Child Marriage in Islamic Law
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Child marriage and sexual activity between adults and children are sanctioned by Islamic law and were practiced by Muhammad and his companions. As is the case within all contexts where sexual activity is permitted in Islam - namely, marriage and slavery - female consent is not required and the category of "rape" does not exist (even while the category of "rape" exists outside these contexts). The only restriction on sexual activity with children of any age within the contexts of marriage and slavery is that the child should not come to severe physical harm as a consequence of the encounter ("mental anguish", as such, is not considered, and consent is regardless irrelevant). Consequently, men are advised to avoid vaginal penetration with their child wives and female slaves if they are too small to endure such activity, although other forms of sexual activity with such children are permitted. "Thighing", explicitly discussed by Islamic jurists, is one such variety of alternative sexual activity that men may engage in with their child wives and female slaves if they are too small to endure penetration.
Child marriage in the Quran
The Qur'an permits child marriage. Verse 4 of Surah 64 provides guidelines regarding divorce a wife who has not yet menstruated. This verse refers to the Iddat (العدة), which is a waiting period a female must observe before she can remarry. According to this verse, the stipulated waiting period for a divorced girl who has not yet menstruated is three months.
Muhammad's marriage to Aisha
Aisha (‘Ā’ishah, c. 613/614 –c. 678) or عائشة, (also transliterated as A'ishah, Aisyah, Ayesha, A'isha, Aishat, or Aishah) was married to Muhammad at the age of 6 or 7, and the marriage was consummated by Muhammad, then 53, at the age of 9 or 10 according to numerous sahih hadiths. Due to concerns about child marriage this topic is of heavy interest in modern apologetic literature and public discourse.
Marriage at a young age was not unheard of in Arabia at the time, and Aisha's marriage to Muhammad may have had a political connotation, as her father Abu Baker was an influential man in the community. Abu Bakr, on his part, may have sought to further the bond of kinship between Muhammad and himself by joining their families together in marriage via Aisha. Egyptian-American Islamic scholar, Leila Ahmed, notes that Aisha's betrothal and marriage to Muhammad are presented as ordinary in Islamic literature, and may indicate that it was not unusual for children to be married to their elders in that era.
Revisionary disputations on her age
The age of Aisha was not disputed by earlier scholars but a surge of some modern Islamic scholars have made attempts to advance the idea that Aisha was older than nine lunar years at time of the consummation of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad. Sahih hadiths of Aisha's own testimonies are taken to be mistaken, and indirect sources and disputed dating techniques are used to calculate different ages. These diverse techniques have led to several conflicting ages to be proposed for Aisha at the time of consummation, including 12, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 21 years of age.
These revisionary perspectives can be broadly categorized into five categories, including those that: (1) discredit Hisham ibn Urwah and the Iraqi narrators, (2) use non-sahih information to overturn otherwise sahih hadiths, (3) use indirect evidences in preference of direct testimonies, or (4) use ‘loose' dating and aging in preference to specific dates and statements of age. These revisionary approaches are, however, generally not accepted by mainstream Islamic establishments.
Revisionary disputations on the word "consummate"
In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Aisha says that she was married to Muhammad at the age of six and that Muhammad consummated the marriage when she reached the age of nine. The implications of this and similar hadiths have recently been contested by some modern Islamic scholars who attempt to advance the idea that the verbiage used in this hadiths does not in fact refer to sexual consummation. While such a reading has no historical/linguistic or traditional precedent, it has nonetheless achieved some popularity. However, these re-readings, like those re-readings which attempt to advance a different age for Aisha, have generally not been accepted by mainstream Islamic establishments.
The terms used in the hadiths are udkhilath and bana biha, and these words do not permit any meaning other than "engaged in sexual intercourse with her" in the contexts where they are used. Crucial to the facilitation of asexual re-readings of these passages are tendentious English translations (particularly those of Dr. Muhsin Khan) as well as a general and perhaps understandable unwillingness to admit that Muhammad could have slept with or raped a nine year old.
Child Marriage and Muhammad's Companions
Due to the commonplace nature of child marriage in the 7th century (both inside and outside of Arabia), many of Muhammad's companions (sahabah) also engaged in child marriage. Most notable among these were Umar b. al-Khattab (the second "rightly guided caliph"), who married Umm Kulthum when she was between 10-12 (although some sources report she was just 5), and Ali b. Abi Talib (Muhammad's cousin and the fourth "rightly guided caliph"), who married Fatima (Muhammad's daughter) at the age of 9.
In the Muslim world today
Child Marriage in the Muslim World
Due to the legality of child marriage in Islamic law, child marriages are still permitted and practiced in many Islamic countries - and where the practice is prohibited by civil law, such marriages are sometimes carried out by independent Imams who allege to be loyal to the Sharia alone. In these countries, child marriages are especially common among rural populations where girls well below the age of puberty may be wed by their guardians to older men to various ends, including the preservation of the family and girls' 'honor'.
Islamic child marriages are most common Pakistan and Afghanistan, followed by countries in the Middle East and Bangladesh. This practice may also be prevalent to a lesser extent amongst other Muslim communities, and has even been observed among the Muslim populations of non-Muslim countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
In countries including Yemen, Bangladesh, Iran, and Northern Nigeria, attempts at reforming laws and banning child marriages have been opposed and stopped on the grounds that such a ban would be un-Islamic. Malaysia has even passed new laws which explicitly allow for the practice of child marriages among Muslims on religious grounds.
Quran and tafsir
Tafsir Ibn Kathir
- Al-Nasa'i 1997, p. 108
- Narrated Hisham's father: Khadija died three years before the Prophet (ﷺ) departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married `Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old. Sahih Bukhari 5:58:236
- 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). Sahih Bukhari 7:62:64
- 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old. Sahih Muslim 8:3310
- Aisha said, "The Apostle of Allah married me when I was seven years old." (The narrator Sulaiman said: "Or six years.") Sunan Abu Dawud 2116 (Ahmad Hasan Ref)
- Most sources suggest age at consummation as nine, and one that it may have been age 10; See: Denise Spellberg (1996), Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231079990, pp. 39–40;
- Afsaruddin, Asma (2014). "ʿĀʾisha bt. Abī Bakr". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett. Encyclopaedia of Islam (3 ed.). Brill Online. Retrieved 2015-01-11
- Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. Yale University Press. p. 51-54. ISBN 978-0300055832.
- "'Umar asked 'Ali for the hand of his daughter, Umm Kulthum in marriage. 'Ali replied that '''she has not yet attained the age (of maturity)'''. 'Umar replied, 'By Allah, this is not true. You do not want her to marry me. If she is underage, send her to me'. Thus 'Ali gave his daughter Umm Kulthum a dress and asked her to go to 'Umar and tell him that her father wants to know what this dress is for. When she came to Umar and gave him the message, he grabbed her hand and forcibly pulled her towards him. 'Umm Kulthum asked him to leave her hand, which Umar did and said, 'You are a very mannered lady with great morals. Go and tell your father that you are very pretty and you are not what he said of you'. With that 'Ali married Umm Kulthum to 'Umar." Tarikh Khamees, Volume 2, p. 384 ('Dhikr Umm Kalthum') and Zakhair Al-Aqba, p. 168
- America Magazine: Child Marriage in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Andrew Bushell; March 11, 2002
- Americans For UNFPA: Virtual Slavery: The Practice of “Compensation Marriages” by Net Community of AfUNFPA; last retrieved Monday, 08 December 2008
- Ten-fold rise in forced marriages in just four years - The Daily Mail July 2, 2009
- Christine Vendel - Man charged with statutory rape in ‘marriage’ to 14-year-old girl - The Kansas City Star, November 8, 2009
- "Nigeria Child Brides-Broken Lives", Times Online, November 28, 2008 (archived), http://www.wunrn.com/news/2008/11_08/11_24_08/112408_nigeria.htm.
- "I Could Marry Off My Six Year Old Daughter If I So Wished, Senator Ahmed Yerima Replies Critics", The Nigeria Today, July 21, 2013 (archived), http://thenigeriatoday.net/i-could-marry-off-my-six-year-old-daughter-if-i-so-wished-senator-ahmed-yerima-replies-critics/.
- Islamist leader threatens of waging Jihad - Weekly Blitz, April 20, 2011
- Yessir - Child Marriage - Death Of 13 Year Old Bride After Wedding - A BIG MESSAGE, April 10, 2010
- YEMEN: Deep divisions over child brides - IRIN, March 28, 2010
- Outcry over Malaysian child marriages - Sydney Morning Herald, August 4, 2010