“My parents forced me to marry at fourteen”…REALLY???

another job

By Kenneth Justice

My parents forced me into marriage at age fourteen” she said

One day a week I happen to work in a city that has the largest concentration of Arab immigrants outside of the Middle East. It was awhile back that I was sitting at coffee when I couldn’t help but notice that it seemed like the two mid-30ish women sitting beside me were practically having a party right there at the coffee shop and so I asked them what they were celebrating.

My friend here is officially divorced and since we don’t drink alcohol we decided to get coffee to celebrate!” said one of the women

It turns out that while she was still living in Iraq, the woman’s parents forced her into marriage at the age of fourteen. Apparently arranged marriage is still common among Muslim families and perhaps life would have turned out different for the young woman and her new husband had they stayed living in Iraq surrounded by their relatives, but shortly after her eighteenth birthday the husband moved her and their two children (imagine having two children before you turned 18!) to the United States and for the next decade and a half of her life…..things went really bad.

My husband was a tyrant” she said, “I obeyed him like I was taught, but no amount of obedience ever pleased him and he would often hit me and curse at me in front of the children. Perhaps it was the pressure of having to provide for us here in the United States, maybe it was the stress of being away from so much of our family. But after a few years of living here he started to drink alcohol and from then on things got progressively worse

Drinking alcohol is considered taboo by most Muslims, “For more than fifteen years I put up with his emotional and physical abuse and since my family was back home in Iraq it was easy to prevent them from knowing what was going on. I was ashamed, I believed it was my fault that my husband hit me. I believed I needed to be a better wife. I believed divorce was wrong so I never even considered that as an option” she said

It was about five years ago that the woman’s younger sisters immigrated to the U.S. and shortly after that they were followed by her parents. Soon, the young mother could no longer hide the emotional and physical scars of abuse that she was suffering at the hand of her husband. Her father was brought to tears by what was going on and he confronted the husband numerous times demanding that he stop; all to no avail.

It wasn’t until the woman’s husband was arrested for a third DUI that life began to turn around. Faced with the prospect of a lengthy jail sentence, he snuck away and moved back to Iraq, abandoning his wife and their children (of which they now had four). She was now free of him and with her father’s blessings she filed for divorce. “I will always live with the scars of my past” she said, and after taking a quick glance around the coffee shop to make sure nobody was looking she rolled up the sleeve of her shirt and showed me a massive scar on her arm, “it is a reminder of what my ex did to me and that I will never allow another man to do the same” she said

The woman’s parents purchased a large house right next door to where she and her children live and her father has reoriented his entire life in order to be there for his grandchildren, “My father lives with a tremendous amount of guilt for making me marry that man, but I tell him ‘what can you know, you were doing what you thought was right’

I’m not sure that it is all that kosher for Muslim women to be talking to a stranger at a coffee house so for the entire length of the conversation I tried to be very delicate and not ask too many questions. Ultimately, I suspect that it was because the woman and her sister were celebrating her divorce that had just been finalized earlier in the day that led her to being open to talking to me. Joy has a way of breaking down barriers.

I can’t really say I understand or relate to what this young woman went through. My life has been very different from the one she has lived for the last twenty years……yet I will not soon forget the haunting sadness which at times swept across her face, and also the joy that had begun to break through the darkness.

My dogs woke me up an hour earlier this morning, but coffee is still good even at 3:30 AM…..


If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a national and worldwide tour of 100 coffee houses…. check my homepage for dates and locations; I’d love to have coffee with YOU!

Categories: relationships

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75 replies

  1. My cat woke me up. This is actually just the type of Valentine’s story that I needed to hear. This woman is going to learn to love herself. That way she will be a loving mother, daughter, sister and some day lover. Coffee is a nice way to celebrate. Put some chocolate in this day and I am loving it.

  2. Freedom is empowering. Resilience is inspirational. Love without the romance on this commercially deemed romantic day. Beautiful blog KJ 🙂

  3. I’m just amazed that people open up to you like this!!!!

    • In recent months it has helped that my writing has become more popular because oddly enough; I’ve had readers contact me now that WANT to get together with me and tell me about their life…… weird I know.

    • because you say your say and have your opinion without sounding mean spirited and judgmental? You’re very nice about whatever you say and you’re posts read well and i guess people would feel honored to have you tell their story because you probably would do it better than them

  4. And in the end, she still had to ask permission from her father to divorce. Obviously in America she didn’t HAVE to, but I doubt she would have without his blessing. I’m happy her family, specifically her father, cared so much. I don’t know that every family would be so willing to go against tradition like that.

    • “And in the end, she still had to ask permission from her father to divorce” I’m glad you caught that TK because I was thinking along the SAME lines as you when I was listening to her.

  5. I hope this woman is in a safe place now. Domestic abuse is a very complicated syndrome and needs to be addressed by a licensed professional.

  6. I totally relate to this story and gave me goose bumbs reading it 😦
    I’ve meet many women, including my self, living free in the Hitler’s land.
    I can’t never understand how those parent think it’s the right thing handing a 14 yrs old ( or 15,16,) to a stranger, it’s like life time jail for never committing anything . I feel horrible for the unfair torture she had to go through but glad that she finally ended her misery.
    Violence and power will never win woman’s heart.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  7. For reasons that I won’t get into, first this post had me crying and by the end of he story I was smiling through those tears. Happy Valentines Day to you and safe journeys. Blessings, Lydia

  8. This story speaks to the courage that all people innately possess, even when faced with insurmountable odds. I enjoy your posts immensely and only wish I had a coffee house nearby that was half as interesting! Thanks!

  9. Thank you for writing about those things that make one cringe…and we go..huh..?
    I could relate to more parts of her life than I care to admit…and people ask me why I have tattoos in certain places…and they are to cover scars…because sometimes..one just does not need to remember every second of every day pain…
    And even if it is a Hallmark holiday…I have great joy that I can love….

  10. ‘Joy has a way of breaking down barriers’ yes! Well put, as always.

    I really feel your willingness to be open to others is the gift, willing to ask and to listen. Thanks for a great read this morning 🙂

  11. Sadly I have no pets but one day that’ll be fixed. I can’t imagine having to get married at that age. I know I have heard of fairly successful stories when it’s come to arranged marriages but I’ve also heard some real horror stories (like this one). That’s just so young to have to grow up so quickly. It’s wonderful to know the parents ended up being that supportive of her once they knew. There are so many, regardless of religious background, who would have blamed her for the situation so I’m really happy to hear that wasn’t the case this time. The whole world has been opened up to this lady – best of luck to her in her new journey! 🙂

  12. I have no way to relate to the suffering she has endured. It is certainly greater than anything I have yet to face. But, I do know what it is to try to do what I think the right things is to do, only to suffer in dehumanizing ways for it. Those were times when through fear or inability I was unable to communicate my struggles and it rendered me alone. We were not made to struggle alone and it is often the simple act of letting someone else in that transforms a dehumanizing fight into a fight for life. I am glad she found her family.

  13. What a bummer Valentine’s Day post, Mr. Justice. You should be ashamed of yourself. 😉
    I’d buy that newly single woman a round of coffee every 15 mintues. Laugh with her, take her advice and get the name of her lawyer. Oh wait, did I say that. 🙂 Cheers!

    Happy Valentine’s Day, to you!

  14. It is amazing how culture traps us into bad situations. This woman was a victim of the culture. She was fortunate to move to the US as in Iraq she would never get that divorce. I remind many of you that it has not been that many years ago that a woman in the US would have faced similar aspects of an abusive relationship and stayed because of the stigma of divorce. We have come a long way. She is a great role model for the women of her culture and I hope she will teach her own children not to follow the ‘bad’ aspects of their father, and find the good in Islam.

    • Yes. But primarily, she was the victim of an abusive man. Abusive men (and women) are abusive no matter what culture or religion they come from. Some cultures make it harder, and some cultures make it easier to get away, but it is never easy to get away, even with the most liberal divorce laws. There is a psychological trap that holds victims of abuse in. That trap can be just as confining as conservative divorce laws–and it exists right here in the “free and liberal” West. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for giving people the freedom to marry and divorce as they choose, and I’m not in favor of arranged marriages. But the main issue here is domestic abuse and violence, which crosses all cultural and religious lines. What I found most difficult was hearing her make excuses for her ex-husband’s abusive behavior. However, that is also very common, and is part of the trap that holds victims in.

    • “But the main issue here is domestic abuse and violence, which crosses all cultural and religious lines. What I found most difficult was hearing her make excuses for her ex-husband’s abusive behavior.”
      –One must consider, however, the woman’s worldview. What she grew up believing and what she was taught. These mindsets become a very real part of one’s being. This type of issue is not something that is so easy to overcome. I’m not condoning it or anything but the Quran does allow a man to beat his wife if she is disobedient to him, unfortunately. Another thing is that, when you come from a country that is fundamentally muslim, there is no separation between religion and state. The religion is the law. That’s why so many muslims in other countries think that Christianity is a huge joke. Because to them, Madonna is Christian, Beyoncé is a Christian – just because they are Americans. If your American, you’re a Christian. I am a Christian, but in a Muslim nation I would never tell the people that I am a Christian. I would tell them that I’m a follower of Christ. They respect Christ’s teachings, but they don’t respect ‘Christians’.
      Unfortunately, even though, in a perfect world we’d like to see the whole issue of domestic abuse and violence crossing all cultural and religious lines, it doesn’t work that way. I live in Brazil and there is a huge issue with Indigenous infanticide. It is murder, flat out. But the government and the ministry for the protection of the culture of the Indigenous people say that we can’t interfere with their beliefs. So then, in their case, the murder of young children and babies is perfectly fine. We fight against this issue, but we still haven’t had victory.

    • Good points. Mainly I want to point out that domestic violence and abuse occurs in all cultures. It can be very difficult to break away from even in areas of the world with the most liberal attitudes and laws about marriage and divorce. I do agree that in very conservative and fundamentalist cultures it is even harder, and sometimes nearly impossible, to break out of. This includes conservative and fundamentalist subcultures within more liberal countries such as the United States. Some countries and cultures do have much farther to go than others on these issues. And their people–especially their women and children–do suffer even more grievously as a result. And yet, domestic violence and abuse still occurs even within the most liberal, “enlightened” cultures and households.

    • Yes, it’s so true, this whole issue of violence and abuse occurring in all cultures. It really is so sad. Women and children really get the worse of it. We are currently in the post production phase of a film to combat the issue of human sex trafficking and tourism (for the world cup here in brazil this year). But this issue is very real and very actual, and oh so heart-wrenching, not just here, but throughout the whole world.

    • Also, in countries where there is no separation between religion and state, the religion that reigns tends to be a very conservative, fundamentalist version of that religion. Every religion has its fundamentalists. But those fundamentalists don’t speak for or represent the entire religion. There are Muslim moderates and Muslim mystics who have just as big a problem with Muslim fundamentalists as Christian moderates and mystics have with Christian fundamentalists. If Christian fundamentalists got control of any Western country, the conditions in that country wouldn’t be all that different from the conditions in countries ruled by Muslim fundamentalists. This really isn’t a Christian vs. Muslim thing. It’s a liberal (meaning “free,” not “leftist”) vs. fundamentalist thing. That tension runs across all religions. However, in many majority Muslim countries, the fundamentalists have far more numbers and power than they do in most majority Christian countries. This is something Muslims are going to have to work out for themselves, within their own religious community. Yet they still do have to deal with and answer to the wider world, just as Christians do.

    • I totally agree with everything you said. And I understand what you are saying about having to answer to the wider world, but it’s still a really sticky topic. I only say this because of what we are experiencing with the issue of indigenous infanticide here in Brazil. I can’t grasp how the government could allow the killing of little babies and kids because of indigenous culture’s worldview. There is an awesome group (we know the founders) called Atini that is fighting for the rights of these children. Children that are born with some type of defect, twins, children born out of wedlock, or just because the chief doesn’t feel good about the child, are killed, buried alive. All this because of their animistic beliefs and fear of angering the spirits. So I want to know why this still hasn’t been resolved. The UN laws are very clear on this matter, however, the practice of indigenous infanticide is still real today.

  15. Interesting post, Kenneth, especially the coincidence of posting on Valentine’s Day.

    I was thinking about several of the comments that reflect on Muslim girls marrying young. There are laws in place in many Muslim countries to change this, but culture dies a hard death when it has been taught as truth for so long. Having spent 10 years in Azerbaijan which, like Turkey, considers itself a tolerant Muslim country by heritage, I have seen change.

    But, conversely, my mother from Nebraska, was no better off than this young lady you spoke to… and with the same result: My mother had 5 children by the time she was 25, though the 3rd one died while she was pregnant with the 5th. She went through 2 divorces by 35, the second due to alcohol and abuse as well.

    Who’s to say that the fate of women (or men) is because of religion? Do Christians have a lock on luck? I think not. It’s a human issue, not a religious one, and only when we stop cloaking and protecting bad behavior in religious piety will we make any real progress. Just ask the Catholics these days.

    In any case, this is a valid discussion to have and I look forward to seeing you here in May. We’ll catch more details as the time approaches. Good luck and enjoy your travel adventures!

    • I’m glad you gave the example of your mom in Nebraska; its true, people of all sorts of faiths (and those who aren’t even religious) often have to deal with similar cultural pressures from their family and community…….

    • So true… and that’s why it’s so heartbreaking. Knowing that things could be so much better for people around the world, if only… So how do we help- which issue do we address? Do outsiders have a right (obligation?) to intervene?

      This is a really hard issue to get to the heart of or to find the beginning for. Is the problem the lack of parental compassion or protection? Religious pressure? Lack of governmental safeguards for their populace?

      Sometimes the very people we expect will protect us are the very ones who cause the pain…

  16. I feel for this girl and to some degree understand her pain. About 10 years ago I got caught up in a relationship with a middle eastern man. He was so sweet! …in the beginning. As soon as he had me, his controlling behavior began to show and after being forced into things, threats on my life, etc I finally had the courage to walk away. It took a restraining order and a court hearing, but he’s gone. (We almost got married – whew! Close call.)

  17. Wow! 3:30am. Don’t tell you’re a morning person =)
    It really is sad what a lot of the muslim women go through. From what I know, the Quran says that your wife is your field, meaning, your piece of property, an object (so I’ve been told). Domestic violence toward women is divinely ordained and justifiable, according to the Quran, unfortunately. Here is a quote from the Quran:
    “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is most high.”
    This really makes me sad, and a little angry.
    When I was in Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to help paint a women’s prison. One of the girls there was only 15 years old and she was there because she tried to run away from getting married. Another girl was there because her husband (much older than her) put her there. She was very young and had given him only daughter’s until that point. She hated sleeping with him and I believe he beat her because she didn’t give him any boys. She tried to run away and did so and stayed with her aunt. He then found her and put her in prison. He was there that day talking with her and my friend (Uzbequi girl who spoke the language) was trying to talk some sense into him. At least this is what I remember from the story. I don’t speak Dari and my friend just related this to me. Anyhow, it really is very sad. However, not all muslims are like this and some of deserving of respect (I think).
    Just my 2 cents worth.

    • “When I was in Afghanistan…”

      I swear Staci…. you have such great comments but you keep introducing so many far away places that you have been to that I find myself drooling over your travels!!!!!

      “However, not all muslims are like this and some of deserving of respect (I think).”

      Right. An important point; not all Muslims are like this…. and many are becoming more progressive in the area of women’s rights 🙂

    • “more progressive in the area of women’s rights”
      -A BIG here here to that. Those poor girls. It’s definitely no way to live. Have you seen that movie Anna Karenina? Really sad actually. How women become outcasts if they’re divorced. The men no, but those poor women…

      Thanks for the kind words Kenneth. Love your blog.

    • I read most of the book lol but no I haven’t seen the film…… NPR did a 30 minute radio documentary on Egyptian girls and female circumcision and how there are a lot of families in Egypt that still force the girls to do it…. holy cow that documentary practically had me in tears ;*(

    • I’ll bet. If it put you in tears, I probably wouldn’t be able to finish it. I’ve got the documentary, “Nefarious-Merchants of Souls”, by “Exodus Cry” on my computer and will be watching it soon. I’m sure It’s going to cut my heart. I better make sure I’m in the right frame of mind that day. I’ve heard about female circumcision before. That’s got to be awful.

  18. Mr. Monk – talk about variety of posts – whew, looks like the coffee shop is the pivot point place for so MANY issues.

    and well I would like to add one comment to your awesome quote

    “Joy has a way of breaking down barriers.”

    to that I add…

    “and EXIT joy jas a sweetness all its own….”


  19. You say in your blog post ‘ Apparently arranged marriage is still common in Muslim families’….in the UK this is very well known, arranged marriages are not just common, they are the norm – and woe betide any young woman who kicks against the arrangements. She will be ostracised by her community, the family ‘honour’ will be tarnished (they think) and draconian punishment will be meted out. Usually the male in the marriage can behave in any way he likes, break any or all of the Islamic codes of behaviour, but the wife must just tolerate it.
    I really try to respect other faiths, and Islam in its pure form has much to recommend it.
    But – and it is a BIG but – the cultural practices from different societies which have been tacked on to Islam are really misogynistic and downright cruel and unacceptable, especially in enlightened nations such as Britain and the USA. We should all demand that Muslims who live in our countries abide by the cultural norms that we have determined, and tell them that as far as we are concerned, women are free to choose their own life partners.

    • As a Muslim woman, I am so utterly tired of people lumping Muslims, especially Muslim men, into one categorically abusive/ oppressed people and judging situations and people without having any real inside knowledge or experience. It’s exhausting trying to defend our loved ones who are the nicest, kindest people who are genuinely wonderful people to others who generalize and assume that culture = religion and all Muslims act a certain way.

      It is so refreshing to see a post where this is not the case and that the (majority) of commenters recognize that domestic violence and cruelty occur in every religion and in every culture. I hope Allah continues to give her strength and empower her during this time of growth and rebirth.

    • So true- We do need to hear more from other points of view and experiences, not just generalities and assumptions. Kenneth does a good job of meeting people across the board, from all backgrounds to bring these issues for discussion.

      Thanks to you both for making this an interesting place to talk.

  20. I’m so thankful that she was able to get the support she needed from her family. The fact that she had that validation and love from her father has probably helped her more than anything else on this earth. So often, the treatment and reaction to the abuse does even more damage than the abuse itself.

  21. I worked with Domestic Violence victims and stories such as these are unfortunately common and disturbingly too real… right on our doorsteps… May God elevate this woman in her new steps in life and she will grow, she will become independent and she will move on. – unfortunately CULTURE is a big killer in our communities and has been dominating the religious purity and practices for centuries… it is sad… But it can be fought and i can be worked against… No one regardless of religion, colour, background deserves such a life i know many non-Muslim women and girls who have been in similar predicaments through relationships of their own choosing at first and even at times through those through family/friend ties. Thank you for this. I recently wrote a short story – with a similar theme on my blog too.

  22. Domestic violence is common the world over, not just Muslim countries.

    The worst of it is that it is usually hidden and totally undetected, by family and friends. The abuser often strikes where it is least noticeable and the bruises hidden under clothing. Verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. Repeated and demeaning verbal attack becomes so ingrained in the person being abused, that they are mentally scarred for life and despite counselling and/or medical treatment, some never recover.

    How glad I am that this woman was able to break free and potentially make a better life for herself and her children.

    (I had an abusive Employer once and no amount of high salary was going to keep me shackled to that job, so after one particularly bad screaming match when my Employer vented his rage on me and I shrank back in fear of physical violence, I burst into tears and walked out, never to return. Needless to say, I only lasted about 3 months in that live-in job. I had visions of saving enough from the high salary and minimal outgoings for a deposit to buy a house in 3 years – I barely lasted 3 months).

    It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship, but it takes great personal sacrifice to stay and suffer in silence.

  23. Reblogged this on In My Head and commented:
    I can relate to this story on so many levels. I’m also positive that there are far too many others out there that can relate as well.
    *Further validation that my decision is the right one!*

  24. Moving story for a Valentine’s Day. Thank you for another thoughtful and thought provoking post.

  25. I’m so glad that poor woman is finally free to live her life. This story hits close to my heart; one of my best friends is Indian and her parents want to arrange her marriage. And because it is tradition, even though she doesn’t really want to, she says she will most likely go along with it. I worry for her everyday because of stories like this. Great post!

    • I have an acquaintance of mine who is from India and she’s got the most progressive Indian parents I’ve ever heard of (and she agrees!) because they are fine with whoever she marries. But she has told me that her parents are very atypical compared to most of her relatives.

  26. l. How old was the man she was forced to marry?
    2. Art boys forced to marry at 14?

  27. Very powerful….thanks for sharing!

  28. I can’t say it’s wrong or right (arranged marriages), because I read a study that mentions them lasting longer than non-arranged ones. Funny thing, I presume the studies don’t take into account the strict nature of the cultures and the overall theme of divorces not being allowed. This woman broke the mold by first moving away from the family and secondly, her husband moving back to the home country due to an expected prison sentence. That’s not the case for others in her situation. So, are arranged marriages better? I wouldn’t say so, but that isn’t to say they’re any worse either. Your post was great as usual.

    • Errol,

      Well said, I definitely wouldn’t say whether they are wrong or right either; ultimately I think its up to the community and the families……I’ve heard of a couple examples where it turned out okay

  29. yikes! great story. thanks for giving that poor woman a voice.

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