A few years ago, the discussion of Sharia Law was picked up a bit in the media due to an Oklahoma state constitutional amendment banning Sharia Law which was passed by 70 percent of the voters. Because religious family arbitration courts have been a part of the American fabric for many generations, it has naturally been assumed that extending this practice to Muslims employing Sharia Law would be a welcome gesture of religious tolerance and a natural accommodation of Islamic traditions. The big disconnect regarding Sharia Law, however, is that it clearly contradicts many civil rights that Americans take for granted. As you will see below, Sharia Law is misogynic, racist, and religiously discriminatory. Affording it any sort of acceptance in public policy only encourages Muslims to engage in such shameful practices as marital rape, wife beating, and honor killing.
The principal source document for Sharia Law in the United States is The Reliance of the Traveller (‘Umdat al-Salik) written by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368). This volume, translated into English by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, is called the Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, and it bears the approval stamps of Al-Azhar University in Cairo and the U.S. International Institute of Islamic Thought. While this volume represents Shafi’i school of Islamic law, it is identical with 75 percent of the provisions of the other three Sunni schools of Islamic law. The references throughout this essay are to the provisions of this document.
As in all religions, the actual practice with respect to Islamic weddings may vary from the formal religious traditions specified in the Sharia Law. The young bride’s narrative below is a representative montage of a possible wedding scenario if all of the requirements of Sharia Law were met. The parenthetical comments can be easily verified using Internet search engines. Consequently, this wedding could occur in any country where Muslims now live, and yes, even in Oklahoma.
As a historical note, an attempt to allow Muslims to use Sharia Law in family disputes was quashed in Ontario, Canada, by the Premier Dalton McGuinty, in September, 2005. He stated that there should be “one law for all Ontarians.” Leading the fight against Islamic tribunals was a group of Muslim women headed by Homa Arjomand who feared that they would lead to discrimination against women. In 2005, Ms. Arjomand was honored as Canada’s “Humanist of the Year.”
I was very young girl on my wedding day. (The minimum age for a bride is 6 or 9 years old based on Muhammad’s precedent with Aisha.) If I didn’t seem very excited about the event it was probably because: 1) I had never been alone with a boy (m2.3), 2) I had undergone female genital mutilation as a child and had absolutely no sexual feeling (e4.3), and 3) I had never actually met my future spouse. (m2.2)
All I could speculate about my future husband was that he would be “older” (men in their 70’s often marry teenagers), he may have already married three other women (m6.10), and he would most likely be a cousin. (Over 60 percent of Saudi Arabians marry first or second cousins.) Anyway it doesn’t matter. My guardian (my father or a Muslim male in charge of me (m3.4)) arranged my marriage for me.
There were still constraints regarding who I could marry. Because I was a Muslim, I could not marry a Christian or even an ex-Muslim (m6.7). Because I was an Arab girl, I could not marry a non-Arab man even if he were a Muslim. (m4.2(1)). Also, because my father was a merchant, I could not marry a man of lesser status, such as a tailor (m4.2(3)). Hopefully, my guardian took all of that into consideration.
I missed my wedding ceremony. Actually, the wedding vows are pronounced between the groom and my guardian so I didn’t need to be there. The wedding vows are quite simple: After receiving some dowry money for me, my guardian says, “I marry you [off].” Then the groom says, “I marry her.” (m3.2) Now, the common Arabic word for “marriage” is nikah, which makes teen-age boys giggle when they hear it. But it is not a giggling matter when it comes to marriage. The groom must pay the marriage payment before he may have sexual intercourse with his bride. It is considered a “nonrefundable deposit.” (m8.5) Well, anyway, because I was a virgin, I didn’t have to consent to the marriage. In fact, as they say, “A virgin’s silence is considered as permission.” (m3:13)
I have read in Western brides’ magazines about solemn wedding ceremonies in churches and synagogues where a gathering of family and friends witnesses the priest or rabbi officiating over the exchange of vows between the bride and groom, where the priest or rabbi calls on God to bless the new couple, where soloists sing “Ave Maria” or other meaningful songs, and where the couple lights candles or crushes wine glasses under a napkin to symbolize their new union. All of that would be a religious ceremony. A Sharia wedding is merely a business transaction. The only three “Sharia” requirements are an oral or written marriage contract, a guardian’s approval, and two witnesses. (m3.0) So, we didn’t even need to involve the imam or the mosque to finalize the marriage.
We didn’t have a wedding reception, either. Our tradition is to have a wedding feast to celebrate the consummation of the marriage. (m9.1) This is one of the scariest times for brides because often they are too young to have intercourse. Some die from hemorrhaging , but consummating the marriage is a must. The party must go on! (In April, 2010, thirteen-year-old Elham Assi died of hemorrhaging after forced sex by her new husband. One quarter of Yemeni girls marry before age 15.) My new husband wanted to do it right. He took me to the bridal chamber and followed the exact words of Sharia Law: ”The first time they sleep together, it is recommended for the husband to grasp his bride’s forelock and supplicate Allah for an increase in blessings, such as saying, ‘May Allah bless each of us in[side] their partner.’” (m5.3) I wasn’t blessed, but I did survive. The husband grabbed a blood-stained cloth to prove his conquest (and my virginity) and signaled for the wedding feast to begin.
Some wedding feasts last for three days, and everyone – high and low – is invited. It would be a big insult if the host did anything to insult or embarrass the guests. Rivalries and family disputes are temporarily put aside. The house may not have any flutes, wine, silk-covered sitting mats, or pictures of animate life. If someone attends under those conditions, he or she would be acquiescing to an abomination. Of course, if the animate life were all decapitated, that would be just fine. (m9.2(e). The meal should consist of sheep or goat, but just about any food is permissible. Since unrelated men and women cannot be in the same room together, our wedding feast was celebrated by the men in one room and the women in another. (m2.3)
Because I was a virgin and my new husband already had other wives, he did not have to make his usual rounds, sharing his time equally with all of them. He was permitted to spend seven full days and nights with me alone. After that, he didn’t have to make up the lost time with the other wives, either. (m10.9) I guess some people would call that a “honeymoon.”
Being a bride entails certain responsibilities, some of which are old and some of which are new. Since a bride is legally transferred from one guardian to another, my personal freedom remained about the same. Since I was pretty young but I could already read, my new husband wrote the responsibilities down for me.
- It is obligatory for a woman to let her husband have sex with her immediately when he asks her, if they are at home, and if she can physically endure it. (m5.1)
- A husband possesses full right to enjoy his wife’s person from the top of her head to the bottoms of her feet in what does not physically harm her. (m5.4)
- A husband may cut off support if these sexual duties have not been fulfilled. If there is disagreement over whether the wife has allowed her husband “full enjoyment of her person” the husband’s word is usually accepted over the wife’s. (m11.11)
- It is not lawful for a wife to leave the house except by permission of the husband (except for emergency). m10.12(2)
- A wife may not permit anyone to enter her husband’s home unless he agrees, even their unmarriageable kin. Nor may she be alone with a nonfamily-member male, under any circumstances. (No chatting with the postman!) ( m10.12)
- When a husband notices signs of rebelliousness in his wife he may hit her, but not in a way that injures her, meaning he may not break bones, wound her, or cause blood to flow. (m10.12) Rebelliousness includes answering coldly, refusing to go to bed, or being averse to her husband.
There is no such thing as joint property rights under Sharia Law, so it is important for me to keep in mind exactly what I am entitled to get from my husband, because that may be all I get. According to Sharia Law, Section m11.0, my husband must provide me the following:
- One liter of grain (or whatever the local staple is) daily each morning
- Expenses to have flour ground and baked if necessary each morning
- Hair lotion, shampoo, a comb, deodorant, and water for bathing
- A husband is NOT obligated to pay for cosmetics, doctor’s fees, or medicines unless they are connected with childbirth.
- At the beginning of each season, a set of clothing, underwear, shoes, a shawl, and if necessary a cloak. (If the clothing wears out before the season is over, he is NOT obliged to replace it. If the clothing lasts longer than the season, then she can sell it and keep the proceeds.)
- Fuel if needed during the winter.
- Housing of the same quality of similar women.
- Servants if she had them in her father’s house.
Of course, all of this support may be withheld if my husband feels I am rebellious (even for a moment), or if I travel without permission, or if I begin a religious fast without my husband’s permission. (m11.9)
Well, that was my big fat SHARIA wedding. Someday I will share with you my big fat SHARIA divorce.