CAIRO - As the Australian government plans to strengthen laws against forced marriages, Muslim leaders stress that the practice has cultural roots and conflicts with the Islamic teachings."I think this matter has been twisted a lot, Muslim scholar Tariq Asadullah Syed told The Australian on Tuesday, April 3.
It is important not to mix up the situation in some ethnic cultures, particularly in rural areas, and in the Islamic religion generally," the Pakistan-born Queensland imam and religious scholar added.
The issue came to light following plans by the Australian government to strengthen the criminal laws surrounding forced marriages.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon on Monday said she would introduce laws to make forcing someone into marriage illegal.
Roxon said it was difficult to know how many young women were being placed in this situation because it happened behind closed doors.
"Duress, violence and intimidation is not an acceptable way to get a young woman's consent to marriage," Roxon told ABC.
"It will be a part of the Crimes Act that deals with trafficking of people, sexual offences and others," she said.
Another ABC's Four Corners program cited several cases of young girls living in Australia being forced into unwanted marriages in Pakistan.
These marriages were opposed by Islam for putting huge pressure on the partners to accept this marriags, al-Ghazzali Islamic Center president Afroz Ali told Four Corners.
"I have seen situations where people have been coerced, that if you do not marry such and such a person we will cut you out of the family', he said.
"In some cases they would be taken back to their land, the land of the father or the mother, for example, and potentially, you know, threatened with not only physical violence, but potentially fatalities and murder."
Muslim scholar Tariq Asadullah Syed confirmed that the forced marriage was a cultural practice that is being applied in different countries across Asia, regardless of religion.
"There are some ethnic regional issues both in Pakistan and India, even Iran and China, where education is not strong," he told The Australian.
"But it's important not to mix up these cultural issues with the values of Islam, which is that parents can't enforce marriage on their child."
The issue of forced marriages has long been the center of heated debate in the West.
In Islam it is not permissible for the guardian to compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone she does not desire to marry.
Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and permission.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.