Belfast Telegraph

Sharia law bans forced marriages

By Mohammed Samaana

Believe it or not, the UK Government has been happily implementing Sharia law for more than a year. On June 16, 2014, parliament passed a law which criminalised forced marriages. This might be a surprise to a lot of people, but Islamic Sharia law prohibits forced marriages as well.

Criminalising forced marriage last year, however, was well overdue in order to protect vulnerable women - and men. According to 2014 figures, the Forced Marriage Unit gave support to 1,267 possible cases of forced marriage.

Gender breakdown shows that 79% of the cases involved were female victims and 21% were male victims. Just 0.7% of the cases were recorded in Northern Ireland, which is the lowest in the UK, but more than double the 2013 figure of 0.3%.

The issue has been intensely debated in the media recently as, a year since the legislation was passed, only one person has been convicted.

It was alarming, however, to watch well-known commentators copying tabloid-style Muslim-bashing journalism by implying that forced marriage is an Islamic tradition, when Islam actually forbade forced marriage about 1,400 years before Britain.

It is precisely because of that that some ethnic minorities' feminist organisations oppose the law, as it will result in more racial profiling and Islamophobia.

They also believe that some police officers do not know the difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage.

Additionally, they raised the issue that the law will be hard to implement, as girls are less likely to complain about their parents and send them to jail, arguing that victims of forced marriages mainly need advice, support and a place to restart their shattered lives. These services have also been affected by austerity measures.

I, however, believe that having the law is better than not having it. It is important to remember that most marriages are not forced marriages.

Even if some forced marriages do take place in Muslim and non-Muslim communities, this does not mean that the practice is Islamic, in the same way that convicting a priest of paedophilia does not mean that Christianity endorses child abuse.

  • Mohammed Samaana is a Belfast-based writer

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