabled the opposite, leaving her with nothing and allowing her more established husband to discard her with few consequences.

      While all of these facts were argued in the feverish seasons in which the Kansas Legislature along with those in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and others debated Sharia bans, the case of the Soleimanis lays in actual terms and actual lives the reduction of their effect and the dubiousness of their purpose.

      If protection of women was indeed the issue before the Kansas court, or if the facts of the case were such that the same marriage contract would provide the wife with less than what would be available to her under the marital property division statutes of American law, then it would have made perfect feminist and jurisprudential sense to strike down the agreement under the Equal Protection Clause that provides for just such situations.

      This was however, not the case. Under the provisions of stipulated mahr under her Islamic marriage contract, Elham Soleimani was entitled to more than she would have received under American laws of property division that would be governed the length of the marriage and the property acquired during the two years.

      But in Kansas, with its Sharia ban in effect, Elham Soleimani lost out, not because she was a woman, but because the basis on which she argued her case for a future and for empowerment was Islamic.

      Rafia Zakaria is on the board of directors of Amnesty International. She is a lawyer and a Political Science PhD candidate at Indiana University.

      Follow her on Twitter: @RafiaZakaria

      Marriage Becomes Problem for UK Muslims
      OnIslam & Newspapers
      Monday, 25 March 2013 00:00


      CAIRO – Marriage has become a troubling problem for many Muslims in Britain as parents are finding difficulty in finding suitable partners for their children, forcing many to postpone it to older age.

      “Parents should start a dialogue with their children regarding marriage earlier rather than delaying it. Maybe from the age of twenty onwards,” a Muslim scholar, who did not wish to be named, told Asian Image on Monday, March 25.

      “Assistance should be sought from senior members of the community outlining a clear criterion for the prospective spouse.

      “This is a tried and tested traditional method which is very effective.”

      Marriage has become a troubling problem for many Muslims in Britain.

      Muslim parents have been facing difficulty in finding suitable partners to their children, forcing many to postpone marriage to older age.

      “Parents need to understand the importance of compatibility,” the imam said.

      “Our children who are born and bred here in the United Kingdom should look for partners here, as there is already an understanding of British and Muslim life.

      The imam opines that Muslim parents in Britain should pick up British-born spouses for their children.

      “A partner from abroad will find it difficult to adjust to the British way of life and more importantly they will encounter issues in trying to live a normal acceptable life with their partners,” he said.

      “Sometimes one of the two may feel traumatized and oppressed in some way.

      “This is the reality we as a community will have to accept and find a solution to. Some young men and women end up living like slaves in marriage whereas married life is a blissful and happy life if the true teachings of Islam are adhered to by all parties.”

      He advised Muslim youngsters to discuss their concerns with their parents or seek advice from British Muslim imams and scholars.

      “At the same time children will have an opportunity to mention to parents how they feel,” he said.

      “Sometimes youngsters feel it is too soon to settle down but due to the challenges we are facing in society, I would say the sooner the better.

      “Young people should approach their local English speaking scholars for guidance in these issues. British born scholars and Imams will understand the problems faced by the youth of today so are well placed to advised and guide.”

      British Muslims are estimated at nearly 2.5 million.

      Islamic Manners

      The imam urged British Muslims to maintain Islamic manners whiling looking for their spouses.

      “Youngsters should avoid any activity, conduct or behavior that would damage their reputation. Decisions for marriage are based on reputation, character and piety,” he said.

      “As individuals we should have a good character and demonstrate an understanding of responsibility.”

      Marriage in Islam is of utmost importance as it is upon the lawful union of a man and a woman that society grows strong and that moral is preserved.

      In Islam it is not permissible for the guardian to compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone she does not desire to marry.

      Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and permission.

      The imam also urged community leaders to offer advice to young couples to help curb rising divorce rates.

      “Young married couples should seek early intervention and assistance when experiencing problems in their marriage.

      “Too many young spouses are leaving it too late and suffering in silence and early intervention always helps and reduces suffering,” he said.

      “Again intervention should be sought from understanding local scholars who should be able to advise and illuminate issues resulting in a better matrimonial life.

      “In most cases the problem is minor and could have been dealt with very easily had help been sought earlier. This will definitely result in the divorce rates dropping drastically if this strategy is adopted.”

      In Indonesia, a passionate debate over marriage age

      Proponents question whether girls younger than 18 are mentally, physically, psychologically and economically ready for marriage and child-bearing.
      By Emmy Zumaidar for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta
      March 29, 2013


      In a move that could have far-reaching implications for this Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation is backing efforts to change the legal marriage age for girls from 16 to 18.

      According to Sudibyo Alimoeso, the chairman of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN), he and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Said Aqil Siroj discussed joining efforts to advocate for a revision of the 1974 marriage law during a February 12th meeting at NU headquarters in Jakarta.

      The law states that girls may marry at age 16 and young men at age 19. As such, it is incompatible with a 2002 law on child protection, establishing that anybody below age 18 is a child, the BKKBN chief argued.

      "A girl age 16 is still considered a child, and we should protect a child," he said.

      "The head of the NU welcomed my suggestion... his opinion is that 18 years old is good enough, because at least (the girls) have graduated from high school."

      Ready for marriage?

      Farida Faricha, head of the NU female student association (IPPNU), confirmed to Khabar Southeast Asia that Said agreed on raising the legal marriage age for girls at the BKKBN meeting, which she attended.

      "He also said that it would be further discussed within the organisation," Farida said, adding her opinion that child protection laws and the 1974 marriage law should be "synchronised".

      Kunthi Tridewiyanti, head of the law and policy reform division of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), questioned whether girls younger than 18 are mentally, physically, psychologically, and economically ready for marriage and child-bearing.

      Many consider the 1974 marriage law outdated, she argued. "As a first step, it was good," Kunthi said. But now that it is almost forty years old, "it is necessary to revise the law."

      An opposing view came from Muslimah Hizb ut-Tahrir – the women's wing of the hardline organisation Hizbut Tahrir. Iffah Ainur Rochmah, a spokeswoman for the organisation, criticised the idea of amending the marriage law.

      "In Islam, a woman who is balig (has had her first period) is as responsible as an adult, including for marriage issues," she said, adding: "In Islam, there is no rule of minimum age, either 18 years old, or even 16 years old, as stated in Law Number 1, Year 1974."

      The risk for young mothers

      Sudibyo said girls who marry before finishing school damage their economic prospects. It is more difficult for a woman to find a decent job without graduating, he said.

      He also linked teenage marriage to the country's Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR). Indonesia ranks third worst among ASEAN countries for MMR, with a rate of 220 deaths per 100,000 births, according to 2010 World Bank figures.

      The Health Ministry registered 4,986 cases of maternal mortality in 2012, with 6.9% of the women below the age of 20.

      Sudibyo said that one of the factors that contributed to high MMR is birth given by young mothers. "We are worried it will contribute to maternal mortality," he added.

      Teaching reproductive health

      To overcome that issue, BKKBN is extending its programme to provide more Consultation and Information Centres to educate teenagers on reproductive health.

      To date, approximately 16,000 centres are operating in high schools all over Indonesia.

      This year, BKKBN wishes to go further and expand its project to younger students at the junior high school levels and pesantrens. "That is one of the reasons I held the discussion with Nahdlatul Ulama, because the organisation is the basis for pesantrens," Sudibyo said.

      "I think if we are teaching them well about reproductive health, they can grow to be responsible people," he continued.

      Nevertheless, the challenge is big. The subject is not popular and considered taboo in Indonesia due to its relation to sexual activity.

      Ratih Kusumawati, a 35 year-old Muhammadiyah follower, said that Islam promotes education – which can be cut short by early marriage.

      "I do not think at the age of 16 you are able to provide emotional and financial stability to support a child. Remember, Islam encourages each of its followers to obtain a good education," she told Khabar.

      She agreed that the marriage law in Indonesia needs some revision.

      "I hope our young generation will seriously consider this issue and properly ensure our children's education. Our nation's future depends on them," Ratih said.

      Despite the advocacy, the issue is not likely to see legislative action anytime soon. The law is "not yet scheduled for discussion this year" in the House of Representatives (DPR), according to Ida Fauziah, head of House Commission VIII overseeing religion and social affairs.

      Mixed race marriage: 'my race didn't fit'
      Hostility to mixed-race marriage is a thing of the past, or so thought Zara Badawi. And the last place she expected to find it was within her husband's family – and her own


      Travelling to meet my in-laws for the first time, I passed the six-hour drive memorising the Dos and Don'ts I'd listed to help me make the best impression: eat with my right hand, keep my hair covered, my gaze lowered and address my parents-in-law with "ji" (to show my respect). Don't fidget, crack my fingers or do anything that could single me out for ridicule or disapproval.

      I wore shalwaar kameez and as we drew up to the house I pulled my dupatta over my hair. I fretted about the silky material slipping off without my knowledge and tugged at it self-consciously. Right then, I envied women who had worn this all their lives, their movements unrestricted by the fear of dislodging it. Swallowing my rising panic, I followed my husband, Imran, to the door. My mother-in-law answered and with a murmured "assalaamu aleikum" and greeted us both in the customary way: a hug, cheek-to-cheek on one side, then the other, then back to the first. The moment had arrived – I was entering a house where I wasn't entirely welcome. The father and grandfather had refused to attend our wedding. As I closed the door behind us with a shaking hand, fighting my instinct to run through it.

      Life's toughest choices are the ones no one can help you with, like my husband's decision to marry a ghori (someone with fair skin). I still remember how the seriousness of our situation hit me like a physical blow, when he explained our relationship could cost him his family. Growing up in Britain, the eldest son in a Pakistani household, his choices were dictated by custom and family honour. Many Asians of his parents' generation saw Western women as disrespectful, slutty and irresponsible. On top of this, our relationship unfolded in a raw and reeling, post 9/11 world where Muslims were the enemy. Although I too was Muslim, having researched and embraced Islam in a previous personal journey, my white skin shielded me from the wrath heaped upon Asians as paranoia bloomed with a fervency unseen since the 1960s and 1970s.

      Not for us the heady, early relationship delirium of getting to know one another; we had to be sure from the start – and the pressure was immense. We asked ourselves questions most couples never consider. Could we cope with being vilified by one another's cultures, or our own? Would the differences be too great to overcome? Society seemed to think so. How would we handle society? It would make some people's skin crawl just to see us holding hands. How would our children be treated? In lieu of answers, we went with instinct.

      My family responded with muted acquiescence to our news. Neither parent questioned my decision, or asked if I was aware of the difficulties ahead. There was no pre-nuptial passing on of parental advice, or enthusiastic discussion of wedding arrangements. All the usual elements of an engagement were absent. Mine is the kind of family that pointedly ignores the elephant in the room. With no one admitting to a problem, it was impossible to address it. An invisible gulf lay between us, no doubt filled with the questions they couldn't bring themselves to ask. My siblings also kept their distance; once married it was as though I ceased to exist. Ultimately, even gaining two nieces and a nephew didn't penetrate their detachment. When I moved to Canada, my eldest was five. Of my three sisters, one never met my children and the remaining two saw them for the first time at the farewell meal I arranged.

      In contrast to this inertia, Imran's family was, as he predicted, more… vocal. Torrents of angry Punjabi rained down. Having disgraced them in the worst way imaginable and denied them a marriage they approved of, the sinful boy had succumbed to the temptations of the West. Passionate condemnation gave way to absolute disapproval, threats and, finally, the silence of rejection.

      I pushed these memories from my mind as five pairs of eyes swivelled towards me. We were here to make peace. The room seemed to shrink and I felt huge and ungainly, uncomfortable in the spotlight of attention. I waited while Imran greeted his father with a handclasp and a "man-hug", then murmured "assalaamu aleikum", my eyes briefly meeting my father-in-law's before sliding back to the carpet. I knew no Punjabi and my parents-in-law knew little English. This, Imran had assured me, meant I had the easy ride; I need only appear modest, polite and demure. Supressing my Western inclination to present a strong, confident image, I continued my study of the carpet pattern, straining to gauge the tone of the percussive Punjabi exchanges, ignoring the younger pairs of eyes silently watching.

      Of course, Imran's father didn't turn us away; there were social conventions to observe. He wouldn't lose face by being openly inhospitable; the weight of cultural expectation was brought to bear later, following a grudging acceptance of the new bahu (daughter-in-law).

      Years passed and it seemed we'd bridged the divide. I learnt Urdu, mastered Punjabi cooking and immersed myself in Asian culture. During our regular visits, as wife of the eldest son, I helped to cook, clean and care for my new family. When my brother-in-law left with his parents to marry in Pakistan, I moved in to look after my husband's ailing grandfather and younger siblings for a month. But barbed comments still surfaced, usually at my most vulnerable moments: the miscarriage of my second child, the result of my not being a "good enough Muslim", the scornful noting of my inability to look after my own family, never mind my in-laws, when I was days from giving birth and crippled by SPD, a hideously painful nerve condition. Stoically or stupidly, I took the rough with the smooth.

      Undeniable proof that it wasn't working came when my husband left to work in Canada, with the children and I set to follow in a month. Within days my brother-in-law threatened me over the phone and my sister-in-law was calling me a racist. My mother-in-law stood over me, oblivious to her grandchild I was soothing to sleep, and angrily shouted that I wasn't a Pakistani girl, with all the indignation of one who has been duped. Perhaps she had a point. In my efforts to reach across the cultural divide, with no one meeting me in the middle, I'd crossed the entire bridge myself. While I willingly embraced new experiences and perspectives, my in-laws managed only tolerance, never acceptance. Nothing could change the fact that my skin was the wrong colour.

      Two families – two very different reactions. But the result for us was the same; in marrying into another culture, we forfeited full membership of our own. Ten years on, our relationship has stood the test of time, but nothing has changed. We have a foot in each camp, but we belong in neither, and whenever terrorist attacks cause people to close ranks, or during times of national pride, that's when we find ourselves on the outside looking in. We've learnt to carve out our own identity, to make our own traditions and infuse them with the enthusiasm that should have come from a shared family experience. Inter-race relationships, now more common than ever before, still face a fight for societal and cultural acceptance. Racism is rife in Britain. Don't kid yourselves – times haven't changed that much since the 1960s.

      The author is using a pseudonym and names in this article have been changed

      Moroccan teenager's death puts focus on women's rights
      Protests over case of 16-year old Amina Filali, who killed herself after court ordered her to marry man who allegedly raped her
      Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
      The Guardian, Tuesday 3 April 2012 15.02 BST


      Sex and Sharia: Muslim women punished for failed marriages
      By Charlotte Rachael Proudman
      Notebook, Opinion
      Monday, 2 April 2012 at 4:02 pm


      Today I received another telephone call from a young Muslim woman, Nasrin, who pleaded with me to help her obtain an Islamic divorce. After fleeing a forced marriage characterised by rape and physical violence, Nasrin applied for an Islamic divorce from a Sharia council; that was almost 10 years ago now. Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council as well as joint mediation and reconciliation meetings, the Sharia council refuse to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce. Why? Because of Nasrin’s sex. An Imam at the Sharia council told Nasrin that her gender prevents her from unilaterally divorcing her husband, instead the Imam told her to return to her husband, perform her wifely duties and maintain the abusive marriage that she was forced into.

      Having represented Muslim women pro bono at Sharia law bodies across the UK to obtain Islamic divorces, I am all too aware of the gender discriminatory experience many Muslim women suffer at some Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (‘Sharia law bodies’). Unfortunately their experiences have not been highlighted by the media. Instead some Sharia law bodies have been misrepresented by the media as being transparent, voluntary and operating in accordance with human rights and equality legislation. This is not the case.

      Many Sharia law bodies rule on a range of disputes from domestic violence to child residence all of which should be dealt with by UK courts of law. Having observed Sharia law bodies ruling on legal disputes it is all too apparent that they operate within a misogynist and patriarchal framework which is incompatible with UK legislation. For instance, the cost of an Islamic divorce is £400 for a woman compared to £200 for a man at the Islamic Sharia Council in East London; this is an example of blatant gender discrimination which is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.

      With over 85 Sharia law bodies operating in the UK, the majority of which charge vulnerable and impoverished Muslim women astronomical fees, Sharia law bodies have become successful and lucrative businesses. For instance the Islamic Sharia Council rules on over 500 Islamic divorces per annum at a cost of £400 for every woman applicant, equating to an annual turnover of £200,000 for Islamic divorces only. If we consider the additional legal disputes they rule upon it is likely some Sharia law bodies have an annual turnover of over £500,000. The majority of women I represent can barely afford a £15 weekly shop let alone £400 for an Islamic divorce. These destitute women have been forced to pawn their jewellery and take out loans from dangerous loan sharks in order to pay for Islamic divorces that are not even guaranteed and ultimately to fund a service that is pricing women out of the Sharia law market.

      Diana Nammi, founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation explained that “Sharia law bodies are money-spinning businesses because they afford men more rights than women unlike UK law which is underpinned by a fundamental principle of ‘equality for all’. In most cases women do not receive any practical advice or assistance to help them exit abusive marriages, and instead face further discrimination perpetrated by Sharia ‘judges’”.

      According to Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE, partner of Dawson Cornwell a leading family law solicitors firm, “women are forced to apply for Islamic divorces from Sharia law bodies to end their marriages unlike men who are in a position of power as they only have to pronounce talaq (divorce) three times to end their marriages”. However, this is not a quick process, it is time consuming and emotionally draining for many women including Nasrin who applied for an Islamic divorce almost 10 years ago.

      By protracting the time it takes for women to obtain Islamic divorces, Sharia law bodies are punishing women for their failure to maintain miserable marriages, and in Nasrin’s case an abusive forced marriage which was flawed from its incept. Rather than freeing Muslim women from the shackles of unhappy marriages they are kept in limbo and are expected to mourn their destructive marriages and to reflect on their failures as wives and mothers. Worryingly some Sharia law bodies are growing cynical business enterprises, which use their position of power to maintain unequal gender relations while profiteering on the misery of Muslim women.

      Anne-Marie Waters, Spokesperson for One Law for All commented – “the very process employed by Sharia law bodies is gender discriminatory, flawed and incompatible with UK legislation”. For instance, unlike male divorce applicants, women are requested to bring along two Muslim, male witnesses to corroborate their testimony. I have yet to represent a Muslim woman who is able to comply with this gender discriminatory requirement that is contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Not only are such requirements near impossible to adhere to, but they also reflect Sharia law bodies’ ideology that women are second class citizens. A stark comparison can be drawn between the way in which women are perceived as lacking capacity to give evidence before Sharia law bodies and their inability to give evidence in court to substantiate their own cases in Dickensian times. Women were treated as criminals not citizens in Dickensian times; their belonging to society was
      rejected as they were portrayed as mad and bad because of their gender. Sharia law bodies are a 21st century example of the patriarchal Dickensian period that eventually prompted the early Suffragettes to engage in feminist activism to bring about gendered change.

      Where are the Suffragettes now that we need them? Fortunately we have Baroness Cox’s Bill, which aims to prevent Sharia law bodies from ruling on family and criminal matters. With collective action from politicians, lawyers, human rights and women’s rights organisations it is hoped that Muslim women will be better informed of their right to seek legal remedies under UK law instead of submitting to Sharia law bodies that promote and subsist in a patriarchal framework that runs parallel to UK law.

      Amina Filali’s choice: Stay silent, or marry your rapist
      By Laura Davis
      Notebook, Opinion
      Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 11:20 am


      The suicide of the 16-year-old Moroccan girl has provoked outrage across social networking sites.

      Amina Filali was raped at the age of 15. Instead of observing justice in the form of her attacker being imprisoned, she was forced to marry him.

      Having recently returned from a holiday in Morocco, one thing I noticed was the lack of women out in public in the evening. Aside from tourists, we very rarely saw a woman in the street – unless they were homeless and begging.

      Meeting a British man who had retired in the country five years ago, we discussed this observation and he informed us that Morocco was in fact renowned for being the fairest of the Muslim countries for women’s rights.

      In February 2004, King Muhammad VI introduced reforms to the law which raised the minimum age of marriage for women from fifteen to eighteen. Beforehand men had been allowed to divorce women outside of court – but mutual consent and a court hearing was now required by law.

      The wife’s duty of obedience to her husband was also abolished and there could now be prenup-style agreement regarding assets in divorce, so they didn’t automatically belong to the husband. Inheritance and custody of children was no longer a male right and it was mandated that 10 per cent of seats in the lower house of the Moroccan parliament be reserved for women. Though not banning polygamy, it is now massively restricted (it can be approved by a judge under “special circumstances”, as with other laws, including marriage under the age of 18).

      Although this long overdue reevaluation of Moroccan law might have gained King Muhammad VI a great deal of respect for attempting to bring equality into the country’s legal system, one law which was left in, however, was Article 475. This allows rapists to marry their victim to escape prosecution.

      A woman losing her virginity outside of marriage is often reputed to bring families into dishonour, so the law is said to be enforced to allow a women’s virtue to be restored.

      The “special circumstances” in this case forced an underage girl to marry the man who sexually assaulted her. After months in a violent marriage with the man who should have been locked away so he couldn’t repeat such a crime, Amina felt she had no other choice than to take rat poison to end her own life.

      An online Moroccan newspaper even reported her father as saying that it was the court officials who suggested marriage.

      A government study last year found that about 25 per cent of Moroccan women had been sexually assaulted at least once. That’s up to a quarter of women who would possibly have to make the choice between keeping their attack secret, or reporting the violent crime and risk facing a life married to their rapist.

      Despite this Morocco has a reasonably low rate of reported rape in comparison to other countries. In 2009, the UN revealed that there were 3.6 cases of rape reported per 100,000 women. This might indicate that many women are deciding against reporting their attack, as they face dishonour or forced marriage as a result.

      Fouzia Assouoli, president of the Democratic league for Women’s Rights said:

      “It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon. We have been asking for years for the cancellation of the penal code which allows the rapist to escape justice.”

      Although the introduction of Mudawana (or “family code”) in 2004 may have brought the African country leaps ahead in terms of women’s rights, this tradition still occurs here and in many parts of the Middle East.

      Amina Filali was one tragic example of why the law needs to be abolished, but her legacy will draw global attention to the horrific choice women are still being been forced to make.
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