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.
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.