Those who are deeply familiar with the temperament of Islamic Shariah understand that what is prohibited is not always morally reprehensible. Similarly, what is permissible is not always preferred or ethical. For instance, while deceit is a grave sin, as nations were destroyed for tampering with weights, it is imperative to save human lives through lying. Indeed, many Muslims saved their Hindu and Sikh neighbours by lying to bloodthirsty mobs during the partition of 1947. In a similar vein, while it is permissible to eat meat that fulfills the technical halal requirements, it is not ethical to consume factory processed meat where animals are kept in terrible conditions. It is this understanding that should cause Pakistanis to reflect on the third marriage in February, and filing of divorce in May, between a 50-year-old Pakistani politician and television host Aamir Liaquat Hussain, and a purportedly 18-year-old girl, Syeda Dania Shah.
The large gap between the spouses is not an issue, as many celebrities have a large age gap with their spouses. For instance, 52-year-old George Clooney married a 35-year-old Amal Alamuddin, and 27-year-old Hugh Jackman married a 40-year-old Deborra-Lee Furness. Similarly, consensual polygamy in Muslim societies like consensual polyamory in Western societies is not an issue. Even the marriage of an 18-year-old girl with an older man decades ago was part of a cultural norm where the man provided, and the woman, often without many opportunities, stayed at home to raise children. I think many Pakistanis would have grandparents with such age differences. But Aamir Liaquat Hussain does not live in those times. He is part of an urban culture with urf (social customs) that frown upon multiple marriages with exceedingly younger women. More significantly, he has been representing faith on TV channels. This is perhaps why it is important for Pakistanis to take note of how the vulgar theatrics of a con man make a bawdy spectacle of religion and saqafat (cultural values).
Young girls and boys are often impressionable. Teenagers, especially, become easy prey for those who mould them for their purposes. This includes the girls at the Red Mosque or the boys who have been recruited by powerful orators like the late Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Additionally, instructors, mentors, gurus, Imams and celebrities wield a lot of influence over youth. This asymmetry of power and control over career and grades is why relationships with instructors, mentors, gurus, and Imams are frowned upon. One is reminded of religious celebrity Nouman Ali Khan, who used his position to indulge in unbecoming conduct. However, Aamir Liaquat Hussain was not directly in a position of power with his latest spouse, though one hopes his bad example does not set a precedent for others.
On the surface, the marriage between an 18-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man is both legal and permissible. But perhaps like other Gen-Z youth, Syeda Dania Shah showcased her intimate moments with her partner on social media. Something seemed awry.
The recent filing of divorce by Syeda Dania Shah has brought to light allegations of intoxication and abuse. While accusing him of torturing and confining her and threatening her parents, she has also asked for Rs. 115 million (11.5 crores) in marriage settlement and for monthly expenditures of 100,000 rupees. For his part, Aamir Liaquat Hussain has tweeted her purported audio messages in his defence. The whole fiasco reeks of an arrangement sanctified through marriage in a Pakistani Muslim context.
Time usually reveals that such marriages rest on very little substance. Generally, both looks and impressionability fade away with age and if a marriage is not built on solid values, it usually falls apart.
I think Pakistanis who have been taught about the sanctity of marriage and family values would feel cheated, especially when our sacred institutions are toyed with by a man who often parades religiosity. In essence, marrying an 18-year-old may not be against the law – assuming that is her true age. But both Islamic and Pakistani values dictate that just because something is legal or permissible does not mean it is preferred or ethical.