Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra talks with Sarah Ruth Webster on his stance about forced marriages. Below is the transcript from the Interview.
What is the Muslim Council of Britain’s position on forced marriage, if you could summarise that?
We believe forced marriages are wrong. They have no basis, not in Islam and not in any civilised culture. They should be opposed and they should be condemned. Islam and Muslim culture teaches that individuals should be free to choose their marriage partner and no one should be forced against their will to marry someone that they do not want to be married to.
You say that they should be condemned. In your opinion, is enough of that condemnation coming through?
We need to hear more condemnation of this cruel practice, both from religious leadership and also from our community leaders. I think we need to have this subject as part of the religious education that we impart to particularly younger people to educate them of their right to have a free choice in choosing a marriage partner, but also in re-educating the older generation of parents that this is not sanctioned by Islam, that they would be carrying out a great injustice against their own children if they forced them to marry against their will.
One of the things that’s come is that it’s purely and matter of silence from the Islamic community, and obviously it’s not purely the Islamic community that this affects. But also there’s silence or an unwillingness to tackle it from government and social services and education. So for example when I spoke to the CEO of Karma Nirvana, she said that some teachers were unwilling to put up posters in their own schools to promote KN’s work and outreach, because they felt – and whether they had a basis for this or not I don’t know – because they felt that it would cause hostility and opposition. So do you see it as something that is lacking from everybody, not just within the Islamic community?
I think the issue of forced marriage is not limited nor restricted to the Muslim community. It is an issue that affects many south asian and eastern communities, and perhaps occasionally even western communities if I can describe it as that. So this is I think an issue that does not limit itself to race, religion and culture. Therefore we need to work together collaboratively to support all initiatives, campaigns that help to better educate people and highlight the cruelty of forced marriages. I have been in many schools where I have seen posters which talk about why this is wrong, which give out helpline numbers for young people to call, and I’ve been to many community centres also which are used largely by the Asian community, some are used by the Muslim community, and posters have been put up in very visible places on the notice boards so that people can read those and they can have contact numbers of organisations that can help them. In my own preaching and in the preaching of many imams, we have spoken out against this and we have tried to help re-educate parents of the duty to ensure that they follow the teachings of Islam correctly and do not allow cultural practices to make them go against the teachings of Islam.
Do you see imams as having a particular responsibility in the case of marriage?
As imams, we have a huge responsibility because the community will come to us. We educate them about religion and the practice of religion, and our message must include condemnation of this cruel practice of forced marriages, and we must provide evidence – which we do, from scripture – to prove that this is a wrong practice which must be stopped immediately.
And with that in mind, do you support the government’s move to make forced marriage a specific offence?
The Muslim Council of Britain’s position with regard to criminalising forced marriage is that we do not believe that this would be a wise and useful way forward. We believe, knowing our communities as we do, that for example if a young woman was forced by her father to marry against her will, we believe that no such young woman would report her father knowing that her father would be imprisoned or would have to face the long arm of the law. And therefore we are hoping that rather than making it a criminal offence, if some other methods could be introduced whereby the door for this young woman to shop her father for example would still be open for her knowing that they [the father] would not be thrown into prison. But still, anonymously she would be able to go to the authorities and seek help and assistance.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
I think that covers a lot of the areas. That is fine, yes.
If you have been effected by any of the issues above, please contact Karma Nirvana which specialise in issues regarding forced and abusive marriages.