x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Love knows no boundaries, but is it really blind as well?

Some couples can flourish together despite a big difference in age. But there's a limit.

Love is ageless, or at least it is said to make you feel so. However, I think there should be some limits.

Last week, when Musali Mohammed Al Mujamaie, a 92-year-old Iraqi farmer, married Muna Mukhlif Al Juburi, a 20-year-old woman, he declared to the world that he now "feels 20 years old again".

If that wasn't bad enough, it was a triple wedding, held in the village of Gubban, south of the central Iraqi city of Samarra, with the old man getting married alongside his two teenage grandchildren.

In the wedding photo that circulated, the bride looked miserable and more like a grandchild than a wife. But old men marrying young women is nothing new, and the phenomenon is not limited to the Middle East.

Thankfully, even conservative societies frown upon child-bride marriages and any unions that involve extreme age differences.

But changing social norms will take time and unfortunately there will always be sleazy old men leering at young women and taking advantage of them.

I wonder if the girl marrying the old Iraqi farmer had a say in her marriage or whether she was forced to marry him. In Islamic law, she has the right to reject a proposal.

I would suspect no woman willingly marries someone who is 70 years older - and toothless - no matter how rich or influential that man is.

However, what really rubs me up the wrong way is that once, when a man 10 years younger than I am proposed to me, all hell broke loose - I was called "a cradle robber" among other things.

While I laughed it off, I did argue with those who were adamant that it is "wrong" for a much younger man to marry an older woman. All I had to do is mention one name: Sayyidah Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Prophet Mohammed's first wife. Not only was she older than the Prophet Mohammed, but she proposed marriage to him.

Contrary to today's traditions, women of that time would express their interest in marrying someone and overall had a greater say in who they chose as marriage partners.

I find it quite ironic that whenever I met older Bedouin women, they would tell me how many times they have married, some of them even four times, and how the woman would take the lead, sending signs of interest to the intended man through a male member of her family.

I'm not sure when this tradition switched around, but somehow, in this modern age of supposed female empowerment in the Middle East, we now must wait to be asked.

One Yemeni Bedouin woman told me she had married a guy 10 years younger, and while it didn't last longer than six years, she never regretted her decision.

"He was beautiful. Like an angel. Why should men only go after what they want? We have the same rights if not more than them in Islam," she told me once.

I recall how embarrassed I felt at the idea of marrying someone whose age was very different from mine, especially a younger man.

But why was I embarrassed? I should have been flattered that a 20-year-old would consider marrying 30-year-old me, when there are plenty of available 20-year-olds around. He was very mature for his age, and he had a sense of humour, but I refused to give him a chance because I was wary of what people would say.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to intentions and respect. If there is mutual respect and caring, age shouldn't matter.

Everyone deserves the chance to marry for love, and I have seen couples live quite happily together despite real differences in age and personality.

Whatever the case, women should never be used as pawns or trophy wives.

I know I would have told off the old Iraqi farmer and reminded him to have a look in the mirror before thinking he could even propose to a woman who is the same age as his grandchildren.

 

Rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @arabianmau