Marriage to Prepubescent Girls in Early Islam

Though it is difficult for Western intellectuals to believe, the Quran and early Islam assumes this was done, though it doesn’t command the practice. However, some Muslims today take this assumption and run with it.

This is Part 11 in the sharia series.

See Ten Sharia Laws that Oppress Women.

This series on Islamic sharia law is intended for educators, legislators, city council members, lawyers, judges, government bureaucrats, journalists, think tank fellows, TV and radio talk show hosts, and anyone else who occupies positions of authority and influence. They initiate the national dialogue and shape the flow of the conversation. They are the policy- and decision-makers. They implement school curricula.

They have listened to the critics of sharia and have concluded the critics are exaggerating; they may even be “Islamophobic.” Islam is a world religion, after all, so it deserves respect.

On the other hand, the intellectual elites have heard disturbing reports out of the Islamic world. Surely the critics cannot be all wrong, all the time, can they? The elites therefore have a private, gnawing doubt that there is something wrong with sharia. No, they tell themselves; it is being hijacked by extremists.

The elites thus have a “mental tennis match” in their heads, as their thoughts go back and forth, from doubt to relief; there is nothing wrong with sharia or there is something wrong with it, as it relates to the modern world.

The topic of this article is an example; it is very delicate, so we have to be as factual and objective as we humans can be.

The elites may have heard that Muhammad married a little girl. Is this only a false rumor spread by the critics of sharia who suffer from “Islamophobia”?

The Ayatollah Khomeini married a girl of ten years old, and encouraged other men to do likewise, saying that fathers should give their daughters away before their first period:

. . . the Ayatollah himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight? Did she [the Khomeini supporter] know that Khomeini called marriage to a girl before her first menstrual period “a divine blessing,” and advised the faithful: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house”?[1]

Why would this devout Muslim do such a thing? Did he stray from original Islamic ideals?

THE QURAN

 In the context of divorcing wives, Quran 65:1 and 4 says:

1 O Prophet, when you (and the believers) divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed waiting-period and count the waiting-period accurately… 4 And if you are in doubt about those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, (you should know that) their waiting period is three months, and the same applies to those who have not menstruated as yet. As for pregnant women, their period ends when they have delivered their burden.[2]… (Quran 65:1, 4, emphasis added)

Another translation repeats the same idea with slightly different wording:

1 Prophet, when any of you intend to divorce women, do so at a time when their prescribed waiting period can properly start, and calculate the period carefully… 4 If you are in doubt, the period of waiting will be three months for those women who have ceased menstruating and for those who have not [yet] menstruated; the waiting period of those who are pregnant will be until they deliver their burden.[3]… (Quran 65:1, 4, emphasis added)

These verses deal with divorce and a waiting period, to ensure that the divorced woman is not carrying the ex-husband’s child. If he is in doubt about his postmenopausal or prepubescent ex-wife, the husband should wait and calculate accurately. Logically, to divorce a prepubescent girl, she had to have been married. And logically if there is doubt about pregnancy, she had to have had sex while being so young.

However, the fear of pregnancy indicates that the man and girl are not sure when she reached puberty; the transition from prepuberty to puberty is in doubt.

Whatever the case, the text implies the girl was having sex, while she was prepubescent. Classical Islamic law (see below) adds its own permission to have sex with these girls. Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite bride, had not yet reached puberty when he married her (see the hadith, next).[4]

But it should be noted that the verse does not command such marriages; it does not even directly permit them. Rather, it assumes that they existed and does nothing to stop it. These nuanced differences are important because modern Muslims will use them to try to stop the old custom (see below).

THE HADITH

The hadith are the reports, narrations or traditions about the words and deeds of Muhammad and his companions outside of the Quran. The Quran and hadith are the two foundations of classical Islamic law and much of Islamic laws today. Please see the article titled, “What Is Sharia?” in this series, for more information.

The following hadith says that Muhammad pursued an important girl named Aisha when she was six years old. He had a dream about her.

Narrated Aisha: Allah’s Apostle said (to me), “You were shown to me in a dream. An angel brought you to me, wrapped in a piece of silken cloth, and said to me, ‘This is your wife.’ I removed the piece of cloth from your face, and there you were. I said to myself. ‘If it is from Allah, then it will surely be.'”[5]

In the next hadith, Abu Bakr is Muhammad’s right-hand companion and the father of little Aisha. Muhammad asks him permission to marry his daughter.

The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for Aisha’s hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said, “But I am your brother.” The Prophet said, “You are my brother in Allah’s religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry.”[6]

Thus, Abu Bakr hesitates to give his daughter away because he believes that he is the brother of Muhammad – they are both mature men, after all. The Islamic prophet clarifies for him that they are spiritual brothers, not blood brothers, so Abu Bakr’s little girl is lawful for Muhammad to marry.

Aisha was Muhammad’s only virginal wife. The others were married before. This hadith has Aisha asking about this in a metaphor; where would you let your camels graze, on a tree that had been grazed before or one that had been touched?

Narrated Aisha: I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Suppose you landed in a valley where there is a tree of which something has been eaten and then you found trees of which nothing has been eaten, of which tree would you let your camel graze?” He said, “(I will let my camel graze) of the one of which nothing has been eaten before.” (The sub-narrator added: Aisha meant that Allah’s Apostle had not married a virgin besides herself.)[7]

The next hadith says that a father can give away his daughter, but she must consent, so this gives her a little control.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! How can we know her permission?” He said, “Her silence (indicates her permission).”[8]

Yet it is difficult to believe that she had much control, since she was so young. Custom can be stronger than that hadith, for in the Islamic world a little girl would not dare defy her father. Islamic law, outlined below, has a way to resolve the girl’s seeming power that might be in conflict with her father’s power.

Aisha’s ages at engagement and marriage and consummation is revealed. Muhammad, incidentally, was about 51-53 years old:

Narrated Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).[9]

Further, Aisha recounts in the following hadith concerning the moments leading up to the first sexual encounter. She was playing on her swing set with her girlfriends when she got the call.

… [M]y mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.[10]

That hadith’s image comes across clearly. A little girl is playing on her swing set with her girlfriends. Her mother comes out and calls to her. The little girl dashes to where her mother is standing. Running is natural for a child. She is out of breath. She regains her breath. Her mother washes her face – as all mothers do to their playful children. Little Aisha probably got the dirt from too much play. Some female “handlers” get her ready for the wedding. Then the little girl’s mother hands her over to elder Muhammad.

In this passage, we learn that Muhammad and Aisha got married in the morning (forenoon). Nothing surprised her but her new husband.

Narrated Aisha: When the Prophet married me, my mother came to me and made me enter the house (of the Prophet) and nothing surprised me but the coming of Allah’s Apostle to me in the forenoon.[11]

These next two hadith need to be combined. The first one says Aisha took her dolls with her to Muhammad’s house, when she was a bride.

Aisha… reported that Allah’s Apostle… married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old.[12]

And this one says Aisha used to play with dolls when she was with Muhammad. Normally, they are forbidden, except when a girl had not yet reached the age of puberty:

Narrated Aisha: I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girlfriends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for ‘Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.)[13]

So it is clear from those last two hadith that Aisha had not reached puberty when she married Muhammad.

Muhammad endorses marrying virgins for the extra-thrill it gives a grown man.

Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah: When I got married, Allah’s Apostle said to me, “What type of lady have you married?” I replied, “I have married a matron.” He said, “Why, don’t you have a liking for the virgins and for fondling them?” Jabir also said: Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Why didn’t you marry a young girl so that you might play with her and she with you?’[14]

Next, Aisha says that Muhammad shielded her while she watched some Ethiopians playing in the courtyard of the mosque in Medina. The translator adds the parenthetical note that she had not yet reached puberty. The shielding of Aisha indicates the control a husband exerted over his girl-bride.

Narrated Aisha: The Prophet was screening me with his Rida (garment covering the upper part of the body) while I was looking at the Ethiopians who were playing in the courtyard of the mosque. (I continued watching) till I was satisfied. So you may deduce from this event how a little girl (who has not reached the age of puberty) who is eager to enjoy amusement should be treated in this respect.[15]

Aisha finally reached puberty. She describes how Muhammad and she would have ill-timed sexual encounters, taking baths together. He used to fondle her:

Narrated Aisha: The Prophet and I used to take a bath from a single pot while we were junub [major ritual impurity]. During the menses, he used to order me to put on an izar (dress worn below the waist) and used to fondle me. While in itikaf [seclusion while fasting in a mosque], he used to bring his head near me and I would wash it while I used to be in my periods (menses).[16]

For the record, Aisha never bore her husband any children.

CLASSICAL SHARIA LAW

This body of law is based on the Quran and hadith. Jurists searched through both of them and the rulings of their colleagues to come up with more laws. Please see the article in the series, “What is Sharia?” for more information.

Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) notes in his study of all the schools of law that existed up to his time that the father can compel his virgin daughter to marry, and it is binding on her. This is based on the hadith, which he quotes in his summary, showing how important the traditions or narrations are for Islamic law.

They [the jurists] agreed that the father can compel his minor son to marry and also his minor virgin daughter, and he may not seek her permission, as it has been established that “the Messenger of Allah… married Aisha when she was a girl of six or seven and consummated the marriage with her when she was nine, through a marriage contracted with Abu Bakr.”[17]

It is not clear whether the girls were prepubescent in this case.

Ibn Rushd discusses whether the girl can give her consent. He writes:

Permission in marriage is of two types. It takes place for men and deflowered women by means of words and for consulted virgin women through their silence, that is, their consent; rejection, however, is by words. There is no dispute about this, as a whole, except what is narrated from the followers of al-Shafi’i that the permission of the virgin is by words, when the person giving her away in marriage (her guardian) is other than the father or the grandfather. The majority inclined towards permission through silence because of what is established from the Prophet… that “the deflowered woman has a greater right over herself than her guardian (wali), but the virgin is to be asked about herself and her silence is her permission.”[18]

The key word is “consulted.” If the father consults his virgin daughter, then she can consent to the marriage or not. Evidently, the opposite is also true. If he does not consult her, then his command to marry her off to whomever he likes is binding.

The previous two excerpts, taken together, imply that the girls are really young.

Misri (d. 1368), representing the Shafi’i school of law, clarifies the matter about prepubescent girls:

(1) The only guardians who may compel their charge to marry are a virgin bride’s father or father’s father, compel meaning to marry her to a suitable match… without her consent. (2) Those who may not compel her are not entitled to marry her to someone unless she accepts and gives her permission. Whenever the bride is a virgin, the father or father’s father may marry her to someone without her permission, though it is recommended to ask her permission if she has reached puberty. A virgin’s silence is considered as permission.[19]

So it seems the girl has a small room to maneuver, if her father gives it to her. Fortunately, we do not need to agree or disagree with Misri’s solution, because that is not the main topic of this article. It is clear, however, that a prepubescent girl may possibly be given away in marriage, and that is the main point.

The next ruling confirms it:

A guardian may not marry his prepubescent daughter to someone for less than the amount typically received as marriage payment by similar brides…  If he does… the amount stipulated is void and the amount typically received is paid instead.[20]

That ruling does not say the guardian may not marry off his prepubescent daughter, period. Rather, he may not do so if certain conditions are not met. But he can marry her off if those conditions are met.

CAN MODERN ISLAM REFORM ITS OLD WAYS?

A reformist reinterprets an unpleasant Quranic verse and calls for the reform of Islam, while a traditionalist believes Islam, revealed in the Quran and presented in the authentic hadith, is fine the way it and defends it. Usually, religious leaders are selected in this section, but sometimes a Muslim who is in the public eye is included too.

Traditional Views

Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi (d. 1979) was an Indo-Pakistani scholar who tried to impose sharia law on his country through his political party called Jamaat-i-Islami. He represents the traditionalist outlook on the Quran, traditions, and sharia. It is his ilk that wishes to impose them on society today, so we need to analyze his interpretations. He interprets the plain meaning of 65:4, which permits marriage and sex with prepubescent girls:

Therefore, making mention of the waiting-period for girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl at this age but it is permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Quran has held as permissible.[21]

Thus, Maududi rebukes Muslims who deny that the verse is valid. At least he is being consistent with the Quran and the traditions (hadith).

And Maududi’s view of Islam is indeed practiced in certain corners of the Islamic world – maybe not because his word is law, but because they share common values and interpretations.

In Yemen, one ten-year-old girl, ironically named Ayesha (Aisha), was married off to a fifty-year-old man:

… [I]t was discovered that a ten-year-old girl Ayesha had been married off to a 50-year-old man. The journalists were told by her sister Fatima that “little Ayesha screamed when she saw the man she was to marry.”[22]

It is not known to us whether the girls was prepubescent or had reached puberty, but either way, she was really young.

Another traditional interpreter of Islam is Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips. He explains Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha:

Islaam stipulates that a girl or boy married before puberty will not live with their spouse until they have attained puberty. Furthermore, they have the right to cancel or proceed with the marriage when they reach puberty.

Aa’ishah was seven when she was married off to the Prophet… and she came to live with him when she reached puberty at nine.

Women abused as children usually have difficult times coping as adults. They are often unstable and psychologically handicapped. ‘Aa’ishah [Aisha] became the leading female scholar of her time and conveyed to the next generation an enormous body of Islaamic law. She was known to be the fourth most prolific narrator of the Prophetic traditions of all of the Prophet’s followers.[23]

Aisha may have been a productive narrator of hadith, but she never did bear her husband any children. Also, recall that Quran 65:1 and 4 says that girls were prepubescent or they were possibly transitioning from prepuberty to puberty; in either case, they were having sex. So it is not as clear as Bilal Philips says that men in original Islam waited until the girls reached puberty before marriage and sex. No word from him about how this was a cultural custom back then, which must be left in the past, though he implies in his full answer that cultures have different customs.

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) is made up of religious scholars, most of whom have their doctorates in Islamic law or other Islamic subjects; they are qualified to write fatwas (religious rulings or opinions). Their website uses the write-in Question and Answer format.

One writer asks about a male’s marriage to an older woman. The religious scholar replies:

Marriage for both genders has no minimum age. Consummating marriage has no minimum age in Islam too. However, allowing a couple to consummate their marriage is stipulated on their psychological and physical ability.  This rule could be proven by the juristic maxim (Permissibility is the default rule unless otherwise proven).

However, the cultural norms and traditions are to be taken into consideration as well.  So, if it is a socially unacceptable practice for a 15 year old boy to marry a 35 year old woman, such a marriage could be prevented (but not prohibited) by the Muslim authority, especially when there are serious consequences for such a marriage, like taking advantage of the other party and financially abusing him/her.[24]

Can Islam conform to the cultural norms of the progressive world today?

In another question, the writer asks about Quran 65:4, directly:

In the tafsirs (exegesis) of ayah (verse) 4 of sura (chapter) 65, it is said that the waiting period for a divorced woman who has not gotten her period is the same as that of an adult woman. Does this mean that Islam allows marrying non-adult girls who have not yet reached the age of menstruation? If so, how come, if they are still children? Being children means they are incapable of consenting to or rejecting marriage, which is a condition for the marriage of a virgin according to the Prophet (pbuh)? In addition, at this age, they are not fit for any sexual practices, which may harm their psychological development. Please clarify.

The scholar’s reply is quoted at length:

The verse from Surat al-Talaq [Quran 65:4] speaks of the `iddah, or waiting period, of a woman who has not yet reached the age of first menses [puberty] as it speaks of the `iddah of a woman who has lost hope of her menses returning [menopause] in order to fully cover every detail of the issue of `iddah in the Book of Allah (Mighty & Majestic). This verse does not, however, address the details of what is lawful and unlawful in marriage. Rather, it discusses the `iddah (the post-divorce period during which a woman must wait before she may marry again), were such a marriage to have occurred in the first place. The permissibility of marrying girls who have not yet experienced their first menses cannot be established solely on the basis of this verse. It is the same as if one said that fasting is invalidated by drinking water and by drinking alcohol; no one can derive from that the permissibility of drinking alcohol. Likewise, if you were to say that the fast is invalidated by zina (unlawful sexual intercourse), but it is not invalidated by theft, you cannot derive from this the prohibition of zina and the permissibility of stealing. That is because the statement is about that which invalidates the fast, not about what types of beverages or actions are lawful and which ones are unlawful. Think about it. Even in the laws of this country, you see details concerning the rights of pregnant girls who are under the age of legal majority and about providing medical care and social services to girls like that without it being understood from this that it is okay for minors to get married legally.

From another perspective, Allah (Glorious & Exalted) has said (interpretation of the meaning): {And try orphans (as to their maturity) until they reach the age of marriage…}[Surat al-Nisa’ 4:6] In this verse there is an indication that orphans are not eligible for marriage in general, and an orphan is someone whose father has died before he or she reaches the age of puberty.

However, it remains for you to know that marriages like this were common in the pre-Islamic society. A young girl used to be betrothed and married by the permission of her wali (marital guardian). Then Islam came and approved of this within the context of security precautions, the foremost of which was that the girl controls her situation when she reaches the age of legal majority. So, if after reaching puberty, she decides to renounce his marriage, she has the right to do so, and no one can overturn her decision in matters like this.

Another of these security precautions is that conjugal relations are dependent upon her ability to handle that. Scholars like Imam Malik, Imam al-Shafi`i and Abu Hanifah have clearly stated that no woman is to be made to have sex unless she can endure it, and women differ in this according to their natural range of differences; it is not determined by a specific age. Once a girl has reached maturity, as we have mentioned, she may continue in this marriage or reject it.

There is still one more issue which is that the ruler has the right to restrict some things that are permissible for the sake of the common good or if these lawful things are being abused, and the prohibition of marrying young girls may fall into this category, if, in some societies, this is a means of taking advantage of them or of unjustly depriving them of their rights. Most personal status law in Muslim countries has done this – raising the legal age of marriage – but it does not hear marital claims in unofficial marriage cases . . . which do not take place under the auspices of the law unless there is a paternity case. Should a ruler issue a restriction of this sort, it would be binding by virtue of his general judgment.[25]

In the first paragraph the AMJA scholar says the “permissibility” of marrying prepubescent girls cannot be established from Quran 65:4. Evidently he requires some clear declaration that it is “permissible.” Fair enough. Nonetheless, the verse still assumes it was done and does not issue a clear command against it. It is revealing that the scholar does not quote any traditions (see the Hadith section, above).

Further, the scholar says in the third paragraph that prepubescent girls have the right to renounce their marriage once they reach puberty. This means that Islam, if it really did improve the plight of prepubescent girls in pre-Islamic Arabia (as the scholar believes), still did not forbid marriage to prepubescent girls.[26] And thus we can wonder how far Islamic improvement went. But at least he is taking the Quran in its historical context, and that brings us to the next point.

He goes on to say that no woman (i.e. a girl) should be made to have sex if she cannot endure it. She can still reject the marriage. So this modern scholar, though following the old sharia jurists, improves on the original Islam of Quran 65:4, which had, he believes, improved pre-Islamic culture. This shows that Islam can maybe progress from one generation to the next.

This progressive interpretation is confirmed in the last paragraph of the scholar’s reply, which says a ruler can intervene and stop the assumed or permissible (as opposed to an obligatory) practice of marrying prepubescent girls, if abuses take place.

And so this AMJA scholar concedes that modern societies can improve on original Islam and classical laws. This give all of us hope that Islam can progress (or be made to progress), so it can fit in the world today.

This is the section on traditionalist views. But we take a moment to state that young girls are at risk.

The International Women’s Health Coalition reports what is likely to happen to girls under fourteen:

Girls who are married young are also more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. For example, in Kisumu, Kenya, HIV infection rates are nearly 33 percent among married girls ages 15 – 19, compared with 22 percent among unmarried, sexually-active girls of the same age.

  • Girls’ physiological vulnerability due to the small size, inelasticity, and lack of lubrication of the vagina and cervix is compounded by their exposure to frequent, unprotected, and sometimes forced sexual intercourse within marriage; lack of information about STIs, including HIV; and inability to negotiate their own protection.
  • Throughout countries of Africa and Latin America, more than 80 percent of adolescent girls ages 15 – 19 who report having unprotected sex in the previous week are married.
  • The average age gap between young brides and the men they marry reaches eight to ten years or more in some countries. The older the husband, the more likely it is that he has had multiple sexual partners and may be HIV-positive.[27]

Progress?[28]

UNICEF reports of a ten-year-old Yemini girl who asked for a divorce and got it.

SANA’A, Yemen, 24 July 2009 – Defying child marriage was unheard of in Yemen until Nojoud Ali, 10, went to court in Sana’a and asked for divorce. Ending what she described as a “nightmare married life,” the court granted her a divorce from her 30-year-old husband.[29]

However, Yemen still allows girls to marry before seventeen, because religious scholars serving on the Islamic Sharia Codification Committee rejected it.

… A bill passed in parliament in February 2009 setting the minimum age for marriage at 17 was rejected by the Islamic Sharia Codification Committee which said it was un-Islamic, according to local women’s rights organizations.

So, for now, there is no law protecting children against early marriages in Yemen.

”I don’t call it marriage, but rape,” said Shada Mohammed Nasser, a lawyer at the High Court in Sanaa. She has represented several child bride divorce cases in court, but admits she has lost most of them. Only a handful of child brides have successfully managed to divorce their husbands.[30]

Haider Ala Hamoudi is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He explains how Islam is coping with sharia and child brides. Muslims who move to the West, specifically the USA, want nothing to do with it, by his estimation.

. . . Go to Islamists in Iraq, in Baghdad, folks I know pretty well after two years in the country, and ask them if a girl can be married off at nine in theory, and more or less you get a long, apologetic, highly conditional yes.  Where in Yemen key obstacles to child marriage (like a father’s consent) are sort of waved away, in an urban society, even among the pious, every obstacle is stated and emphasized, including the puberty option.

What is more, if you ask that same Islamist if he will marry off his daughter at nine, he might well shoot you for being so disrespectful.  That does NOT mean he is happy with current Iraqi law and its marriage age at 18, he’s not a secularist, he wants religious rules to govern family affairs, but at the same time, his own urban society wouldn’t have that mean much.  It might mean a great deal elsewhere in the country, it might well be devastating to girls in the countryside (though not clear given how much child marriage happens out there extralegally anyway) but to him, this facet of the shari’a won’t matter.  In that whole part of Iraqi society, it won’t matter, the conditions would never sanction such a marriage.

Move over to the U.S., and the whole traditional doctrine starts to crumble.  Muslims don’t even want to hear the possibility of child marriage, and adopt liberal positions that are out of the mainstream to justify their own conclusions, from the ideas of folks like Fazlur Rahman and Fatima Mernissi, that it is not Islamically sanctioned period.

So in family law, and on child marriage in particular, does doctrine matter to help perpetuate the practice?  Sure, but not in isolation.  Legal doctrine, Muslim or American, should never be viewed in isolation, at least if you’re trying to understand the world as it actually exists.[31]

Malaysia is predominantly Muslim. A 2006 law says about the minimum age to marry:

No marriage may be solemnized under this Act where either the man is under the age of eighteen or the woman is under the age of sixteen, except where the Syariah [sharia] Judge has granted his permission in writing in certain circumstances.[32]

It is not specified what the circumstances are allows a judge to grant marriage to a girl under seventeen. Permission from her father, who may be an ultraconservative Muslim who follows the Quran and hadith to the letter?

To wrap up this section on modern Islam, these quotations will seem outdated in a few years. But they still reveal that old Islam has problems relating to the modern world. If Islam is not reformed and updated, then we will always have troubles between it and other religions and nations. Readers are encouraged to look up more blogs and articles, on their own.

CONCLUSION

We can learn at least five things from the ideas laid out in this article.

First, seventh-century Arabia was patriarchal, so it stands to reason that the Quran would reflect its surrounding culture. Muhammad fit into his own historical context. Thus it does no good to call a seventh-century Arab a pedophile, as an Austrian woman did.[33] Names like that lurch over into cultural insensitivity. He had only one virginal wife; the others had been married before. So he was not seeking prepubescent girls at every chance he got, though we should recall that his favorite wife was Aisha.

Second, however, the Austrian court upheld the blasphemy law and fined the woman for using the term. This punishment is wrong. Though it may be insensitive to use provocative and strong words, the speaker should not be punished by a court of law. Free speech must win the day.

Third, devout Muslims believe that the Quran is universal and is good for all of humanity at all times, since Allah sent it down through Gabriel to his prophet. So why wouldn’t traditional Islamic societies endorse child marriages as being universal and timeless? However, this outlook is when cross-cultural troubles begin. In progressive societies we should never give up our values for the sake of this belief about the Quran’s universality when it is obvious that the sacred text has absorbed an archaic and outdated practice. What had been practiced back then should not be brought forward to the modern world.

Fourth, many Muslim nations have reasonable legal ages to marry, though tribal customs sometimes follow the old ways. Nonetheless, these new and modern laws demonstrate that Islam can be reformed, and the seventh-century ways can be left behind in the past. Can moderate Muslim laws lead all of their people out of the past? Can Muslim leaders ignore other outdated aspects of the Quran, hadith, and sharia, like cutting off the hand of a thief, stoning an adulterer to death, or a quick divorce by the husband’s spoken words alone?

Fifth, we should never allow a secret subculture to fester among us, as it does in many cultures around the globe, which permit child marriages. Modern laws forbid it, and they should be maintained. But sometimes Islam apologists lay down the trump card of cultural insensitivity or “Islamophobia” against progressive values and fight to get a separate law or special status passed just for them. If their custom allows child brides, then we must respect it, because cultural diversity and sensitivity require us. In reply, however, sometimes an old custom is just plain wrong by today’s standards. We should not compromise our values just so we do not offend a small group. Sometimes the small group needs to catch up to the rest of the world and submit to us, rather than our submitting to it. The scholar at AMJA, quoted extensively above, concedes that modern society can stop the practice if it harms people. It does.

We all sense intuitively that child marriages are wrong. It is time to give reasons for our intuition and “gut reaction.”

Here are our progressive values: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have progressed, and this progress has trained out sensibilities. We live by those standards.

Therefore we know that childhood marriages are wrong because they deprive the girls of a high-quality of life when they get older. Their young lives have not evolved sufficiently to decide on such important matters. Having sex so young ruins their physical health as well. Children should not risk pregnancy.

We know that childhood marriages are wrong because they deprive girls of the liberty each of us deserve as we grow older, so we can freely chart our own course of life. Older “husbands” have too much control. They foreshorten and short-circuit the girls’ future of freedom.

Finally, such marriages are wrong because they do not allow girls to pursue happiness as they define it after they mature. Girls must grow up and accumulate enough reason, prudence, and wisdom to look at life from a wider perspective.

Clear statements of our values are not “Islamophobic” when they disagree with old and outdated Islamic values.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be maintained as today’s universal values, even if this means leaving behind the Quran about many social issues. Since those three values are universal, we can say confidently and without fear of cultural arrogance or the false accusation of “Islamophobia” that all societies around the globe that adopt the three values will improve.[34]

This article first appeared at Jihad Watch on August 21, 2012, but has been updated here.

Articles in the Series

More Punishments:

[1] Robert Spencer, “Khomeini in Dearborn,” Nov 17, 2004, Frontpagemag.com.

[2] Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, the Meaning of the Quran, vol. 5, 4th ed. trans. Ch. Muhammad Akbar, ed. A. A. Kamal, (Lahore, Pakistan: Islamic Publications, 2003), 599 and 617. Chapter 65. The parenthetical comments are his. His translation and commentary are available online at englishtafsir.com.

[3] M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Quran, 2nd ed., (New York: Oxford UP, 2010). The bracketed word is his. These verses are searchable online in other translations at www.quranbrowser.com.

[4] Sam Shamoun, “Quran Contradiction: the Age of Marriage,” answering-islam.org, quotes classical commentators that say prepubescent girls are in view in Quran 65:4.

[5] Bukhari, Marriage, 007.062.057, with small mechanical adjustments. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s. Cf. ibid. 007.062.015.

[6] Idem, Marriage, 007.062.018.

[7] Ibid. 007.062.014, with slight mechanical edits. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s.

[8] Ibid. 007.062.067.

[9] Ibid. Marriage, 007.062.064. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s. Here are parallel hadith passages showing Aisha’s age at her engagement and marriage: 007.062.065, 007.062.088.

[10] Idem, Merits of Helpers in Medina, 005.058.234. The bracketed insertion is mine; the parenthetical comments are the translator’s.

[11] Idem, Marriage 007.062.090. The parenthetical insertion is the translator’s.

[12] Muslim, Marriage, 8.3311. The parenthetical insertion is the translator’s.

[13] Bukhari, Good Manners, 008.073.151, with minor editorial adjustments. The parenthetical insertion is the translator’s.

[14] Idem, Marriage, 007.062.017; cf. Representation, 003.038.504, and Military Expeditions, 005.059.382

[15] Ibid. Marriage, 007.062.163, with slight mechanical adjustments. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s. Cf. 007.062.118.

[16] Idem, Menses, 001.006.298, with slight mechanical adjustments. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s. Mine are in brackets.

[17] Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, vol. 2, trans. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, (Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, Reading, UK: Garnet, 1994-1996), 6.

[18] Ibid. 3.

[19] Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, rev. ed., trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana, 1994), 522, emphasis original.

[20] Ibid. 533.

[21] Maududi, Meaning, vol. 5, 620, note 13.

[22]The Secret World of the Child Bride: Heartbreaking Pictures of the Girls as Young as Five Who Are Married Off to Middle-Aged Men, June 9, 2011, Dailymail.co.uk.

[23] Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, “Difficult Dawah Questions,” Dawah: Invite to God, with mechanical adjustments and a bracketed insertion.

[24] Main Khalid Al-Qudah, “What Age Can Males Marry Females?” Question ID or fatwa no. 83059 amjaonline.com , November 8, 2010.

[25] Salah Al-Sawy, “Marrying Prepubescent Girls,” Question ID or fatwa no. 78001, amjaonline.com, February 26, 2009. My brackets are the first one only; all the other ones and the parenthetical comments belong to Al-Sawy. The bold font is his too.

[26] For a counter view that Islam did not improve on its original surrounding culture, see this article here.

[27]Child Marriage: Girls 14 and Younger at Risk,” International Women’s Health Coalition.

[28] For the minimum marriage age in various countries and US states, see the Wikipedia article “Marriageable Age.” See also “The Minimum Age for Marriage,” the Right to Education. Many of the countries are Islamic, and they improve on original Islam.

[29] Naseem Ur-Rehman, “A Brave Young Girl Who Defied Child Marriage Laws Brings Change to Yemen,” July 24, 2009, UNICEF.org. Readers are encouraged to research the sad topic of child brides, by typing in those two key words into a search engine. The number of such marriages seems not to have diminished.

[30] “No Laws Protecting Children against Early Marriages,” Women Living under Muslim Laws, February 22, 2010.

[31] Haider Ala Hamoudi, “Child Marriage and Sharia,” Islamic Laws in Our Times, blog article, muslimlawprof.org, June 30, 2008.

[32] 2006 Family Laws Act, Act 303, Section 8, p. 14, my bracketed insertion.

[33] Recall that in Part One in this series we discussed a young Austrian mother who gave a speech before a political party and criticized Islam’s treatment of women, calling Muhammad a pedophile. The court fined her 480 Euros. See Nina Shea, “Austrian Court Upholds Islam’s Blasphemy Rules,” National Review Online, February 15, 2011.

[34] This series does not contrast Islam and Christianity. But readers may be curious about it. We have already seen how early Islam treats the issue of marrying girls. For the biblical view, see this article here.

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