Originally published under the title "17-Year-Old Saudi Girl Wins Case Against Father After Being Tricked into Marriage with 90-Year-Old."
A Saudi teenager, told she would marry a handsome young man whom she had been allowed to meet, was shocked when she discovered that her father had tricked her and that her groom was a man in his nineties. She is 17-years old.
Amazingly, the girl bolted and called the police. Headlines, and a social media campaign, condemned her father, accusing him of "selling his daughter to an old man." A court just ruled the marriage "null and void."
This news is both depressing and inspiring. Depressing because fathers are still arranging inappropriate matches for their daughters and sentencing them to a lifetime of misery. Depressing because, according to Sharia law, in the case of a divorce, custody belongs to fathers, not mothers. This girl was living with her father whose authority is traditionally considered supreme. She was, or so it seems, a child of divorce.
But the news is very inspiring because the girl actually fled her father's choice (which is unheard of), other Saudis supported her on the internet, and a court upheld her right not to be duped in this way.
This case follows another similar case in which a fifteen-year old Saudi girl "locked herself in her bedroom on her wedding night after being forced to marry a 90-year-old Saudi man." Social media condemned this arranged marriage, calling it "child trafficking and prostitution." The elderly man said he paid 10,767 pounds for her—and later insisted that both the bride and her parents had set out to "swindle him."
One must understand that the "selling" of girls into marriage is not seen as barbaric. To the contrary, it is viewed as taking care of one's daughter, protecting her reputation, ensuring that an (under-valued, useless, potentially dangerous) daughter is fed, clothed, and housed and not at her father's expense. In poverty-stricken, illiterate countries and cultures, marriage is a woman's only dignified and viable alternative other than prostitution.
Further, if a family has land or other economic resources, they will want to keep it "in the family;" for that reason they marry daughters to first cousins. And, if a family is wealthy, they must marry their daughters into similarly wealthy families or lose all honor.
It is nothing short of a miracle that, in 2014, two Saudi teenaged girls fled the marriage arranged for them ... [and] neither girl has been killed by her father for having dishonored the family.
It must be noted that Mohammed himself married a six-year-old girl when he was in his fifties and consummated the marriage with Aisha when she was 9 years old. The Prophet's life is considered a role model for Muslims. According to the Center for the Study of Political Islam, the Koran specifically notes "91 times that the Prophet's words and actions are considered to be the divine pattern for humanity." Thus, a 44-year difference between a husband and wife is not necessarily considered as abnormal but might be viewed as "divine."
Although Mohammed viewed "dolls" or "images" as forbidden, he allowed Aisha to bring her dolls with her into the harem. This implies that he was so fond of her that he made this exception.
Mohammed himself had eleven wives and two sex slaves. In Islam today, men are allowed four wives—and any number of dalliances with prostituted women and sex slaves.
Muslim women are (dishonorably) killed if they are suspected of having sex with someone who is not their husband or not the man chosen for them by their fathers. No one is exempt. In 1977, a Saudi princess, Misha'al bint Fahd al-Saud, was executed because she chose her own husband and tried to flee the Kingdom with him. Her love match husband was also executed.
Given this kind of tribal and Sharia-based culture, it is nothing short of a miracle that, in 2014, two Saudi teenaged girls fled the marriage arranged for them by their fathers; were supported by others in the Kingdom; in one case, her decision was upheld by a Saudi Court. Apparently, neither girl has been killed by her father for having dishonored the family.
It is a time of small miracles. Recently, King Abdullah's Advisory Council proposed a bill that would allow women to drive cars--but only during the day and only if they refrain from wearing any makeup. Let's see if this bill passes.
Phyllis Chesler, an emerita professor of psychology and women's studies and the author of fifteen books, is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.