A Saudi Princess Appeals to the Mufti to Intervene to Prohibit the Marriage of Minors

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Translated from the original Arabic by Al Mutarjim

An article by Yousuf al-Hazza'a, writing for London-based Arabic online magazine Elaph. Childrens' rights advocates in Saudi Arabia try to distort or reinterpret Islamic scripture to put a stop to child marriages, but its effects are limited due to the plain example set by Prophet Muhammad.

Riyadh—

A statement was released from the Assembly for Charitable Divorce Cases, in the name of Princess Sarah, justifying the request to the Mufti (i.e. the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh ‘Abdul ‘Aziz bin ‘Abdullah Al al-Shaykh) by saying that “Once news began to come out that the incidences of child marriages of minors were increasing, this provoked strong feelings and anger from society for those young girls who, while still dressed in the robes of childhood, suffer from oppression and shameless exploitation. Sometimes they are trafficked for personal benefit or financial gain, while other times they are used as a weapon of revenge and for the settling of scores. All this destroys the innocence of the young girls and violates their humanity. This is heard and seen by a society which feels unable to help them due to the absence of a system which protects the girls.”

The statement included historical statements from Islamic history, hoping that a review of jurisprudence within the shari’ah of Islam would prompt decisive action. The statement mentioned a decision of the second caliph of Islam, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, when he prohibited (Muslims) from marrying the ‘people of the Book’ (Jews and Christians), when he saw an interest in restricting what was otherwise permissible. The statement also cited contemporary rulings, such as when the Saudi government restricted the marriage of Saudi youth, especially women, to citizens of other nations, which was considered to be for the public interest.

The statement is expected to enjoy a wide reaction, especially since cases of child marriages currently are not prohibited by law, but are usually settled through dialogue or through the payment of money in return for breaking the marriage contract.

Saudi law students and activists have called for the enactment of a law stipulating that persons must be of at least 18 years of age to be married, in order to prevent the exploitation of children in marriages which are performed for money or honor. In these cases, the young girls are too young to be able to consent to the marriage.

On the contrary, the proposal has met opposition from the (Islamic) religious community, seeing as the Prophet (Muhammad) married ‘A’isha when she was nine years old, which, as far as they’re concerned, is sufficient evidence against prohibiting this type of marriage. (Comment: All sahih Islamic sources put the marriage contract at six or seven, then consummation at nine)

On the flipside of this view are many arguments, the majority of which are centered on the inaccuracy of this hadith. Some of them also confirm that this was one of those special cases which was only permissible for the Prophet and should not be replicated by other Muslims, as also Muhammad married 11 women. (Comment: The problem with this argument is two-fold. Firstly, in the case of the number of women to marry, most Muslims erroneously believe the Qur'an explicitly states that Muhammad was an exception to the rule. Secondly, the Qur'an itself permits sexual intercourse with prepubescent girls. If girls under the age of 18 are too young to consent to marriage, then the Qur'an would not have prescribed them a 'stipulated waiting period'.)

A member of the Saudi Islamic Fiqh Assembly, Muhammad al-Najimi, had previously said in comments to the press that it was not permissible to marry a girl under 15 years of age. He inferred this from the saying of the Prophet: “The virgin (shall not be married until) her consent is obtained, and the widowed or divorced (shall not be married until) her order is obtained.” He reasoned that a young girl cannot speak as an adult, therefore this does not apply to those who have not reached 15 years of age.

Al-Najimi indicated that her guardian is entitled to prohibit her marriage, saying: “As a matter of legitimate politics, a guardian is entitled to issue a decision prohibiting the marriage of the minor. Therefore a minor cannot be married except by agreement of the judge and guardian with the formation of a medical council indicating that she is fit for marriage and that marriage is in her best interest.” (Comment: This is exactly the problem described earlier in the article, namely that guardians are selling off their young girls as brides, so this doesn't really help the girls.)

He added: “The marriage of minors was authorized on the grounds that the Prophet (blessings and peace of God be upon him) married the Mother of the Believers, ‘A’isha, when she was in her ninth year. That is not valid, for the marriage of the Prophet (blessings and peace of God be upon him) to ‘A’isha was one of the special privileges (only for the Prophet). It was also before his saying (peace be upon him) ‘The virgin (shall not be married until) her consent is obtained, and the widowed or divorced (shall not be married until) her order is obtained’.”

The final move comes after the case of the “Aniza girl” ended unexpectedly with the girl declaring before the judge that she accepted staying with her octogenarian husband. This after her mother withdrew her petition for their divorce, in which she stipulated three conditions, the most important being that the child continue her education, especially in middle school, and that her husband inform her often regarding her schooling. There was much speculation about how the case, which occupied Saudi public opinion for a long time, would end.