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The Rise of ‘Bride Snatching’ in Kazakhstan

The Rise of ‘Bride Snatching’ in Kazakhstan

A prominent international policy group, the Wilson Centre has reported on the rise of forced marriages in Kazakhstan. There are specific historical and cultural attitudes that distinguish the abuse of women’s rights in this region that set it apart from other nations. In the southern areas of Kazakhstan, many men who want to get married will simply ‘hunt’ out a possible bride through social links or personal investigation and bypass the normal Islamic discussion process of seeking permission from the woman’s male guardians and the potential bride herself. They will then arrange to kidnap the unsuspecting woman or girl and organise other unscrupulous accomplices to perform a marriage ceremony with or without the consent of the unfortunate bride to be.

It is known as kelisimsiz alyp qashu ("to take and run without agreement"). The dangerous state of affairs is not helped by the fact that consensual kidnapping known as kelissimmen alyp qashu ("to take and run with agreement"), is at present widely practiced and socially acceptable. This occurs when a girl may explicitly or even implicitly indicate interest in a relationship and may even agree to get married and as a consequence she may be suddenly taken from her home and placed immediately into a marriage setting with formal consent gained in symbolic items of clothing worn by the new ‘bride’ and a letter written to her family indicating her change of circumstances.

The phenomenon has come to be known as ‘bride snatching’ and often ends up with women and girls permanently trapped in often violent and abusive relationships with no recourse for justice available to them. The problem has existed unchallenged for so long by the Kazakh government and international community such that incidents have risen sharply in recent years. Victims of this crime not only suffer the violation of their rights in terms of being married without their consent, but they often stay in the undesired relationship due to the social stigma of leaving the marital home and the shame divorce brings upon the family as well as the fact that they have a clear understanding that there are no authorities that will aid them in their plight.

Organisations such as the Wilson Centre have attributed the underlying causes of this illegitimate means of marriage as being linked to the post-Soviet transition period where access to women employment and education as well as social policies that facilitated child care were more available to women, as shown by the following Wilson centre quote; “Kidnap marriages, as well as arranged marriages, became illegal shortly after the Soviet state incorporated Central Asia in the early 1920s…..Marxist ideals that promoted gender equality are being replaced with new nationalist ideals that emphasize more "traditional" gender roles.” The implication here, is that with the ending of communist influence, the predominantly Muslim population of Kazakhstan, have reverted back to the values of the Ottoman Khilafah that ended in 1924 and as such, have been placed in a social time warp where Shariah influence is setting the women of the region back in terms of their political rights and public service mobilisation.

Other significant reasons for men preferring to kidnap a bride include speeding up the costly process of marriage that can overburden the average man who is of low income. In some cases the potential bride may already be expecting the prospective groom’s child or it may simply be that the man did not respect the family’s right to refuse a proposal of marriage.

In light of the perceived reasons for the alarming increase in bride snatching, which some NGO’s estimate to be as high as 60-75% of all marriages, secular institutions such as the Wilson Centre have put forward a number of proposed solutions to address the problem. Unsurprisingly, the promotion of gender equality policies and selective legal reforms are considered top of the agenda.

Social support centres for victims and greater means for women to enter the workplace and earn an independent income are also highlighted as proposed strategies as indicated in a report by the Wilson Centre; “Kazakh nationalism is stressed more than gender equality……Encourage changes in the legal process……Local NGOs could establish local crises centres…….young men are more likely to kidnap women against their will if they feel insecure about their own economic situation….”

With all of these oft repeated options given to the Kazakh government, there is a blinding oversight in the political appraisal of the problem of bride snatching that will make any attempt to solve it completely futile.

Firstly, all of the reasons given to explain the phenomenon of bride snatching are symptomatic of an underlying social culture that devalues and objectifies women. This is something that existed under the Soviet political ideology that dominated the region and also exists in the current secular political culture of Kazakhstan. The only difference that one should acknowledge is that under the iron control of Marxist policies, people may have found it more difficult to practice bride snatching at levels that we see today. However gross violations and abuse of women’s rights were a regular part of Soviet life as slavery, imprisonment, execution and poverty are well documented. Economic independence does not and has not ever changed the status of women or given them greater respect in any society that has adopted this policy. This is proven in the high rates of harassment, unequal pay practices and limited promotional prospects that exist in all established democratic nations.

Secondly, fundamental flaws in the analysis also exist in the way the Kazakh national identity is dealt with. Whilst it cannot be denied that cultural practices can be a great obstacle to women’s rights, such as the un-Islamic and unnecessary high costs involved in getting married, it should not be assumed that it is the Islamic culture that is the great threat here. In fact the exact opposite is true. In Islam, women are regarded in the highest terms of respect and are guarded from being used, abused and objectified in any social or political context, be it in the advertising industry or in the work that is allowed for women who may want to use their physical attributes to earn money.

This includes the invalidity of any marriage without the woman or girl giving her explicit consent to marry. In addition, Islam bestows great respect for the role of women as mothers and wives, a role traditionally undermined and punished by the social and economic structure of Capitalism. Under the Islamic social system of the Khilafah, taken from the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad (saw), specified policies exist to regulate the relationship between males and females both in public and private. Islam forbids the liberal culture of men and women mixing freely and as such, misunderstandings of the intent to marry or women giving birth outside of consensual marriage would be very difficult to arise.

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

” “

“A woman must not travel except with a Mahram and a man must not enter upon her except if she has a Mahram.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 1763).

The Islamic judicial system of the Khilafah creates a society where women feel safe to engage on their social roles knowing that there are strict and enforceable laws that severely punish anyone that denies them their rights.
These rights do not only encompass issues linked to kidnap or physical assault, but even extend as far as to punish anyone who dares slander or circulate false rumours about women, which, as we know, can clearly harm the lives of women directly and indirectly. Allah (swt) says,

)) ((

“Verily, those who accuse chaste women, who never even think of anything touching their chastity, and are good believers — are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter, and for them will be a great torment” [TMQ al-Noor 23].

The importance of God consciousness (Taqwa) or the keen awareness Muslims have for the accountability they have - not to the State but to the Creator Himself - is a factor that would be deeply rooted in a personality educated and raised in the Islamic society of the Khilafah. As such self-discipline and respect for women are considered to be the social norms for citizens under this Islamic System.

In light of these clear Islamic principles and laws, which are only a hint of the great state of protection that Islam affords women, we can now understand how the Khilafah of the past did not share the sordid reality that exists for all women today, be it the global proliferation of domestic violence, bride snatching in Kazakhstan, forced marriages in Africa or Asia, infanticide of female foetuses in India or the sickening international slave trade in women who are exploited by individuals or groups affected by the capitalist mentality of maximising profits regardless of the consequences. Islam never had a women’s rights movement as women had their rights under its rule. Under the Khilafah, women knew that they were not obliged to work as the male members of their family or the State were responsible for their economic maintenance and they also knew that they were entitled to free education and could engage in paid work or political activities in a manner that agreed with Islam and in a manner where they never felt guilty or degraded if they chose to pursue the noble task of nurturing their families and teaching the next generation the high Islamic values that breeds personalities that see no benefit in harming or abusing others. It is only the Khilafah State that can secure human rights in a manner that is not merely theoretical but in a manner that exists in reality. The debate over a modern Kazakh national identity versus a traditional Kazakh identity should be abandoned and replaced by a clear Islamic agenda reflected in this quote from the Quran.

)) * * * (( ]5:48[

“Then We revealed the Book to you (O Muhammad!) with Truth, confirming whatever of the Book was revealed before, and protecting and guarding over it. Judge, then, in the affairs of men in accordance with the Law that Allah has revealed, and do not follow their desires in disregard of the Truth which has come to you. For each of you We have appointed a Law and a way of life. And had Allah so willed, He would surely have made you one single community; instead, (He gave each of you a Law and a way of life) in order to test you by what He gave you. Vie, then, one with another in good works. Unto Allah is the return of all of you; and He will then make you understand the truth concerning the matters on which you disagreed.” [Al-Maidah: 48]

It is not only Kazakh men that should be accounted for the correct implementation of these noble verses, but the leadership and entire government of Kazakhstan itself.

Imrana Mohammed
Member of The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir


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