Friday, 15 June 2012

We Sat Down for a chat....about forced marriages

We're delighted to welcome author Sufiya Ahmed to our blog to talk about forced marriages and other important issues that she raises in her novel, Secrets of the Henna Girl (our review) .

Author Sufiya Ahmed
M: What inspired you to write this important novel about forced marriages?

Sufiya: I worked for a number of years as a parliamentary researcher in the House of Commons. Whilst there I met some very brave women, survivors of forced marriages, who were lobbying MPs for better support in their campaign against forced marriages. I found these women to be inspirational and courageous and I listened, observed and decided that a British girl’s forced marriage experience was a story that had to be told.

M: Can you explain the difference between a forced and arranged marriage?

Sufiya: A forced marriage is one in which an individual or both individuals do not wish to marry each other and is forbidden in all religions. An arranged marriage is one in which two people are introduced to each other through traditional methods, and is a marriage that both individuals enter willingly.

M: Your novel, Secrets of the Henna Girl, explores the importance of female bonding, friendships and support.  Can you say more about what ‘sisterhood’ means to you?

Sufiya: Sisterhood to me is about valuing women’s rights and sharing those rights. It means having empathy for women who don’t have access to the opportunities most of us take for granted. The freedom, the right to choose, being in charge of our own destiny. Sisterhood is about helping our more disadvantaged sisters by sharing our knowledge and our political power.

M: What does fatherhood mean to you?

Sufiya: My father’s name is Farook and he has only ever been three things to me: protective, loving and proud. Fathers are meant to protect their daughters from harm and make them feel safe, and more importantly not put obligations to other relatives over the happiness of their daughters.

M: A number of myths surrounding forced marriages and Islam are explored in the novel.  What do you think some of the key ones are?

Sufiya: A lot of people think that Islam allows or encourages forced marriages because the majority of people doing the forcing in the UK are Muslims. This is so far from the truth. In Islam a marriage is only valid if both the bride and groom give their consent. The teaching of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) is very clear in that a forced marriage is not a marriage at all. I hope readers of Secrets of the Henna Girl will come to realise that forced marriages are cultural practises and completely forbidden by Islam.

M: Is there anything else you would like to say about this topic?

Sufiya: You may have noticed the government has announced plans to criminalise forced marriages. I welcome this as I think it is important to send out society’s condemnation of this heinous crime. However at the same time I would say that the new law, although is a necessity, is not sufficient. I hope the government won’t think it’s done its job by ticking a box. More work needs to be done to educate frontline services; teachers, social workers and police. I am a firm believer in prevention rather than prosecution.

M: Where can young people get more information and advice about child protection and forced marriages?

Sufiya: There are many charities out there that can help young people. I would advise contacting the Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign Office. They have a helpline and some wonderful people working there.  They also have a public facebook page which is called the Forced Marriage Unit.

Also for child protection issues the NSPCC would be able to help: or 0800 800 5000

Thank you very much, Sufiya, for these insightful answers. It really is an important issue and I would urge people to read Secrets of the Henna Girl (read our review).

And here's a heads up.  Sufiya says she is writing a new book "about a young girl who moves to London from India. It’s a story of settling into a new home and a secret that she tries to keep from her new friends".

 You can find our more about Sufiya Ahmed at her blog.


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