Why Muslim Girls Marry Older Men

Young Muslim girls continue to marry older men, sometimes twice their age, and this outdated cultural tradition lives on in select countries and communities. This ugly phenomenon is certainly not new. Though it seems out-of-place in the West and in Muslim countries that are progressive on paper only. 

What I don’t understand is why and how this custom continues to take place when there is increasing knowledge of Islam and rights for women.

Don’t Muslim girls and women know they have a choice?  

From my interviews and research, younger girls marry older men for a host of reasons. Here’s a short list to explain this ongoing trend:

  • Girls have no choice. Their families, or fathers, make the decision for them.
  • Widows are desperate to remarry. (In one case, a younger girl, who had been married before and now widowed, accepted an older man and his grown kids because it was her only way ‘out’ of depression and the social stigma of being a widow, which can be a disgrace to the girl and her family.)
  • Some want financial security. (In another example, a girl in her 20s accepted an older man to be wealthy. As her husband aged, she became his nurse, caring for his health until his death. This girl didn’t seem to care so long as she was rich.)
  • Girls in abusive households choose marriage. (I have personal stories of women who married older men because they were abused by their fathers. Sadly, in one case, the girl escaped her father’s abuse and then endured abuse by her mother-in-law and husband. Today, she is divorced. At her father’s death, she didn’t shed a tear.)

Too often, girls in countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, to name a few, have little say in marriage. Even girls in the West from conservative families are bound by familial rule and cultural norms. 

The best way to counter the savage practice is education.

When girls are taught that Islam gives them the right to choose their marriage partner–in addition to choosing a career, for example–then they can use Islam against their Muslim fathers and families.

Islam is the most powerful resource for a Muslim girl.

I remember meeting a strong-willed girl in London, who loved to travel more than anything in the world. Before her marriage, when she was living at home, her father had once tried to prevent her from traveling alone. 

She responded, “Is travel haram?” Her father had no answer.

With Islam on their side, girls can defend their rights. They can speak up and say ‘no’ to traditions and customs that have no based in religion. Knowledge of Islam gives girls the right to say ‘no’ to unsuitable marriage partners.

If only more girls knew how to exercise their Islamic rights.

Disclaimer: Not all Muslim girls and women are able to speak against their families, especially dominating fathers and tribal elders, even when they know they have the right to choose a spouse and/or fall in love. These are the girls who lose their Islamic right. Once married, it is increasingly difficult for a girl to be rescued from a husband and a home where she is unloved. Sadly, this phenomenon still takes place across the world today.


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