In a rather animated session of the Doha Debates yesterday, which marked the end of the fifth series of debates, a majority of the participants agreed with the motion: ‘This house believes that Muslim women should be free to marry anyone they choose.’
The motion was carried with 62 percent votes, with 38 percent voting against it.
Speaking for the motion was Dr Muhammed Habash, Director of Islamic Studies Center, Damascus, and Asra Nomani, an American Muslim writer and activist. Dr Thuraya Al Arrayed, a Saudi writer, columnist and a member of the advisory board of the Arab Thought Foundation, and Yasir Qadhi, a Muslim American cleric, strongly spoke against the motion.
The debate began with Nomani setting out her strong stand from a human rights perspective. “The sufferings of women in loveless marriages are equivalent to the humiliation females faced in the Jahiliyah period (pre-Islamic era), when girls were buried alive. They should be allowed to make their own decision on one of the most vital points in life, rather face an unhappy marriage which, as a Muslim, should never happen to them. With rights comes responsibility. The society can tell a girl the facts, but she should never be dictated to as to what should be done,” Nomani said.
Speaking against the motion, Qadhi stressed the fact that a Muslim was one who followed the laid down principles of Islam. “Islam is all about submission to God. A Muslim woman can marry any Muslim regardless of any other barriers. Muslim clerics exaggerate these barriers rather than support any moves even within the Muslim community. Anyone following Islam will have to stay within the restricted boundaries of Islam and this applies to both men and women. Islamic society should rather try rediscovering Prophetic teachings and follow the unanimous fatwas as Muslims,” he said.
Dr Al Arrayed, on the other hand, dwelt on the psychological and other issues that can make marriages fail if the choice is given to an individual alone. “Choices people make are aimed to fulfill their aspirations. Freedom, on the other hand, is a double-edged tool which should be utilised carefully, for which there should be some embedded controls. At young age, it is physical attraction that draws people together. The further one goes away from one’s own tribe or community in a marriage, the more compromises must be made to make the marriage happy, which at times can be tiring,” she said
While supporting the motion, Dr Habash stressed the fact that the “anyone” of a Muslim woman’s choice should respect Islam, its teaching and, above all, accept Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). “Compulsion is not Islamic and any marriage out of compulsion is not legal as the Prophet had said. Parents have no right to force a daughter into marriage but they do have the right to protect the child.”
The debate and interventions from the audience during the question-answer session threw light on different issues faced by Muslim girls worldwide. A substantial right to say “no” to a marriage proposal that the girl dislikes is often not granted by the society. Marriages in Islamic societies are decided by a range of issues like culture, laws, tribe, community and, sometimes, politics too.
The Doha Debates session will be broadcast on BBC World on June 6 and 7.
Follow us on our social media channels: