Written by Theresa Corbin in collaboration with Saadia Haq of The Human Lens
As we read in Part 1 (here), penned by our feminist friend, proud Pakistani, and human rights worker, Saadia Haq, we have a serious crisis in the Muslim world. Just one?! No, not by a long shot. But this particular crisis girls are facing is quite serious. Marriage. No child should even have to think about, much less fear the “M” word.
We are seeing a number of underaged Muslim girls being forced by their parents into marriages, all while being told that the injustices done to them are perfectly acceptable in Islam.
There is nothing new about claiming power illegitimately in the name of the Divine. It is the basis of my series, Take Back Islam. It happens in all faiths and at all levels, from familial to governmental.
Slapping the label of religion on something doesn’t necessarily make is so. This is the case with child and forced marriages.
Some use the following Qur’anic verse as a justification for underaged marriages:
“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.” (Qur’an 65:4)
A better translation of this verse would be:
“Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if you have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses (it is the same): for those who carry (life within their wombs), their period is until they deliver their burdens: and for those who fear God, He will make their path easy.” (Qur’an 65:4)
The verse is discussing divorce and the waiting period before a woman can remarry after a divorce. For those women who have reach menopause, the waiting period is three months, for “those who have not menstruated yet” or rather “those who have no courses” does NOT refer to underage girls. But rather it is referring to women with irregular periods.
According to Imam Hafiz Muhammad Ilyas, Imam Muhammad Taymoor, Maulana Hafiz Shaid Iqbal, Maulana abdul Qadir Qadir, and many more Islamic scholars, interpreting verse 65:4 to mean pre-menstruating girls “is a complete misinterpretation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is not referring to underage girls here, but to women who have stopped menstruating for some medical reason [irregular periods].”
But even if those who agree and even advocate for child marriages are approached with this verse’s correct interpretation, some will still claim they have a “right” to torture children because it is their culture.
As Saadia stated in her powerful Part One (here), those who inhumanely force children into marriages often claim they have a right to do so because it is a part of their culture.
But they couldn’t be more wrong. Firstly, Islam demands that we follow the laws of the land in which we live. And secondly, Islam came to get rid of unjust cultural practices. Islam demanded that daughters not be buried alive (which was a custom of pre-Islamic Arabs, who felt shame upon the birth of a daughter), that the wife has rights upon her husband equal to what he has upon her (pre-Islamic Arabs thought of their wives as property) and that women should be treated with kindness (pre-Islam Arabs were far from kind to women or any human being seen as secondary in their society).
Much of the Islamic directive to treate women fairly and with kindness goes against deeply ingrained misogyny and patriarchal cultures. So what have cultural Muslims done? They have buried their daughters alive in marriages that they have not consented to, sentencing them to a life full of rape, servitude, and torture before they are even fully grown. The Muslims who claim that forced and child marriages are Islamic have changed the words of God into the words of man and sold it as divine law in order to fulfill their sick desires. And I ask of you, dear reader, is there a worse crime?
What is the age of consent?
Putting aside the outrageous fact that some claim it is acceptable to force children into marriage, let’s look at what the age of consent actually is. When we talk about the age of consent in the West, we are talking about the age at which a person is considered old enough to give consent to have sexual relations outside of marriage. The marriage age is a different issue altogether. Interesting fact: the age of consent in Mississippi is 16, but the age of married is 15 for girls.
In Islam, when we talk about the age of consent, we are talking about the age when one is legally old enough to marry (or old enough to sign any contract). In Jewish Law the age of marriage is defined as 13 for boys and 12 for girls. And in Catholic Law it is 14 for girls and 16 for boys.
In Islam, the age at which one can consent to marriage is when a person is fully grown and has reached full maturity and strength of adulthood, which varies from person to person, era to era, and and society to society. (Qur’an 22:5, 40:67, 6:152, 17:34). More about reaching full strength and the age of maturity in order to consent here.
However, many will cite the young age of Aisha (RA) when she was married to the Prophet (PBUH) as an acceptable age for marriage. But this is very problematic because it doesn’t take into account the fact that individuals mature at different rates.
And more than that, Aisha’s age at marriage does not account for the major differences in time and place. These important differences can be seen in a comparison between Aisha’s marriage (who consented to marry the Prophet [PBUH] at the age of puberty) and Shobna’s (here) marriage (who was not at the age of consent when she was forced into a married).
Aisha (Ra) & Shobna
1-Education in the seventh century, when Aisha lived, was minimal. Few people were even literate. At this time, you learned a trade or how to cook, clean, and tend to the family’s livestock at a very early age. Once you reached puberty and knew how to care for your family, you were considered fully educated and ready to marry. Contrary to what happens to many young women today, Aisha’s marriage was actually a means for her to become one of the greatest jurists of Islam and the first female scholar. Her education was anything but stunted by her marriage.
In the 21st century, we establish ages for marriage around completion of formal education, and rightly so. Education today is widely available and people are more dependent on it in order to function in society and be able to raise successful children. And more than that education is not only a fundamental right of every Muslim, it is also an obligation. For girls like Shobna, marriage always forcibly cuts off their right to an education.
2-Life Span during Aisha’s (RA) era was short. The average person lived anywhere from 30-40 years. So there was a need to speed up life events like marriage. In her society, Aisha was considered a women when she married the Prophet (PBUH). Not even his enemies, who looked for any reason to disparage him, blinked an eye at the marriage of Aisha.
People in this 7th century, desert environment matured at a more rapid pace, both physically and emotionally. They had to. Life was tough. Marrying early was the custom across the globe in this time period and for many eras to come (Romeo and Juliet were 13 years old!) for all the same reasons.
In the 21st century, average life span is 71.4. Our children do not mature as quickly as they did even 500 years ago, much less 1400 when Aisha lived. And girls like Shobna are not ready for the rigors of marriage. They are not yet fully grown. They are not yet women.
3-CONSENT was in the hands of Aisha (RA). She had the option to decline Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) proposal of marriage. Not only did she consent to the marriage, Aisha was very joyful about the proposal.
A MAJOR concern is that not only are our young women today nowhere near ready for marriage, they are being forced into marriage by their parents.
Under this chapter, Imam Bukhari reports a hadith about Khansa Bint e Hizam Al Ansariyah. She states that her father married her off to someone forcefully whom she did not like. She took her case to the Prophet (PBUH) and upon listening to her, the Prophet rejected the marriage and declared it void. This is also narrated in Abu Dawood.
According to The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, “It is an obligation upon us (the Imams) to inform all Muslims in Canada and around the world that in Islam:
- Forced marriage is not recognized as lawful marriage. The relationship between the husband and wife is based upon mutual love and acceptance.
- Marrying an underage girl is cruel and criminal.”
In Islam, marriage should be based on a need to fulfil emotional and physical needs of both parties. This includes love, kindness, tenderness, companionship, and mercy.
“Among His signs is that He created for you spouses from yourselves so that you might find repose with them. And He has placed between you affection and mercy. In that there are certainly signs for people who reflect.” (Qur’an 30:21) [emphasis added]
“The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manners and kindest to his wife.” (Abu Dawoud)
“It is He [Allah] Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). […]” (Qur’an 7:189)
How can love, kindness, or mercy exist in marriage when it is forced and, more absurdly, when it is with a child who is being forced?!
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