In Islam, Muslims marry for love

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

She has a top university degree, a well-paid management position and her own car in the garage: Kenza (all names changed), 32 years old, from Morocco is proud of her career and her financial independence. Although she could have afforded her own apartment long ago, she has lived at home so far. "I get on very well with my parents," she explains. "Why should I move out before getting married?"

Meanwhile, Kenza is engaged. She met her future husband during an advanced training course. They got closer to each other via the chat function on Facebook. "We had a lot to say to each other, and then it radioed - outside of Facebook," says the young woman with a laugh.

Kenza has fulfilled her dream of a romantic love marriage, but the conventions still count. Of course, her husband is a Muslim - under Moroccan law she could not marry a non-Muslim, and civil marriage does not exist. Before the engagement, she needed her parents' approval. Linked to this were the classic rituals between families to get to know each other: mutual visits by mothers and aunts and the discreet cross-checking of information about the reputation of the family-in-law. Despite all the romanticism, Kenza's parents wanted to know exactly whether the candidate had the right education, sufficient assets and the right manners.

The consent of her parents, especially her father, was very important to Kenza. Since the family law reform in 2004, a woman in Morocco no longer necessarily needs the signature of her father or another male guardian in order to get married. “I think that's good, because after all I'm a grown woman and can stand up for myself. But I couldn't imagine marrying someone my parents disagree with, ”admits Kenza.

Mix of modernity and tradition

The refreshing mix of modernity and awareness of tradition with which Kenza paves the way for her marriage contradicts some stereotypical patterns of perception in the West (see El Feky: "Sex and the Citadel", 2013). Since the 19th century, the role of women and the organization of gender relations have shaped the mutual perception of the West and the so-called Arab world. The Arabs conjured up the alleged depravity of Western women, who wanted to destroy family values ​​with their urge to emancipate, and thereby strengthened the feeling of moral superiority; In Europe, people symbolically upgraded their own identity by declaring the Arab world to be backward and blaming this on the veil and the oppression of Arab-Muslim women.

Both patterns of imagination were constructed, but are effective in the collective consciousness - to this day. Currently, the western view of the Middle East and North African societies (MENA) is strongly influenced by media reports on sexual violence against women by the terrorist militia ISIS and by forced marriages. According to UNICEF, the number of married young women under the age of 18 among Syrian refugees in Jordan has risen from 13 percent (before the war) to over 30 percent - a development that is primarily related to war and displacement. The traditional social networks and control mechanisms do not work in the camps and the often precarious circumstances. In order to escape poverty and to protect the reputation of the girl and the family, the daughters are married off as soon as possible after puberty has occurred.

The current marriage rates in the Syrian refugee communities are therefore not representative, but the reporting uses well-known patterns of perception. This is also the case in spectacular cases such as that of 16-year-old Moroccan Amina Filali, who was forced to marry her rapist after being raped by a court and who then committed suicide. Examples like these fuel the prejudice that child marriage is the norm in the Arab world and that Arab husbands treat their wives per se like prisoners or even slaves.

Religious justification for child marriage

This is certainly not the case in general and in extreme form. The fact is, however, that in almost all Arab countries - with the exception of Tunisia - the freedom and scope of action of women and girls are severely restricted by patriarchal mentalities and discriminatory laws. Strictly conservative Muslim religious scholars claim that women and men have grown up with the onset of biological sexual maturity (menstruation or ejaculation) and are therefore psychosocially mature for marriage. They provide the theological and ideological justification for marrying some girls in Sudan, Saudi Arabia or Yemen at the tender age of nine.