Concerns with Islam: Child Marriage
In all my years as a Muslim, I never heard anyone talk about Aisha’s age. Aisha was always described in glowing terms and praised for her wisdom. Wisdom is something that comes with age, and it never really occurred to me to question the age of the Prophet of Islam’s favorite wife. It was only when a little girl from Yemen, who was married off at age 8, bravely filed for divorce, did I become aware of the larger issue of child marriage in the Islamic world. I always thought that women in developing countries often married early simply due to lack of education and cultural reasons. I never dreamed that there was any sort of “sunnah” that sanctified anything like this.
According to Islam, Mohammad is the ultimate example for all time and whatever he did should be imitated as closely as possible. He married a prepubescent girl of 6 years old and then consummated the relationship when she was 9. To demonstrate that this is an unquestionable fact, the following hadith illustrates the validity of this claim:
Sunan Abu Dawud
Most people, whatever the religion, would have a huge moral problem with a man in his 50s marrying a girl who is 6 and then having sex with her when she is 9. However, Muslims try to say that girls were more mature at that time. That makes no scientific sense at all. First of all, we know that physically she was not an adult, as Arabia was a place of scarcity and drought and food was not plentiful. Healthy food makes kids mature faster and this area could not provide such bountifulness.
Furthermore, according to doctors:
L. Steinberg, published by McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 1993
So what about 1400 years ago in Arabia? Why were people in Europe shorter in years past? (as displayed by all the low doors in any old home!) How could we possibly be convinced that in Arabia, a place of much greater poverty, earlier maturity could be possible?
Furthermore, mentally, she was still very much a child as well, as she was playing with dolls. Also, as there are no images allowed in the strictest form of Islam, which clearly Mohamed practiced, once a girl reached puberty, it would not be appropriate to play with dolls. They only let little girls play with dolls, as they were not considered responsible for their behavior to the same degree as a girl who had reached puberty.
Al-Khattaabee, a Muslim scholar, says that it is okay for Aisha (and other children) to play with dolls because they are not considered adults:
Shaykh Abdul-Azeez Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baaz,
Other people want to say that marrying a young girl was “cultural” and normal at the time. But there were many abusive practices then, would culture be a reason for the Prophet of God, the one who would leave a legacy for generations to imitate, be reason enough to institute a practice that would damage young girls physically and mentally? He made the burying of baby girls illegal, so why would he not make the practice of marrying prepubescent girls illegal?
To illustrate how dangerous this practice is, consider the reality of fistula, a disease which is very common among young girls even if they have begun menstruation, as described by a doctor.
“You are a 14 year old girl. You’ve never been to school. You were married to a man in a neighboring village at age 13—before your first menstrual period and six months later, you became pregnant. Now you are in labor with your first child.
Labor has already lasted for three days, but still the baby has not come. You are exhausted. You have lost a lot of blood and are running a fever. You haven’t passed urine in over two days, and your genitals are horribly swollen and bruised from the constant pushing. Why won’t the baby come out? You wonder. You dread the long bony fingers of the old woman who is attending your birth. Nothing she does brings relief.
Soon the sun is rising on the morning of your fourth day of labor. At midday, with agony, you manage to pass the child from your body. The baby is stillborn. It has been dead for nearly three days and has started to decay. The softening of its tissues finally allowed it to pass through your vagina.
Thank God, you sigh, It’s finally over, but it is not.
On the morning of the fifth day, you pass more dead tissue. And then it starts. Urine is running out of your vagina, unto your thighs, onto the floor. What is going on? The urine does not stop. You find some rags and stuff them between your thighs.
There, that ought to take care of it, you think, but it doesn’t.
In an hour or two, the rags are soaked. In six hours you have run out of rags. In 12 hours you notice—to your horror—that feces are also coming out. No matter how much you try, no matter how much you wash, you cannot get rid of it.
The odor and wetness are constant. Your husband is disgusted. He cannot stand to have you around. Your presence is unendurable.
“What has happened to you? What did you do?” He demands. You were supposed to become a woman, the mother of his first-born son, but instead you have turned into a human cesspit. This all must be punishment for something you did. He turns you out of the house. Your family takes you back but you are not fit to live in their dwelling, so they put you in a shack on the edge of the family compound, where you sit day after day—alone, wretched, and stinking—until your family has had enough and casts you out.
You are 14. You are illiterate and have no money. You have no skills with which to learn a livelihood. You reek of urine and feces. And you want to die.
You don’t know that your condition has a name, all you know is that you are cursed for reasons you don’t understand. As far as you can tell, you are the only woman who has ever been afflicted in this way. You don’t know that 3 to 4 million other women currently share your fate of having a fistula. Neither do you know that tens of thousands more join this sisterhood of suffering every year. As the lonely months roll by, you understand that this condition will not go away, that your injury will not heal on its own, and that nothing you can do will change your condition. Most importantly, perhaps, you do not know that fistulas are both curable and preventable.
Labor is an involuntary process. Once started, it continues until delivery is achieved or it ends in one of several catastrophic ways. The pregnant woman whose pelvis is too small for childbirth may be in hard labor for days, suffering severe, unrelenting uterine contractions without achieving delivery until—exhausted, weak from blood loss, and probably infected because of the long labor—she dies without ever delivering her child. Sometimes the uterus will rupture, killing both the woman and her baby in a sudden cataclysm in which the fetus and the afterbirth are thrown into her abdomen through the burst wall of her womb.
Women who do not succumb eventually pass a stillborn infant who is asphyxiated during the long birth process. After death, the entrapped baby starts to decay, eventually macerating and sliding out of the mother’s body.And if this were not terrible enough, the worst is yet to come. A few days later, the base of the woman’s bladder sloughs away due to her injuries, and a torrent of urine floods through her vagina. In obstructed labor, the woman’s bladder is trapped between the fetal skull and her pelvic bones. The skull is forced relentlessly downward by the contractions, but the unyielding bones of her pelvis refuse to let it pass. As her pelvis’s soft tissues are crushed, they die and slough away, forming a fistula. Once this happens, the fistula will not heal without a surgical operation.”
Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D
Many regard Mohammed’s action to be imitated concerning a child bride. Fortunately for Aisha she did not become pregnant but that is not the case for many child brides in Islam. Imams around the Muslim world should warn men against the outrageous idea of taking a child bride. It is not in the man’s best interest of having a healthy wife and mother of his children, nor in the best interest of the child who has not matured enough for a healthy pregnancy. Children continue to grow until about the age of 18 and this is particularly important for females to mature to the point of their bodies being ready for conception. Each time a man imitates Mohammed in taking a child bride he is risking the life of both the mother and the child.
The Quran’s Sanctioning of Child Brides
Sadly, it is not just Mohammad who thought he should have a child bride; it is also sanctioned in the Koran. To be clear, a man can marry a prepubescent girl who has not even reached her period. In the case of divorce:
The surrounding context deals with the issue of the waiting period for divorce, and remarriage. The Quran is telling Muslims to wait for a certain period of time before making the divorce final or deciding to forego it. The Quran exhorts men to wait a period of three months in the case of women who either are no longer menstruating or haven’t even started their menstrual cycles.
Since Muslim men are to wait 3 months before divorcing a prepubescent child it means that they have been engaging in sex with those children.
Ibn Kathir wrote regarding 65:4
Al-Tabari said regarding 65:4:
Regarding sex with prepubescent children, Abu-Ala’ Maududi states:
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Tafhim al-Qur'an
To me, if Islam is the true religion of God, God would know the horrible consequences that this would bring on and stop it. 88% of the girls in Bangladesh, 98.6% of the girls in Niger, and 55.8% of the girls in Chad marry under the age of 15. Is it any surprise that the 3 countries that have the highest percentages of child brides in the world are all Muslim majority countries? How can we not see this correlation and realize that the lives of these young women have to be a priority over religion? How can men around the world continue to justify their poor choices with “I figured it was sunnah?”
Let me just end this section with a true story:
A 13-year-old Yemeni girl who was forced into marriage died five days after her wedding when she suffered a rupture in her sex organs and hemorrhaging, a local rights organization said Thursday.
Ilham Mahdi al Assi died last Friday in a hospital in Yemen's Hajja province, the Shaqaeq Arab Forum for Human Rights said in a statement quoting a medical report.
She was wedded the previous Monday in a traditional arrangement known as a "swap marriage," in which the brother of the bride also married the sister of the groom, it said. "The child Ilham has died as a martyr due to the abuse of children's lives in Yemen," the non-governmental organization said.
Her death was a "flagrant example" of the results of opposing the ban on child marriage in Yemen, which was leading to "killing child females," it said.
The marriage of young girls is widespread in Yemen, which has a strong tribal structure. The death of a 12-year-old girl in childbirth in September illustrated the case of the country's "brides of death," many of whom were married off even before puberty.
Controversy heightened in Yemen recently over a law banning child marriage in the impoverished country through setting a minimum age of 17 for women and 18 for men.
Thousands of conservative women demonstrated outside parliament last month, answering a call by Islamist parties opposing the law.A lesser number of women rallied at the same venue a few days later in support of the law, the implementation of which was blocked pending a request by a group of politicians for a review.
NewsCore, April 8, 2010
Which is more important, these women’s rights to “hold onto their religion” or little Ilam’s rights to her choice, her body and her life?