Concerns with Islam: Child Marriage

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Concerns with Islam:
Thoughts from an American Convert
By: Americana X
Ch.1: Apostasy
Ch 2: Immoral, Unjustified, and Preemptive Warfare and Violence
Ch.3: Child Marriage
Ch.4: Women’s Lack of Legal Rights and Equality
Ch.5: How Women Are Perceived Disrespectfully
Ch.6: Wife Beating
Ch.7: Men and Women are Not Equal at All In Islam
Ch.8: Sexual Slavery in Islam
Ch.9: Adoption
Ch.10: Democracy is not Compatible with Islam

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:

Sahih al-Bukhari

Narrated Aisha: The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girlfriends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, "Best wishes and Allah's Blessing and good luck." Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah's Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
Narrated Hisham's father: Khadija died three years before the Prophet 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 consummated that marriage when she was nine years old.

Sunan Abu Dawud

Aisha said: The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) married me when I was seven years old. The narrator Sulaiman said: Or six years. He had intercourse with me when I was nine years old.
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) married me when I was seven or six. When we came to Medina, some women came. According to Bishr's version: Umm Ruman came to me when I was swinging. They took me, made me prepared and decorated me. I was then brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), and he took up cohabitation with me when I was nine. She halted me at the door, and I burst into laughter.

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:

"Generally, full reproduction function does not occur until several years after menarche, and regular ovulation follows menarche by about two years. …The onset of puberty can occur as early as 8 years in girls and 9.5 in boys, or as late as 13 in girls and 13.5 in boys. In girls, the interval between the first sign of puberty and complete physical maturation can be as short as one and one-half years or as long as six years....In more concrete terms, it is possible for an early-maturing, fast-maturing youngster to complete pubertal maturation by the age of 10 or 11 - two years before a late-maturing youngster has even begun puberty. "(Although menarche does not signal the onset of puberty....) .....the average age at menarche generally is lower in those countries where individuals are less likely to be malnourished or suffer from chronic disease. For example, in western Europe and in the United States, the median menarcheal age ranges from about 12.5 years to 13.5 years. In Africa, however, the median menarcheal age ranges from 14 years to 17 years."
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.

'A'isha reported that Allah's Apostle married her when she was seven years old, and she was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old.
'A'isha reported that she used to play with dolls in the presence of Allah's Messenger and when her playmates came to her they left (the house) because they felt shy of Allah's Messenger whereas Allah's Messenger sent them to her.
He asked: What is this? She replied: My dolls. Among them he saw a horse with wings made of rags, and asked: What is this I see among them? She replied: A horse. He asked: What is this that it has on it? She replied: Two wings. He asked: A horse with two wings? She replied: Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with wings? She said: Thereupon the Apostle of Allah laughed so heartily that I could see his molar teeth.

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:

From this Hadeeth it is understood that playing with dolls (al-banaat) is not like the amusement from other images (suwar) concerning which the threat (wa'eed) of punishment is mentioned. The only reason why permission in this was given to 'Aa'isha (may Allah be pleased with her) is because she had not, at that time, reached the age of puberty.

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.

It was a good thing that Aisha, the child bride of Mohammed, never became pregnant. She was engaged to him at 6 years old and the marriage was consummated when she was nine. It is rather strange that only one of Mohammed’s wives became pregnant. At any rate, if Aisha had become pregnant at nine she could possibly have had a terrible time in delivery and may have possibly died. If she did not die she might have wished that death had overtaken her because of the possible consequences of a youthful pregnancy. Unfortunately Mohammed became the model of the Muslim man and marrying children has been a part of the influence of Mohammed. Untold numbers of girls have died because of Mohammed’s action. Other untold numbers have suffered a miserable life and probably wished they were dead because of being a child bride.

“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.”

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:

If you are in doubt concerning those of your wives who have ceased menstruating, know that their waiting period shall be three months. The same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated. As for pregnant women, their term shall end with their confinement. God will ease the hardship of the man who fears him.

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

"The `Iddah (the 3 month waiting period) is made up of cleanliness and the menstrual period. So he divorces her while it is clear that she is pregnant, or he does not due to having sex, or since he does not know if she is pregnant or not. This is why the scholars said that there are two types of divorce, one that conforms to the Sunnah and another innovated. The divorce that conforms to the Sunnah is one where the husband pronounces one divorce to his wife when she is not having her menses and without having had sexual intercourse with her after the menses ended. One could divorce his wife when it is clear that she is pregnant. As for the innovated divorce, it occurs when one divorces his wife when she is having her menses, or after the menses ends, has sexual intercourse with her and then divorces her, even though he does not know if she became pregnant or not. There is a third type of divorce, which is neither a Sunnah nor an innovation where one divorces a young wife who has not begun to have menses, the wife who is beyond the age of having menses, and divorcing one's wife before the marriage was consummated.

Al-Tabari said regarding 65:4:

The interpretation of the verse “And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the ‘Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubt (about their periods), is three months; and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their ‘Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise”. He said: The same applies to the ‘idaah for girls who do not menstruate because they are too young, if their husbands divorce them after consummating the marriage with them.
Tafsir Al-Tabari, 14/142

Regarding sex with prepubescent children, Abu-Ala’ Maududi states:

"Therefore, making mention of the waiting-period for girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl at this age but it is permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Qur’an has held as permissible."
Commentary on Qur'an Chapter 65:4
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:

Child Bride Dies After Sex Organs Rupture
Photo: Annasofie Flamand/IRIN. March 23, 2010
Women protesters hold up copies of the Quran outside parliament in Sanaa while stating that a proposed law banning marriages under the age of 17 in Yemen is un-Islamic. May God forgive them……

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.

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?

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