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Speaking Up for Muslim Women

Nujood  Ali

The backward mentality of these ignorant, oppressive, and misogynistic societies in the Muslim world is oppressing young girls and robbing them of their future and happiness. However, the true failure is found among Muslim society as a whole. Time and again, we have failed these girls and have relied on Western journalists and lawyers to rescue Muslim girls from such brutal conditions.

Nujood Ali

Most people are repulsed by the idea of an elderly man marrying a 10 year old third grader. However, in recent months, the international media has reported more than a handful of such cases in the Muslim world, and by all measurements, there could be countless incidents that have yet to br uncovered. Nujood Ali, now twelve years old, has recently published I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, detailing her horrifying ordeal and depicting how she was forced into a marriage with a man more than twenty years her senior. Joining Yemen on the child-marriage-cruelty axis is none other than the poster child for extremism and monstrosity in the name of Islam: Saudi Arabia.

The world has witnessed case after case of elementary school-aged girls being sold off into marriages with men old enough to be their grandfathers. This plague is disturbingly common in the Muslim world despite Islam condemning such practices. Instead, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and their counterparts in the Middle East are increasingly painting a portrait of Islam that resembles the pre-Islamic period of Jahiliya. The “Islamic” courts in these countries have proven themselves to be of little utility in helping these innocent girls escape from deplorable treatment and seem reluctant to even outlaw such marriages, despite Islam’s ban on such marriages. While the public in these countries supports implementing a minimum age requirement to protect young girls from being exploited at the hands of their parents and sinister elderly men, the public itself has no legal merit in such autocratic societies.

In Saudi Arabia, close to seventy percent of the public would like to see laws set forth to protect young girls from being sold off into facades of a marriage. However, many Wahabi hardliners are adamantly against such laws and are attempting to justify child marriages in the name of Islam. Shaikh Abdul Aziz al-Teraifi, a leading “researcher” within the Saudi bureaucracy, provides the world with a glimpse into the absurdity known as Wahabism, “Outlawing the marriage of young girls to elderly men will have a negative effect on Saudi society, as it will lead to mixing of the sexes, which is impermissible in Islam.” In the case of Nujood Ali, her Yemeni husband banned her from attending school by telling his second grader wife that a married woman could not be a student. 

Indeed, the backward mentality of these ignorant, oppressive, and misogynistic societies in the Muslim world is oppressing young girls and robbing them of their future and happiness. However, the true failure is found among Muslim society as a whole. Time and again, we have failed these girls and have relied on Western journalists and lawyers to rescue Muslim girls from such brutal conditions. For many of us residing in the West, we have left the illiterate Muslim society and have refused to look back. Human rights do carry heavy meaning to us, but only when we are accusing imperialist powers of exploiting Muslims. Yet for all of our grandeur and activism, we continue to ignore the plight of Muslim women at the hands of so-called Muslims.

If one were to decide the biggest threat to Islam in the twenty-first century, the most blatant answer is found within us: our apathy towards fellow Muslims. The religion of Islam was sent as a blessing to mankind and a liberating force for women. Prior to the advent of Islam, females had practically no rights and were ignored socially and religiously. However, we too are ignoring female suffering at the hands of fellow Muslims and appear to be offended when the media uses these incidents to defame Islam. Rather than lobby to help these women, we focus our energies on combating the propaganda spread against Islam, and in turn, we are losing both battles.

We have an unavoidable duty as a society of Muslims and humans to protect these young girls from being sold off into marriages with grotesque elderly men for meager sums of cash. The Islamic world is a breeding ground for these marriages because of the prevalence of illiteracy, poverty, and ignorance among many regions of the population. An educated mother will not allow her daughter to enter such a marriage and will not be financially dependent on a spouse who will marry their second-grade daughter off for several hundred dollars. It costs 50 dollars a year to educate girl in Yemen, and not more than 1500 dollars to educate a child for 12 years in Pakistan. Nujood Ali plans on becoming a lawyer, and we owe it to her and every young Muslim girl to make sure she achieves that dream.

The life course of thousands of young girls can be brightened if we allow them the opportunity to obtain what most of take for granted: an education. Their social weakness is being taken advantage of, and instead of condemning the force child marriages carried out in the Muslim world, we are overcome with dispassion and indifference towards them. The very least that we can do is ensure the world knows that Islam and Muslims will not tolerate such actions in the name of our religion and lobby to protect young girls from being treated as sub-humans. Instead of leaving it to human rights lawyers and journalists who may or may not have the best intentions, it is our responsibility to advocate for these young girls and ensure they too are protected.

Several Muslim and Shia organizations are working towards providing young Muslims and particularly Muslim girls with an education, among them Comfort Aid International, Najaf Campaign, Lady Fatemah Charitable Trust, and World Federation. However, there is a lack of such support in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, subsequently continuing to put young girls at risk for abuse and neglect through child marriages and child exploitation rings.

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  • KB

    Excellent. We need more articles like this.

  • Azhar

    Thank you for finally shedding light on the blatant extremism and corruption and defamation that occurs through Saudi Arabia. Their religious figures have no respect for the sanctity of life and others. The world needs to know that Muslims are crying out for help against the plague that is Wahabism, the cancer of Islam that is sponsored by Saudi Arabia.

    We need to educate the U.S. government too so that they know they are shaking hands with the worst kinds of people, those whose state sponsor ignorance and terrorism and destroy Islam’s beautiful nature.

    Thank you.

  • Malik

    The Wahabis are HIJACKING our Islamic scholarship and tainting our youth. All Muslims, Sunni and Shia, must work together to STOP these hate-mongering ignorant Saudi clerics from spreading their message of ugliness and injustice. Stop the oppression of Shias in the Middle East – Bahrain is next !

  • Anon Reader

    “Yet for all of our grandeur and activism, we continue to ignore the plight of Muslim women at the hands of so-called Muslims.”

    Could not have said it better myself. Huda Jawad is top talent and one of the best Shia writers present in the community. Please keep it up. God bless you and this publication.

  • Solid Solid

    I was very impressed to see this article on several other websites. Solid article. Huda Jawad’s articles continue to push people to actually think. Here’s to ALL intelligent Muslim women (including this writer).

  • Muslim People

    These people in Saudi Arabia practice the same Islam that their leaders practiced after the demise of our Prophet Mohammed(PBUH). These Wahabis ignored Imam Ali(as) and followed everyone else. Hence you see an Islam thats violent, exterme and full of hate. Had they heeded our Rasools (PBUH) advice we would be in a diffrent world right now.:sad:

  • Ali A.

    Like your other writings on political and social issues, this was a wonderful article. Considering that the term “Muslim” as in “Muslim Societies” is usually taken to be both the description and explanation of the problems in those societies, it is quite a challenge to still write on pressing issues like women’s plight. You alluded to a range of causes, from ignorance, misogyny, illiteracy, and poverty. You also referred to the role of Washington supported dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and their nexus with extremist ideologies. Perhaps in Afghanistan the US role in exacerbating women’s plight is most visible, where during the Cold War it supported and promoted the most extremist factions of “Jihadist” at the expense of other more moderate ones, and in co-sponsorship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it trained the future generation of Jihadists like the Taliban with a twisted understanding of Islam, ethics of jihad, and status of Muslim women. Afghan women were already suffering from insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, lack of employment and health facilities as the result of the Cold War. With the rise of the Taliban, the situation only became worse.

    Within this context, when I started reading your article, I asked myself that how useful it is to use the term “Muslim” even to describe those societies. For example, Is there much difference between the plight of Pakistani women and Indian women in terms of child marriages or discriminatory treatment? Why call one a “Muslim” society and the other non-Muslim? But as I read your piece, it became clear that you were speaking from the perspective of activism, not analysis: As Muslims we should be even more attentive and concerned to such oppression in our midst. Just as we complained and mobilized against the US mistreatment of Afia Siddiqui we should be equally concerned about tens of Afia Siddiqui-s in our own societies.

    So, once again, I think this a well thought out and well articulated piece. Perhaps to develop this argument further, you may want to engage with those criticisms that bring their facts from early Islamic history and Islamic legal traditions to argue that Islam is inherently biased toward Muslim women, and that one can find examples in the life of noble personalities of what would be called child marriages today. Similar criticisms can be made about certain stipulations in the Islamic legal traditions, both Sunni and Shia, and parallels are drawn between the current Islamic legal practices in the KSA and those in Pakistan and Iran.

    Hence the argument presented is that in order to address discrimination toward women, both Islamic law and Islamic history have to be critically scrutinized and re-thought (read: “reform”) even if the Islamists argue that Islam is being abused in the hands of dictators and extremists. Because it is on the basis of those laws and historical traditions that the abusers maintain their power.

    Some others suggest a more “modernization” and “secular” sort of approach emphasizing women empowerment through education, social protection by state laws, and removal of discriminatory laws in the civil and personal status codes of states, etc. They argue that Islam may or may not be that influential in “Muslim” societies, however, many of women’s problems could be resolved directly by those modernization measures. That to them is a more pragmatic approach.

    I am sure you are already aware of Shaheed Mutahhari and Dr. Ali Shariati’s works on women rights. Khaled Aboul Fadl’s book, “Speaking in God’s Name” also comes to mind. Overall, the book is a valuable contribution to this debate. Saba Mahmood’s “Politics of Piety” takes an ethnographic approach and challenges notions of moral superiority and universal validity of ‘western human rights’ notions. She is careful not to fall in the trap of relativism (But I don’t think she would defend child marriages). If you haven’t read them already, I recommend checking them out. They should give you more tools to engage with those criticisms.

    Keep writing these wonderful pieces!

  • Impressed

    This article has really been popular online and is a testament of Huda Jawad as a writer and voice in our community. It takes a lot to write about those suffering and I think the writer did a fantastic job :-).

    Maybe Nujood Ali has a great role model she can look up to in this writer!

  • SAF

    We need to spread these words more often to increase awareness! Not that people arent aware of it, but like you said – there’s no much action!

  • JB

    Salam Hj!

    Great piece! May Allah(swt) always continue to bless you for your great work.


  • Bahlool

    A wellwritten article but i keep wondering about the marriage of the holy Prophet with Aisha? Wasnt he older then her? Why do we look down on a marriage between a man 20 years older then these girls, but accept a man who was over 40 years older?

  • aishah

    Google ‘shia age aisha’ and view the 6th file down from, for example.

  • TA

    Excellent article!!

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