It is not uncommon for women to be forced into marriages, or deprived of their choice of husband, in many societies even today, including Muslim ones. Strangely enough, Islam is sometimes posed as a justification for such acts by the perpetrators of forced marriages, or accused of subjugating the rights of women by the anti-Islam elements.
In reality, Islam is totally against forced marriages, and considers such marriages as void. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ﷺ, ensured that women had the freedom to choose their husbands, and himself nullified any marriage for which the woman did not have her consent. Let us look into the matter further in the light of the authentic teachings of Islam.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Seek the permission of women with regard to marriage.” (Reported by Nasai)
The Prophet ﷺ said, “A woman who has been previously married should not be married until her permission is asked, nor should a virgin be married without her permission.” (Reported by Abu Dawud)
These two sayings make it clear that any woman, whether previously married or not, cannot be married against her will, nor can she be coerced or pressured into giving her approval. Moreover, the woman can express her desire to marry a particular man, not only to her father and other family members, but can directly approach the concerned man.
In fact, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, Khadija, was the one who asked him for marriage, hence, breaking stereotypes about women’s approach to marriage. Later on, after her demise, there are recorded instances of other women too expressing their desire to marry the Prophet ﷺ, and even approaching him directly with the proposal.
Although Islam stipulates that a woman should be married in the presence of her guardian as a means of protection, some Muslims tend to forget that the guardian cannot override the woman’s decision about her own marriage. The father does not have the authority to force his decision upon her, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “A woman without a husband has more right to her person than her guardian, and the father of a virgin should ask her permission about herself.” (Reported by Abu Dawud)
The Prophet ﷺ similarly stated that an orphan girl has more right to decide about her marriage than her guardian: “…if she refuses, the authority of the guardian cannot be exercised against her will.” (Reported by Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
In fact, Islam goes to such an extent to blot out forced marriages that if a woman is married against her will, such a marriage is immediately declared void. This is to ensure that if the woman’s father or other guardian defies the teachings of Islam by marrying her off forcefully, she can still obtain immediate justice from a court of law, where she can have her marriage nullified by merely expressing her lack of consent for the marriage.
On several occasions, women came to the Prophet ﷺ complaining about being pressured into a marriage, and on each occasion, he offered to annul the marriage without demanding any witnesses or proof, as can be seen in the following instances.
Abdullah bin Abbas narrated: “A virgin girl came to the Prophet ﷺ and mentioned that her father had married her against her will, so the Prophet allowed her to exercise her choice.” (Reported by Abu Dawud)
It was narrated from Khansa bint Khidam that her father married her off after she had been previously married, and she was unwilling [to marry again]. She went to the Messenger of Allah and he annulled the marriage. (Reported by Nasai and Abu Dawud)
Aishah narrated that a girl came to her and said, “My father married me to his brother’s son so that he might raise his own status thereby, and I was unwilling.” She said, “Sit here until the Prophet ﷺ comes.” Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ came and she told him. He sent word to her father, calling him, and he left the matter up to her. She said, “O Messenger of Allah, I accept what my father did, but I wanted to know whether women have any say in the matter.” (Reported by Nasai)
It is unfortunate that despite such a strong stance against forced marriages, Islam is often made a scapegoat for the failings of society to ensure justice and the prejudiced mindset of many of its members. In reality, Islam not only outlaws forced marriages, but also gives women the freedom to approach a man for marriage.