In his June 22, 2020 column in the daily Al-Watan, Saudi Journalist Asil Al-Ja'ed, a member of the legal council in the Saudi Journalists Association, harshly condemned the ancient tribal custom of hajr, in which a father promises his daughter in marriage to his brother's son. This custom, says Al-Ja'ed, contravenes the Islamic shari'a, causes girls to suffer, delays their marriage and deprives them of the freedom to marry the man of their choice. He urged fathers to prefer their daughters' wellbeing over the appeasement of their tribe and society, and drop this custom.
The following are translated excerpts from his article:
Asil Al-Ja’ied (Source: Twitter.com/aaljaied)
"Hajr is one of the main ways to prevent a young woman from marrying [the man of her choice] or to delay her marriage. It is the ancient custom in which the father chooses his daughter's spouse. It developed in ancient times, when the [Arab] tribes were based on blood ties [that preserved] their cohesion as they followed their nomadic lifestyle, which is considered one of the most difficult lifestyles humanity has ever known. Sadly, however, some fathers continue to cleave to this custom, which, simply put, means that the father prohibits his daughter from marrying anyone other than her cousin.
"This custom contains many elements, such as declaring the daughter forbidden [to anyone else], so that nobody can ask for her hand, and even if someone does, he will be refused, because 'the daughter is [promised] to her cousin.' Moreover, sometimes it is the cousin himself who initiates the ban, as reflected in the proverb, 'The male cousin can take his female cousin off the horse,' which means that the male cousin is entitled to become engaged to his female cousin even after she has become engaged to another.
"Although this practice clearly violates the Islamic shari'a – for [the Prophet] said in a hadith: 'A man must not ask for the hand of a woman engaged to another' – it persists due to the blood ties between the fathers [of the two cousins who are forced to marry], and nobody asks the girl what she wants or considers the mental or intellectual suitability of the two [cousins]. The male cousin can be young. [Alternatively], he may be [already] married, and his intended spouse can be a child, who will remain promised to him until she grows up, and then he will take her as his second, third or fourth wife, no matter how wide the age gap between them. Moreover, a girl promised to her cousin may not refuse to marry him, and if she opposes this or tries to choose someone else, her relatives may hurt her, for the promise becomes irrevocable once it is declared.
"Many may be surprised that such a practice persists today, even if it was once a common rural custom. But [the fact is that] people brought it with them [from the country] to the city, and it has become a source of suffering for girls, whose free will is usurped in the name of custom and tradition.
"In my legal work, I have often heard the fathers' excuses. A father often thinks that maintaining this custom enhances the prestige of his tribe or honors his brother's son.
"Practices that permeate a certain society eventually acquire legitimacy and become a norm that is difficult to change. But our society, and all its institutions, must oppose this custom, which usurps the woman's free will and lets fathers wield authority in an arbitrary manner. It also misses the point of marriage, which [should be based on] compassion, love and mental and emotional fulfillment. Applying this custom to a woman means eliminating all her choices in life. From what I have seen, such a girl is usually anxious and sad, her relationship with her father is ruined, and she suffers from obsessive thoughts of being rescued [from their plight] for a very long time.
"I therefore say to every father: 'Your daughter is not an object that you own and can gift to whomever you like. She is a human being, fully capable and responsible [for her own life]. So support her and guide her, [and] know that if you promise her to her cousin, you may please society and your tribe, but you will lose her joy and peace of mind, and that is a clear loss."