Recently, Seventeen Magazine published the horrific account of a young Palestinian-American girl who, much like her older sisters, was taken against her will at the ripe young age of 15 years old to be married to a total stranger after her mother caught her crushing on a non-Muslim, Caucasian boy.
Unlike her sisters — who unfortunately not only surrendered to the harsh alternate reality their mother and grandmother put them through, but also encouraged her to do the same (and scorned her for protesting) — Yasmine rightfully fought for her absolute right to freedom.
The article was an honest personal account which regrettably many girls across the globe can relate to. According to UNICEF, “Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights” and over 700 million women today are married before their 18th birthday. Forced marriages are atrocious and must be stopped — this much is a given. They happen for a variety of different reasons, including poverty, lack of education, and patriarchal culture. While stories like Yasmine’s are very important in order to shed light on this awful violation of basic women AND men’s human rights (men also tend to be forced to wed though at much lower rates than their female counterparts), they often fail to shed light on why this phenomenon still exists in 2016.
In today’s highly polarized world, one that often confuses religion for culture and portrays the Middle East, Southeast Asia and frankly most marginalized groups as barbaric, uncivilized perpetrators; it is so important for readers to know the whole truth. Many tend to read an article such as Yasmine’s — which depicts her particular tragic experience with her biological family’s culture — and automatically paint all Muslims/Arabs with the same broad brush. This only perpetuates the cycle of misunderstanding, hatred, fear, and Islamophobia.
While it would have been nice for Yasmine to dispel that such a barbaric act had anything to do with her biological family’s religion, it is completely understandable that her traumatic experience would leave a bitter taste in her mouth and not make differentiating her primary concern. I know that in her shoes, I would be uneasy with my family’s culture and religion after being put through hell. I am so thankful that she, unlike many girls, was able to find a way out and take control of her life and I hope that we’ll continue to bring awareness to this cause and help girls from ALL over the world and ALL cultures escape. This ISN’T a Muslim thing.
As a magazine that targets youth and includes news along with its fashion and beauty trends, Seventeen Magazine should be held to a much higher standard. They carry great responsibility. As a journalism grad, I know that the media is supposed to be fair, balanced and accurate (but of course what the media should be and what they are are two different things and that is why I’m pursuing a career in education instead). Seventeen editors had the opportunity to enlighten their readers with an aside or an Editor’s Note but instead they were irresponsible and careless, failing to do their own research and probably causing many impressionable young minds to feel some type of way about the Palestinian community — one that already many people are suspicious of.
Yes, this story needs to be told. Yes, maybe Seventeen had the best intentions. And yes, perhaps when reading Yasmine’s story some people are able to think on a higher level and know that this story doesn’t represent Islam… but when you have mainstream media constantly pushing an anti-Muslim agenda, those of us who aren’t critical thinkers and are instead one-track minded, could use a friendly reminder that hey, Islam isn’t bad and let’s not jump to conclusions.
So when daughters are abused, forced to marry, treated in a revolting manner, her abusers are anything but Muslim.
Negligence and mistakes such as these cause further rifts between the “Western” world and the Middle East. They further promote the White Man Savior agenda while subtly and continuously putting down the darker skinned barbarians of the Middle East. Forced marriages happen — there is no denying that — and I absolutely want to smash the patriarchy that makes these types of marriages happen. However, these atrocious tales are told worldwide- not only in countries that are predominantly Muslim.
Women in Islam are meant to be treated with upmost respect and dignity. Before Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Quran, girls and women had no rights in Medina. And this isn’t even my own personal bias from being raised in a Muslim household — this was literally the subject of one of the essays I read on the reading comprehension portion of my high school SAT test and a quick Google search would depict the same. At the time of the Prophet, women were thought of as objects (hm, sounds familiar) and daughters were scorned — often even buried alive. But Muhammad (PBUH) changed that. A popular Hadith notes that he once said, “He who is involved (in the responsibility) of (nurturing) daughters and is generous to them, will have them as a fortification for himself against the Hellfire.”
So when daughters are abused, forced to marry, treated in a revolting manner, then her abusers are anything but Muslim. What happened to Yasmine is exactly the opposite of what Islam expects of Muslims. So once again I find myself concluding that if we are to solve any problems in this world — it will be through education. According to the International Center for Research on Women, girls living in poverty across the globe were almost twice as likely to marry before 18. It also comes as no surprise that they reported that girls who did receive an education were less likely to marry before 18 as well. Possibly (and this is my stab at an educated guess) armed with higher education, Yasmine’s biological mother and grandmother may have been less inclined to marry her off.
Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We need to educate men and women across the globe and empower them to fight for their innate human rights. Simultaneously, however, we need to educate men and women to understand that abuses like forced marriages have nothing to do with religion. We need to have conversations about diversity and world history. The only way that we can heal this world is through knowledge, empathy, and understanding so that we can stop fearing and stereotyping those who are different from us. And if the mainstream media won’t take that pledge, then we’ll just have to do it ourselves.