Reflections The result of an illegitimate marriage [Archives:2003/646/Culture]

June 30 2003

By Sadaf Shah
For the Yemen Times

In a remote village of Yemen, a young woman committed suicide by shooting herself. She was a young girl married just recently to a man who already had two wives prior to her. Whatever made this girl to take her own life, how desperate she may have felt to entertain such an idea in her mind, and then the will to act upon that idea, all of these questions we may never know the answers to. We are not allowed to ask, to investigate, or write about. That is why I am not stating exactly which village it was where this unfortunate incident took places. I do not wish to add insult to injury for that girl's family is already suffering enough from her death. I only wish to dignify her death. Many people are saying she committed suicide as a result of her weakness of faith. I ask such people, did you educate her about her faith? I believe that girl was not educated at all, who can she be held responsible for her ignorance? Was she allowed to attend school? Was she encouraged to read, ask questions, or express herself? Maybe she was married without her consent, or maybe her husband was a ruthless man. We do not have the right to judge as we do not have at our disposal all the relevant facts to draw a sound conclusion.
However, I do not want to draw any sound conclusions. I am a patient woman, ever striving to be steadfast, but I can not accept the death of that young girl whom I knew not, and yet, feel so close to. It is not so because she was a woman. No. I mourn for her death for she was an innocent human being who recognized an injustice, but did not know how to overcome it. This is the result of illiteracy, of ignorance, of oppression. She was married without her consent. Most people in rural Yemen are extremely illiterate in secular and religious matters. Their source of ocular knowledge, the little that they possess, is limited to their everyday life, rearing goats, fetching water, etc. the source of their religious knowledge is either a preacher at a local mosque, for men, or the dominate male figure in the family, often the father. They do not even know how to read the Holy Qur'an.
Among the rich men in rural areas, polygamy is so widespread. It is considered the norm, even “masculine” to have a number of wives. Lucky man, they say. Pathetic man, I say. Polygamy is the subject of much criticism against Islam. It is practiced among the illiterate elite of rural Yemen. And of course many other men in the Muslim community who, by their misunderstanding of the Holy Qur'an, distort the perfect teaching of Islam. Polygamy is not obligatory upon every Muslim man! Rather, it is a concession in special circumstances only. Those circumstances maybe the death of a former wife, an ill wife or one who can not bear children, and marriage to a widow with children who can not support herself. Polygamy is also allowed to help prevent the spread of promiscuity, which may result in illegitimate births. Such instances leave a woman and her child without any legal right to support. With marriage, Islam places a responsibility upon the man to give the woman he proper position in society as his wife, and safeguards her right to his property, wealth, and name for her child. Moreover, polygamy places a greater responsibility on the husband with respect to the way he is allowed to treat his wife. He must treat all of them equally. Economically and personally, which is extremely difficult, so men are not encouraged to marry freely.
However, this beautiful system to uphold a righteous society is being abused by some men who regard a young girl their right to own. They are able to “buy” these young girls from their parents who “sell” them for the dowry. Their ignorance has no boundaries, for they do not even know that Islam has enjoined upon every man to pay the dowry to his wife alone. She may choose to do with it as she wishes. The dowry is a debt a husband must pay his wife, and not her family. In fact, a woman acquires wealth from her husband, her parents, and the dowry in Islam. Strangely enough, she has no liabilities. All of these straightforward facts are conveniently forgotten in the selfish pursuit of wealth by parents.
Concerned more about the dowry than the well being of their daughters, young girls are married off to any rich man, young or old. Most often, the father makes the decision on his own without consulting with his wife or daughter who is to be married. Couples are not allowed to meet or even see each other until the wedding day. There will be a big feast on the wedding day, many goats will be slaughtered, many people invited from all the surrounding village. There is a lot of singing and dancing among the women, while the bride sits obediently with her face covered. At the end of the day, she is all dressed up in gold, and delivered to her husband. This is the culmination of a typical wedding in rural Yemen.
Of course weddings are beautiful if they are a celebration of the mutual consent of the couples to be married. If couples are forced to marry without their will, then weddings take the form of oppression. And the results of oppression are deadly, as was the case with the most recent suicide of that innocent girl we are not allowed to know the name of. May her soul rest in peace, and may her death be a constant reminder of the tragedy of illegitimate marriages. That is the name that I have chosen to give such outdated practices that Islam had abolished fourteen hundred years ago.
I have spoken, though I know I have not been heard, for who can read English in rural Yemen where such practices are an every day phenomenon? However, to speak is my right, and I have used my god-given right to inform. That was my only purpose, to inform, at least for now.