Secret Marriages, Abuse and Religious Witch Hunts

Keep your private life private, and keep your heart connected to Allah. And be very careful about whom you allow into your personal space. Far too many communities are filled with Muslims who speak more about your obligations to them than about your individual rights as a believer in front of Allah. And they are very selective about which parts of Islam they will emphasize and which parts they will ignore, or outright deny.

In these communities of selective righteousness, their teachings about your religious obligations to others can be summarized into three words: License to harm.

In other words, they emphasize teachings that give them the license to harm you while convincing you that your Lord requires you to subject yourself to this continuous harm.

Ideology of Abusive Families and Communities

Just like abusive parents and family who speak excessively about your obligation to obey them and keep ties while completely ignoring the emotional and physical harm you suffer daily in their presence, abusive communities and their leaders will shout “Marriage is public!” if they feel you haven’t given them a front row seat into every private decision you make, whether in marriage or divorce.

Here, their goal isn’t to “command the good and forbid the evil” as they claim. It is to emotionally manipulate you into trusting them so that they can have all the fodder they need to micromanage every decision you make, even if it means you continuously suffering harm as a result. Meanwhile, they want you to believe that they only want what’s best for you (and the community) in hopes you’ll continuously subject yourself to their harm “for the sake of Allah.”

If you remind them of every person’s right to decide what is best for them—whether in their level of dealing with their parents or family, or to whom they announce their marriage or divorce—these abusers will speak of all the real and imaginary harm they’ve seen come to people who “break ties” with family or who keep their marriage or divorce “secret.”

By using terms like “breaking ties” and “secret marriage,” they intentionally label permissible decisions as sinful and evil because this allows them to act on the underlying principle of their own abusive behavior: “I have the right to abuse you because you remind me of other abusers!” But they call their abuse “commanding the good and forbidding the evil.”

In other words, they defend their harming of innocent believers by pointing to the behavior of others who harm innocent believers, claiming that their abuse is justified because it will stop others’ abuse.

‘I’m Abusing You For the Sake of Allah!’

Once a woman defended her community’s widespread harassment of divorced women (and men) by saying, “This is commanding the good and forbidding the evil! If we make divorced couples feel ashamed of their choices, then we can lower the divorce rate and make people think twice before they throw away their marriage!”

Similarly, abusive communities and their leaders criminalize the halaal choice of keeping a marriage private until the couple feels ready to announce it publicly via a waleemah (as is the Sunnah). To achieve this criminalization of the halaal, they call a nikaah “secret marriage” if the public announcement hasn’t been made yet.

But it’s not that they really believe a nikaah is “secret marriage.” For it is well known in Islam that the time of the waleemah (public marriage announcement) is after the nikaah and is decided by the couple themselves—not by anyone else. And the married couple can schedule the waleemah at any time they like, whether it is on the day of the nikaah itself, or even months or years later.

This has been the practice of Muslims for generations. So what’s new?


Except that modern day Muslims want to put an Islamic stamp on their public witch-hunts aimed at “outing” men and women in marriages they disapprove of (usually men and women in polygyny). And using terms like “secret marriage” evoke the necessary widespread emotional outrage that gives them that stamp.

“Secret” implies that deception is involved and that the marriage is being intentionally hidden from the public (presumably for evil purposes), and even if neither is the case, so long as you are emotionally outraged at the word “secret marriage”, you’ll go along with the witch-hunt. When emotions are involved, it doesn’t matter if you’re actually joining a campaign that could harm your own soul or ruin the lives of innocent believers, you feel justified because, as the abusive ideology goes: As long as I’m wronging someone for the purpose of stopping others from wronging someone, then I’m on the side of right.

Religious Witch Hunts

When abusive communities and leaders want to get away with public witch-hunts, they need to gain widespread Muslim support. And this begins with community abusers convincing themselves (and us, the innocent bystanders) that they are backed by Allah. So they dig up fatwas from respectable scholars of the past (or request them from scholars of the present), then present these fatwas as proof that their social lynching of “evil believers” is part of the greater good of “commanding the good and forbidding the evil.” This makes their religious witch-hunts look like piety instead of the egregious abuse of innocent believers that it actually is.

They’ll also try to pull on our heartstrings by mentioning real cases of abuse and wrongdoing so that we are distracted from the fact that a person’s private marriage choices fit into neither of these categories—even when those private marriage choices fall short of the Islamic ideal. But because we’re emotionally moved by our desire to root out genuine abuse and wrongdoing, it doesn’t occur to us that we are actually becoming agents of abuse and wrongdoing by being guilted into joining the witch-hunt.

These community abusers also selectively choose hadith (such as prophetic instructions to announce a marriage) so that they can distract us from other hadith (such as prophetic teachings that safeguard believers’ private lives and require us to stay out of matters that don’t concern us), so that we will actually believe we are doing good when we join in the social lynching.

In this, I am reminded of the words of Allah which have been translated to mean, “And when it is said to them, ‘Make not mischief on the earth,’ they say, ‘We are only peacemakers.’ Verily, they are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not’” (Al-Baqarah, 2:11-12).

Be careful you aren’t falling into mischief-making while imagining you’re doing good.

Protect Your Soul

Too many of us are falling prey to sacrificing our souls because ostensibly religious Muslims are convincing us to join their social lynching campaigns aimed at tearing into the private lives of other believers. But here’s the bottom line: No matter how much you disagree with someone’s private life or choices—and no matter how “wrong” their private life and choices actually are—it is not your right to start or join a public witch-hunt against them.

Unless someone is committing a crime so harmful and egregious that the public must be warned against them—such as sexual abuse, rape, or plotting against the believers— these public with-hunts are completely un-Islamic and harm only our own souls.

And no, a man and a woman delaying the public announcement of their marriage (in monogamy or polygyny) isn’t an egregious harm that warrants a public witch-hunt and social lynching. Just like you have the right to make decisions (and even mistakes) in your private life and not be publicly humiliated and accosted as a result, so it is for every other child of Adam on earth.

So be careful that you’re not conflating your personal disagreement or disgust (even if justified) with someone’s private life choices with your right to “out” them and publicly humiliate them for those choices.

Also be careful that you don’t ever sacrifice your own personal, emotional, and spiritual needs trying to fulfill someone else’s definition of a “good Muslim” or good community member.

Stick To Righteousness In These Confusing Times

If you want to protect your emaan and private life during these Last Days in which the ignorant are our leaders and wrongdoing is being passed off as righteousness, then don’t allow anyone to manipulate you into doing anything you feel uncomfortable doing. If it wavers in your heart, leave it alone, no matter how many people say it is good, necessary, or Islamic. And most certainly don’t do it if it will cause harm to someone else. You are never obligated to wrong another human being. Abusers will try to convince you that you are evil for not accepting their abuse of you or for not joining their abuse of others. Don’t listen to them, even if they are your own parents, family, or respected community leaders.

In a famous hadith (as listed in An-Nawawi’s collection of forty hadith), Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Righteousness is that about which the soul feels at ease and the heart feels tranquil. And wrongdoing is that which wavers in the soul and causes uneasiness in the breast, even though people have repeatedly given their legal opinion [in its favor]” (Ahmad).

So no matter how many fatwas or “legal opinions” are given to support religious witch-hunts and harming innocent believers, stay away from them for the sake of your soul.

Usually, when you are being guilted into sacrificing your spiritual and emotional health in the name of religion, especially when it’s something that isn’t clearly required of you by Allah, you are being subjected to emotional and spiritual abuse.

So, when you are faced with this, first and foremost, protect your life and soul. Whether you are dealing with abusive family or abusive community members or leaders, never allow someone to guilt you into accepting abuse or joining the abuse of others.

You Have the Right To Privacy

When it comes to your own private life, never allow someone to guilt you into sharing the details of your marriage or divorce if you don’t feel inclined to. You have the right to keep your marriage or divorce as private as you like until you are emotionally, practically, and spiritually ready to announce it to others. As long as you have fulfilled the Islamic requirements of marriage and divorce as defined by Allah, don’t be swayed by the arbitrary requirements of those who say you haven’t done enough to make it public. Generally speaking, those who wish well for you respect your right to both privacy and choice, and they would never trample on that right in the name of some elusive “greater good.” It is generally emotional manipulators and abusers who harass others into sharing more than they feel ready to, and it is these manipulators and abusers who obsess over people’s obligations to others more than they respect people’s rights over themselves.

And whatever you do, do not join public witch-hunts and social lynch mobs aimed at removing the right of privacy and choice from other believers, no matter what you think of their choices on a personal or religious level.

Allah has given you and all believers full right to protect your life and soul in the way you genuinely believe is best. Don’t compromise your emotional and physical safety—or your soul—because your family, community members, or religious leaders refuse to accept that Allah has given you the full right to determine what spiritual and emotional safety mean in your personal and religious life—and that this right to personal boundaries comes before any obligation you have to them or anyone else.


Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Read HIS OTHER WIFE novel now: CLICK HERE. Subscribe to Umm Zakiyyah’s YouTube channel, follow her on Instagram or Twitter, and join her Facebook page.

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