Days after Birmingham’s Central Mosque insisted that it had never dealt with a case of forced marriage, following its chairman claiming the practice was not a problem, it has been alleged that they were aware of a horrific case just last year.
An 18-year-old from the city claims she had been instructed to marry her 30-year-old cousin from Pakistan, after being repeatedly being beaten by her parents and threatened with murder.
The Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) made the allegation, as the helpless girl has enlisted their support after making an escape. They went on to represent her at a Sharia divorce hearing, based inside Birmingham Central Mosque – one of the largest in Europe.
Yesterday, Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood waded in on the controversy, calling for the Central Mosque’s male-only trustees to “consider their positions” and hold the first elections in 30 years. The mosque has 39 male trustees, but not a single woman.
Mr. Mahmood said that women in Birmingham were being “marginalised” and that forced marriage was “clearly” a problem. “What has happened over a period of time is that men have taken control and that’s not right, they are sexist and they should not be allowed to do this, certainly not in this country”, he said.
Thank you everyone who have been supporting us at @MuslimWomenUK and also tweeting about Cllr Afzal to go! We have all played a part!
— Shaista Gohir (@ShaistaGohir) February 1, 2016
Three days ago Labour Councillor Muhammad Afzal, the chairman of the mosque, was forced to withdraw from his position as Lord Mayor-elect of the UK’s second city after causing outrage by claiming forced marriage was not a problem – as well as calling on Muslim to “resist” counter terror laws and allegedly blaming Christians for domestic violence.
In 2013, the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit was reportedly informed of 1,302 cases of forced marriage in the UK, with ages peaking in the 16 to 17 age group.
MWNUK chairwoman Shaista Gohir MBE had slammed both Mr. Afzal and the Mosque as male dominated and “dismissive” of women’s issues in a letter of complaint, as well as reporting the organisation the charities committee.
Public Complaint Letter: Chair of Bham Central Mosque, Muhammad Afzal – his views on forced marriage & DV are awful https://t.co/WWzJ5I9WYT
— MWNUK (@MuslimWomenUK) January 28, 2016
However, Vice Chairman of the Mosque, Mohammed Sarwar, went on to defend Mr. Afzal and the Mosque, “strongly refut[ing] the allegations” and accused the MWNUK of making “false” statements.
In a statement, he reasserted, “they had not come across any cases of forced marriage in their dealings at the Mosque” and claimed that forced marriage is an “issue which affects individuals no matter their class, race, religion or level of education.”
Those who want @MuslimWomenUK to deal with issues behind closed doors are only interested in protecting Muslim men ¬ dealing with issues!
— Shaista Gohir (@ShaistaGohir) January 31, 2016
However, Shahin Ashraf, project and helpline manager at MWNUK, has told the Birmingham Mail how she went to the mosque with the young forced marriage victim last April with two police officers when full details of the case were discussed.
The teenager had been forced to marry her cousin after a campaign of violence abuse by her own parents.
Ms. Shahin said: “She was being beaten every day with a bat and leather belt. Her parents were beating her and forced her into a forced marriage in Pakistan with her much older cousin whom she’d never met.
“She was told that if she didn’t play the role of the happy bride in Pakistan she would die.
“When she came back to the UK she played the role and was given her mobile phone. In secret she looked up forced marriage and found out about our network and contacted us.”
The young woman fled the marriage ‘’with nothing’’ and after contacting MWNUK and had later attended the Sharia hearing in a bid to get it annulled.
“When it came to the divorce we discovered Birmingham Central Mosque had arranged for the girl’s parents to attend the afternoon session,’’ said Ms. Shahin.
“We regularly refer people to their divorce and marriage section, it’s mostly divorces. We believe the mosque provides a good service – in fact it is the only service.
“At the mosque there was a very old lady and two men sitting on the Sharia panel. There was also a ‘marriage and divorce’ person there.
“The old lady asked the forced marriage victim why she didn’t say no to the marriage. The teenage victim burst into tears. It was a forced marriage and she was being beaten, how was she supposed to say no?
“It was a forced marriage, it had to be annulled.”
The marriage was annulled after around 18 months.
But Ms. Shahin MBE says she could not understand how trustees of the mosque could not have been aware of such a case.
“For me, the statement from the mosque saying they were not aware of having dealt with forced marriage as an issue at the mosque is astonishing,’’ she said.
“They were aware of this case. They are aware of all the women we refer to the mosque for divorce who have suffered domestic violence too.”