Muhammad and Today’s Child Brides

child brideI received a phone call today from a friend in Melbourne asking for advice. A Muslim family lives nearby and their fourteen year old daughter confided in him: “I think my mum is arranging a marriage for me, and I am scared. I don’t want it.” My friend has now contacted the Australian Federal Police, and an investigation has started.

This is not an isolated incident. NSW Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard recently declared that “there is a tsunami of young girls, some as young as nine, who are being taken overseas and being forced to become child brides … The imams in the Muslim community need to speak up more, and indeed any other religious leaders in communities who might pursue this practice.”  Muslims Australia president Kaiser Trad claimed to be shocked by the reports, asserting that “one of the conditions for a marriage to be valid under Islamic teachings is consent. For anybody to force a young lady or a young man into a marriage against their will is wrong.” He was not quote as condemning child marriage per se.

A study of Muslim texts reveals that it was practised in the early Islamic period, even by the prophet Muhammad himself. His third wife, Aisha, was daughter of his best friend Abu Bakr. The marriage took place when she was six years old and was consummated when Aisha turned nine. Multiple texts in authentic hadiths (authoritative traditions) attest to these ages. Informants include Aisha herself,[1] Hisham’s father,[2] and Ursa.[3] Aisha reported: “He had intercourse with me when I was nine years old.”[4]   She also noted: “The Messenger of Allah married me when I was six, and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine, and I used to play with dolls.”[5]

Apparently Aisha had not yet reached puberty. Al-Asqalani’s celebrated commentary on al-Bukhari’s hadith makes this comment about Aisha’s childhood amusement: “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. (Fath-ul-Bari page 143, Vol.13) Another Hadith describes her sitting in the mosque with Muhammad as “a little girl (who has not reached the age of puberty).” (Sahih al-Bukhari 7:163)

Rules regarding pre-pubescent marriages are described in the Qur’an in Q.65:4. The iddah is the required waiting period for a previously-married female before she could marry another man. The Hilali and Khan translation states that “for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their ‘Iddah (prescribed period) is three months.” Daryabadi’s translation presents it as: “their waiting period is three months… of those who have not yet menstruated.” Shakir translates it as: “their prescribed time shall be three months, and of those too who have not had their courses [They are physically immature].”

The most famous commentaries (tafsir) on the Qur’an agree. Ibn Kathir states: “The same is for the young, who have not reached the years of menstruation. Their iddah is three months.”  Tafsir al-Jalalayn notes that for “those who have not yet menstruated, because of their young age, their period shall [also] be three months.” Muhammad’s cousin Ibn Abbas presents this verse as being revealed due to a query. “Another man asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What about the waiting period of those who do not have menstruation because they are too young?” Muhammad’s reply was: “Because of young age, their waiting period is three months.” Al-Wahidi’s book Asbab al-Nuzul identifies the questioner as the famous reciter of the Qur’an Ubayy ibn Ka’b. The description of the girls is “‘those who are too young [such that they have not started menstruating yet].”

It seems that these child marriages must have been previously consummated, otherwise no waiting period would have been required before re-marriage. Hilali and Khan translate Qur’an 33:49  as follows: “O you who believe! When you marry believing women, and then divorce them before you have sexual intercourse with them, no ‘Iddah [divorce prescribed period, see (V.65:4)] have you to count in respect of them.”

Pakistani scholar Abul A’la Maududi concludes that these verses and commentary constitute divine sanction for child marriage. “Making mention of the waiting-period for the girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl in marriage at this age but it is also 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.”

Others have reached the same conclusion. Ayatollah Khomeini, on coming to power in Iran, proposed reducing the permissible age of marriage for girls from eighteen to nine years old.[6] Ibn Baz, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (1993-1999) gave the following fatwa: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) married `Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) when she was 6 or 7 years old and he (peace be upon him) consummated the marriage when she was 9 years old. His actions (peace be upon him) are legislation to this Ummah (nation based on one creed). The Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them all) also used to marry when they were young and old, without any specifications on age. No one has the right to impose laws other than those laid down by Allah and His Messenger or to change them, as they are sufficient.”[7]

Child marriages continue to take place throughout the Muslim world. On April 30, 2009, the Saudi Gazette reported that a girl of eight years old had won a divorce from a man in his fifties, despite a Saudi judge twice rejecting her appeal. The girl’s father had arranged the marriage to pay off a debt. Earlier in the year, the country’s highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, said it was not against Islamic law to marry off girls who are 15 and younger.[8]

Nujood Ali, a Yemeni girl, won the Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year award in 2008 along with the lawyer who facilitated her divorce when she was only eight years old. Beaten by her in-laws and raped by her husband, Nujood fled to the court two months after her wedding. She earned praise from Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice for her courage.[9]

The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18 years old, but a waiver can be given with the authorisation of two judges. UNICEF reports that 8% of Jordanian girls are married before 18. Amongst Syrian refugee girls in Jordan, the under-age marriage rate is a staggering 32%, reportedly to protect the girls from rape.[10]

Child marriage is not just an Arab phenomenon. “Malaysia’s government says it’s considering amending civil and shariah law to ban underage marriages, which are considered a common way to lower the number of children born out of wedlock and those which are abandoned.

This comes in response to public opposition to comments made by the chief minister of the state of Malacca, encouraging underage marriages. Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the federal minister for women, family and community development, says child marriages are morally and socially unacceptable. She says the government wants to bring laws in line with United Nations human rights treaties which Malaysia has ratified. Ivy Josiah of the Women Aids Organisation in Malaysia stated: “There have been marriages between nine year olds and 40 year olds and ten year olds and 30 year olds …This is not right – even though it’s provided for in the Islamic shariah law.”[11] Although civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at eighteen, Islamic law allows earlier marriages, with no set age limit, with the permission of a syariah (Sharia) court, and State Chief Ministers can also give such permission.  In 2010, the Women, Family and Community Development deputy minister reported that 16,000 girls aged below 15 in Malaysia were married. Amendments to the federal Child Act in April 2016 did not address this anomaly, despite public calls to do so.[12]

Pakistan’s Tribune newspaper reports developments:

“Another move to ban child marriages in Pakistan has fallen at the first hurdle. The bill to prohibit underage marriages has been withdrawn after the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) declared it un-Islamic. The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony rejected the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2014 after the CII dubbed it ‘anti-Islamic’ and ‘blasphemous’. The CII has already ruled the minimum age stipulated for marriage in the Child Marriages Restriction Act of 1929 does not comply with Islamic laws. In May 2014, amid severe criticism from various quarters, the council had endorsed its earlier ruling that girls as young as nine years old were eligible to be married “if the signs of puberty are visible”.[13]

Kaiser Trad’s comment about consent from both parties being necessary is correct. However the requirements for such agreement are not very stringent. In a discussion between Muhammad and his child-bride in the authentic hadith, Aisha reported: “I asked the Prophet, “O Allah’s Apostle! Should the women be asked for their consent to their marriage?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “A virgin, if asked, feels shy and keeps quiet.” He said, “Her silence means her consent.” (alBukhari 9:79). In another version, the account goes like this:  Aisha reported: “Allah’s Apostle said, “It is essential to have the consent of a virgin (for the marriage). I said, “A virgin feels shy.” The Prophet said, “Her silence means her consent.” (alBukhari 9:101, 100 also 7:68).

Although child marriage is practised by other religions and ethnic groups, only Islam offers it such high-level scriptural endorsement, prophetic example and legislative justification. These are significant hurdles for the Islamic community to overcome. Much courage and a serious re-interpretation of the ancient texts and the life of Muhammad will be required to resolve this ongoing problem. The future of the world’s Muslim children, including my friend’s fourteen-year-old neighbour in Melbourne, will depend on how this challenge is addressed.

Dr Bernie Power lectures in Islamic Studies at the Melbourne School of Theology. His book, Understanding Jesus and Muhammad, has been short-listed for Australian Christian Book of the Year.

[1] Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari 5:234; 7:64,65,90; Sahih Muslim 3309, 3311, 5133

[2] Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari 5:236

[3] Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari 7:88

[4] Hadith Sunan Abu Dawud 2116

[5]Hadith Sunan an-Nasa’i 3380

[6] Haleh Afshar Iran, Islam and Democracy: Fluid Identities (Melbourne University: Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam, 2006), 7

[7]  http://www.alifta.net/Fatawa/FatawaChapters.aspx?languagename=en&View=Page&PageID=285&PageNo=1&BookID=14

[10] http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/jordan/

[12] https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/29/time-ban-child-marriage-malaysia

10 thoughts on “Muhammad and Today’s Child Brides

  • Jody says:

    ‘Hello, hello; could I speak to Clementine Ford please?”
    “Yes, this is Clementine”.
    “Did you read the article in ‘Quadrant’ about pedophilia in the muslim community?”
    “No; you are a bigoted racist xenophobe who looks for the bad in everybody….**** off!”

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    All power to you Bernie for such a comprehensive analysis of the abusive Muslim marriage of underage girls.

    The Western world will just have to enforce Australian law on minimum age for marriage, at the same time enforcing the law against polygamy. Surely it is time to cease Muslim immigration as the ideology is incompatible with the Australian democracy that was framed on Judeo-Christian values.
    Trump recognizes the problem of Muslim immigration and Muslim values and so it seems does Pauline Hanson.

  • Jim Kapetangiannis says:

    How unbelievably sad. Sad that this evil is mistaken by so many as some kind of “good”. We have traduced our heritage and created a spiritual, moral and intellectual vacuum. The devil certainly knows how to fill it!!

  • mags of Queensland says:

    What an excuse for paedophiles. But it says so much about muslim men that they think it’s OK to bed little girls; they rest the honour of the family with its women ( I wonder why that is); if a woman is raped she is to blame and the men suffer no consequences. And these people want us to believe that they are the ‘ religion of peace’?

    How could anyone with a grain of decency consider that the ramblings of a dirty old man are somehow divine. It just shows that they are willing to let someone else be their moral leader because they have none of their own. How any parent could condone this child abuse says much about their culture. And they want to inflict this on the west?

    Any muslim who marries their child off before the legal age should be punished to the extent of the law or sent back to their homeland – minus the child.

  • prsmith14@gmail.com says:

    I enjoyed your article Bernie but the ending (which is far from unusual unfortunately) irritated me; to wit:

    “Much courage and a serious re-interpretation of the ancient texts and the life of Muhammad will be required to resolve this ongoing problem.”

    You can’t reinterpret plain words. They won’t be reinterpreted. Therefore it is particularly useless to proffer reinterpretation as solution. There is no solution to this sorry religion other than through its demise; or at least through its marginalisation, or at the very least through its containment. The only question worth considering is how to bring this about.

  • Advertise@AustralianByte.com says:

    Is not Mohammed and his writings perfection? How can anything he did be wrong? It was perfection 1300 years ago and still is.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    I am with Peter once again. It is absolutely futile to advocate or even hope for an “acceptable version” of Islam or pontificate over a relatively minor aspect of it. Child brides, while disgusting and nauseating to us, do not directly endanger our civilisation. The only viable option is the complete eradication of this evil creed in our midst, root and branch. The prerequisite for that process to begin is the open and fearless declaration that such policy must and will be pursued. Sadly and most disconcertedly, the exact opposite prevails. Western leaders, with only a mere handful of exceptions, go to ridiculous lengths to appease and excuse the barbarism that is Islam, enthusiastically supported by armies of “useful idiots”. Unless such attitudes are reversed, Islam is certain to rule the world within only a few generations.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      That statement is a declaration of war Bill, surely this can be avoided by simply ignoring those who wail and beat their chests, point to our laws and say cry me a river or grow up. That of course starts with us.

      Want to wear a hijab….fine no problems but you cant have a drivers licence or speak to your defence in court, enter a bank or a petrol station.

      Don’t stand up for the beak,…have a week in gaol and we will try again later, want to marry a underage child…then off to gaol you go, want multiple wives ok then applicable legal sanctions apply.

      Australians are constantly told that other countries laws are what one has to comply with when travelling or living oversea’s, so why not just apply Australian law to everyone in Australia?

      Ones race creed or colour, the contents of your underwear or how you choose to use said contents ought not be considered a defence, an offence or an ameliorating factor in the courts determinations.

      Blind justice is carved into court house fascias, it would hardly come as a surprise if we applied the law blindly.

      • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

        Your comment, Rob, is perfectly sensible, reasonable and responsible. The problem is that all those qualities are totally absent from Islam. We can do all you suggest and a whole lot more, but that will not stop the Saudi wahabi crazies, the Muslim Brotherhood and others from actively advocating the superiority of Islam and its divine destiny to rule the world, the financing of mosques and Islamic schools in the west teaching Muslim children to hate and fight the infidel and how to secure ever more concessions from the host nation. The Islamisation of western countries is proceeding at an ever increasing rate – think of the ever increasing range of special concessions and privileges exclusive to Muslims – Muslim immigrants outbreed the host population by up to 10:1, so how can we prevent Islam from subjugating the world without taking them on without restraint? What I am advocating is not a declaration of war, but the only viable response to the declaration of war on us by Islam.

        • Doc S says:

          Completely true Bill. The problem in Australia is that while some of the more egregious breeches of Australian law – particularly those pertaining to the Family Law Act – by members of the Islamic faith are prosecuted, groups who promote the fundamentalist (or pure – however you want to describe it) Salafi/Wahabi version of Islam such as Hizb’ut Tahrir operate with impunity in Australia. Amongst the things they promote include Islamic delights such as FGM, child marriage etc. You are no doubt aware that there isn’t even a cigarette paper between their ideology and that of the Muslim Brotherhood for example, yet because some ‘useful idiots’ in our security agencies consider them non-violent, they are not proscribed and thereby prevented from continuing their poisonous proselytising. The authorities both security and legal simply don’t get it. There is a woeful ignorance about Islamic ideology and practise, particularly amongst those charged with our protection who in turn provide this flawed advice to government.

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