Issue of forced marriages put under the spotlight
A Dundee charity worker who promotes the rights of Scottish Muslims is urging society not to ignore the controversial issue of forced marriages.
She made the comments after hosting an event named The Realms of Marriage in Islam, held in the Gullistan House restaurant in Broughty Ferry, where over 60 young members of the local Muslim community turned out to get support and advice.
For Mrs El-Nakla, who has been with the MWRC for five years, the idea of forcing people to marry has no place in modern Britain and is not supported by the majority of Dundee-born Muslims.
"One of the main questions we get asked from Muslim women is that if they go against the will of their parents, will they be disowned," she continued.
"Although there are not many cases that we see, it is very difficult to tell because we don't know exactly how many forced marriages happen each year.
"That is a problem but we are here to protect these women and give information that will hopefully help them."
Arranged marriages are different to forced marriages which involve coercing someone.
This could entail coming under the threat of physical abuse or emotional blackmail and considered a breach of human rights.
Arranged marriages are different in that the couple has the choice as to whether to accept the arrangement or not.
There is a common misconception, continued Mrs El-Nakla, that the Muslim religion actively encourages forced marriages, but in fact the opposite is true.
"Nowhere in the Koran does it promote forced marriages," she said. "There is this myth that is out there, which you often here in the media, that there is a religious motivation and that women are second-class citizens but that is simply not true.
"The Koran holds women up in very high regard. It's a case of that whatever a woman earns is her own money and whatever her husband earns is also hers.
"Trying to highlight these inaccuracies to young Muslim women is a big part of what our organisation does and to let them know that they are not going against their religion if they refuse."
The UK government set up a joint initiative with the Home Office that records the numbers of forced marriages that take place in Britain.
The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) last year provided advice and support to 1,735 people. Of this, 70 instances involved people with disabilities and 36 instances were victims who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Of the total number, 86% were female and 14% male.
"We let women know that they cannot be forced into marriage," added Mrs El-Nakla. "Although it is not a huge number of women who are put in this position, that doesn't mean we should turn our back and forget about them."
A new law will soon be introduced designed to prevent forced marriages.
Hundreds of young, mainly Muslim, females are made to wed against their will by family members every year. The new legislation, which was originally proposed by Scotland's first ever Muslim MSP, the late Bashir Ahmad, could result in parents or family acquaintances who breach the order being handed a jail sentence.
Amina MWRC works with mainstream agencies and policy makers to enhance their understanding of the Muslim community and of barriers that prevent Muslim women from accessing services and participating in society.
For more information on the charity, visit mwrc.org.uk.