Originally written for SISTERS Magazine, September 2012
Umm Khadijah exposes the hidden abuse of marriage fraud that occurs within the Muslim community and warns vulnerable sisters how to avoid it.
Muslim communities around the world face many challenges, from both within as well as outside sources. Certain issues, such as poverty and substance abuse, are widespread amongst all races and religions. The Muslim community, however, also has problems unique to itself.
One particular phenomenon has come to be known as that of “marriage fraud” – a problem found in both the West and the Muslim world, although its occurrence has been more widely documented in the West. Most cases of “marriage fraud” are recorded to take place in certain areas of America, Canada, and the UK, although there is evidence that it also occurs in other Western and Arab countries.
Shaykh Younus Kathrada, a South-African born Canadian imam has provided Islamic counseling and support services for over 20 years. He identifies the “marriage bandit” phenomenon as being when Muslim men and who claim to be knowledgeable and pious Muslims, prey on vulnerable women and convince them into marriages, only to use and abuse them, and leave them soon thereafter. Some of these individuals have married and divorced women countless times, passing them around to their friends and treating the women like a disposable commodity.
The mentality that encourages this conduct has no religious backing or justification whatsoever, no matter what they claim or how they attempt to twist and use the Deen of Islam to excuse their exploitation of naïve and sincere women.
“Marriage fraud” is no small thing; it involves psychological, emotional, and physical abuse; manipulation; outright deceit and duplicity, and worst of all, lack of any sense of conscientiousness, responsibility, or taqwa.
Targets and Tactics
In a time when marriage is a hot topic amongst every generation of Muslims, when young Muslim men and women find it extremely difficult to find suitable marriage partners, women inevitably remain the most vulnerable sector. Pressured by family or the community, or simply due to their great desire to fulfill the sunnah of marriage, many women fail to take the necessary precautions when choosing a spouse.
In his experience with “marriage bandits” and their victims, Shaykh Younus has noted that certain women are at particular risk for being targeted by predators: converts/ reverts and newly-practicing Muslim women, especially those with non-Muslim or non-practicing families. There are various factors which place them at risk of being lured into abusive relationships.
Some women have turned to Islam after many difficult experiences in their lives, including having had previous multiple relationships and children from those relationships. In an effort to support themselves and their children, and often with a naïve view of what Muslim marriages are like, they eagerly accept proposals of marriage without digging deeper into their suitors’ backgrounds. Some of these women may have other issues which they feel make them “less deserving” of being “choosy” when it comes to choosing a spouse, such as mental illnesses, financial instability, or even body image issues.
Unfortunately, the predators know exactly what to look for, what to say, and what to do to persuade these women into marriage. In some cases, they will find their victims through cyberspace: in the context of “Islamic” chatrooms and forums, these men will reach out to women seeking Islamic knowledge and build an emotional relationship with them based on the Deen. They place a strong emphasis on marriage and polygyny, and will remind these sisters that their “place” is in the home as a wife and mother. Sooner or later, the men – and sometimes even the women – will propose to the other party.
Other abusers have a tried-and-tested method within their own communities. They will have a friend’s wife look out for and befriend new sisters who join the community, building a relationship with them and slowly encouraging them to marry “a good brother my husband knows.”
One extremely common tactic used both by the cyber-predators as well as the local ones is religious and emotional manipulation: pressuring these women to marry quickly to “fulfill the sunnah” and “protect their desires.” For women seeking stability and a life partner, the combination of emotional blackmail (a woman who does not get married quickly is not a good Muslimah) and flattering attention (“You are such a pious, wonderful Muslimah and I must marry you in order to protect myself!”) can be very persuasive.
When approached by men who promise to give them a “happy Islamic household,” who tell them that their beauty lies in their practice of the Deen rather than their looks; and convince them that polygyny is a sunnah that they should practice, many Muslim women are convinced by the idea of a perfect Islamic marriage and agree to these proposals.
Almost all “marriage bandit” abusers display characteristics which should act as red flags for any Muslimah about to get married.
To begin with, the woman is often told that her wali is either unsuitable (due to not being practicing enough, not approving of the suitor, or because he is “making marriage difficult for no reason”), or not valid (especially in the case of women with non-Muslim parents and family). The man will then convince the woman that they have a better person to act as the wali, usually a close friend of the man.
Many women are also told that to ask for a mahr of any financial value is wrong, or against the Sunnah. The hadeeth about the most blessed marriage being that with the easiest mahr is trotted out and used to make the women feel guilty about making any kind of monetary request.
A woman’s right to a wali who has her best interests in mind, and to a suitable mahr, are an inviolable part of the Shari’ah. No woman should ever be made to forgo these rights which she has been given by Allah Himself!
The Deceit Continues
Unfortunately, the abuse only continues and exacerbates once the woman agrees to the marriage. In many cases, she will find out that she has been lied to all along – that she is neither a first wife, or the only wife, but that the man she has just married has one or more other wives already. In other cases, she will be told that as a second (or third, or fourth) wife, she must either support herself financially or live in the same household as the other wives, and “share” everything!
Other women will find themselves suddenly not only responsible for themselves and any children they may have, but for the man as well. Some predators will hide their criminal records or lack of any education until after the nikah has been done, and then informing their wives that they are unable to work and support their family. They may insist that because they are “seeking knowledge” (usually on Internet chatrooms), it is the wife’s duty to support them in every way, including financially. If the wife complains or challenges him, she is then accused of being a disobedient wife and causing problems. Their earlier recommendations of women remaining within the home are quickly forgotten.
Abuse Across the Board
Financial abuse is not the only type of abuse many women experience in these marriages. Mental abuse and emotional blackmail are rampant; physical and sexual abuse also take place. Victims are often unable to share their experiences or receive the necessary assistance to recover from these traumatizing incidents. Instead, due to the stigma and taboo of all these issues, women who leave these abusive marriages or speak out are more likely to be ostracized within their communities.
Many women have found themselves not only used and abused, but abandoned as well. In some cases, women are divorced for no reason at all other than that their abuser has become tired of them or interested in new prey. Others find themselves pregnant, and are left both divorced and without any child support or even acknowledgement from the child’s father.
Obviously, every type of abuse takes its toll and has a deep effect on those involved – not only the women themselves, but their children as well. One of the most terrible effects on the victims is that having lived through this vicious cycle, not only once but in many cases several times, the woman or her children may associate Islam with the abuse that they experienced. As a result, they may lose interest in practicing Islam, or leave it completely with extremely negative thoughts and emotions regarding it.
Less drastically, but equally painfully, is that the women feel used and rejected; that their Islamic rights have been violated and that they have no recourse. Some become completely embittered with the idea of marriage and see all Muslim men as predators and abusers.
How to Avoid the Trap
• A wali is a Muslim woman’s right – a guardian who keeps her best interests in mind. Make sure that your wali is someone who truly looks out for you and whom you trust.
• Ask questions! Don’t jump into a marriage blindly. Be aware of the type of person you are considering. Investigate, have your wali investigate, and don’t trust anyone naively.
• Don’t give up your mahr. Again, this is a Muslim woman’s right which no one can take away! Be reasonable, but don’t be pressured into a “symbolic” mahr either, unless you’re absolutely sure of it.
• Patience does not equal suffering. Be aware of the difference between patience with hardship, and being oppressed by someone who is withholding your Islamic rights. If your spouse is abusing you, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically, do not tolerate it. Seek the help of a supportive Imam or sisters who will find the appropriate resources for you.
It is beyond time for the Muslim community to recognize the predators that exist in its midst, and to stand up for its Muslim sisters. The Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Help your brother whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed.” He further emphasized that the only way to help the oppressor is to stop his oppression from continuing. Any Muslim who perpetrates or allows such blatant evil to continue is transgressing the rights which their fellow Muslims have over them.
May Allah enable us to stand up for justice, and grant us the courage to fight evil wherever it may be.
Umm Khadijah (AnonyMouse) is an advocate for social justice, and is especially concerned with the many issues that trouble the Muslim Ummah world-wide. She prays that Allah gives her the ability to change things for the better, even if her only weapon is her pen (or keyboard).