Ideology vs. Islam
Many people, including Muslims, believe that Islam permits child marriage. As a result of this misconception, Islam is dismissed by non-Muslims as a medieval, oppressive, and illogical religion while those Muslims who possess little knowledge of the Qur‘an defend and support child marriage as a tenet of their faith. By supporting practices inconsistent with Islam, Muslims invite the criticism of their religion that they seek to eradicate.
Muslims themselves are often the source of their struggle. Practically abandoning the pivotal commandment of ijtihad, or independent reasoning, in Islam, they have adopted unprecedented and unwarranted trust in Islamic “authorities.” In my view, this is a source of more embarrassment than enlightenment for Muslims.
Recently, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) passed a ruling that:
“Pakistani laws prohibiting marriage of underage children are un-Islamic, and that according to Islam, there is no minimum age of marriage. However, the Rukhsati (consummation of marriage) is allowed only in the case that both husband and wife have reached puberty. Furthermore, under Shariah, a man is not bound to seek approval for second marriage from the first wife.”
QURANIC TEACHINGS ON CHILD MARRIAGE
In discussing marriage, the Qur‘an equates marriageable age with the ability to make mature and sound judgments, as demonstrated by the passage, “And test the orphans [in your charge] until they reach a marriageable age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind/sound in judgment, hand over to them their possessions…” (4:6).
In this passage, marriageable age is equated with sound judgment, an age at which a person can responsibly handle his or her possessions. Common sense, then, would dictate that a person has not reached marriageable age until adulthood, since childhood is a crucial time of development. Thus, it is illogical to assume that a child has a mature intellect. During these years, the child shapes his or her whole personality by exploring different opportunities and adopting various paradigms. To enter into such an immense, life-changing responsibility as marriage greatly affects the child psychologically since he or she is deprived of the chance to discover who he or she is.
Furthermore, child marriage is de facto child rape since children have not developed adequate sexual maturity to comprehend the implications of sex. A heartbreaking reality is that traditional cultural teachings more often encourage the marriage of an older man to a younger girl, an arrangement that reinforces a man’s sexual imposition on a girl with his psychological and physiological superiority. Unable to challenge the man physically or intellectually, the girl is subject to the emotionally and, often, physically scarring reality of child marriage with few, if any, avenues for liberation.
The Qur‘an also advises Muslims to marry monotheists, as demonstrated in the passage:
“Do not marry the females who set up partners until they acknowledge. An acknowledging servant is better than one who sets up partners, even if she attracts you. Similarly, do not marry the males who set up partners until they acknowledge. An acknowledging servant is better than one who sets up partners even if he attracts you.” (2:221)
The Qur‘an acknowledges that a healthy relationship is based, among other things, on a similarity of belief systems. If Muslims accept this principle, how can those who defend child marriage expect children to understand Islamic theology when they are developmentally incapable of doing so? Children tend to unquestioningly adhere to the beliefs of their parents, but blind faith is severely discouraged in the Qur‘an on many occasions (2:170, 5:104, 7:70). As mentioned earlier, parents must give their children space to formulate their views before they even consider marriage.
The Qur‘an regards marriage as a solemn oath, as demonstrated in this passage: “And how could you take it away (marital gift) after you have given yourselves to one another, and she has received a most solemn pledge from you?’” (4:21)
Marriage is not child’s play. It demands great responsibility from both individuals, something children are not ready for. Therefore, the Qur‘an does not compromise on this issue, terming marriage a “most solemn pledge.” To suggest that Allah would allow—let alone encourage—an individual to prematurely enter into a “solemn pledge” without discovering who he or she is as a psychological, physical, and social being insults the miracle of creation.
Furthermore, the Qur‘an forbids forcing women to marry, as we can see in the passage: “O You who have chosen to be graced with belief! It is not lawful for you to force women into marrying or holding on to them in marriage against their will.” (4:19)
Would a child, unbidden, entertain the idea of marriage? The immense responsibility of marriage is one that children do not possess the intellectual capacity to grasp thoroughly. Therefore, children only entertain the idea of marriage if they are heavily influenced by their parents, which, as stated above in the Qur‘an, is severely discouraged.
It is worth noting that the Qur‘an expects the male partner to financially support his wife, as can be seen in the passage:
“Let them (the divorced women) live where you live with the same standard of living that you have, and according to your best means. Harass them not to make life difficult for them. And if they are pregnant, spend on them freely until they deliver their burden. Then, if they nurse your baby, give them their due recompense. And frequently consult together amicably. And if both of you find it difficult, let another woman suckle the baby on her behalf.” (65:6)
So, should a young boy enter into marriage, how could he be expected to earn enough money to support not only himself, but also his wife? Should he get an education, or should he forfeit a more profitable and enriching future to labor in order to financially support his spouse? Child marriage frequently prevents children from furthering their education. Therefore, the inaccurate claim that child marriage is Islamic is tantamount to a claim that education for children who attain puberty is un-Islamic.
THE MISCONCEPTION ABOUT 65:4
“And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women—if you doubt, then their (waiting) period is three months (relating to divorce), and [also for] those who did not menstruate. And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth. ” (65:4)
In reflection on the passage above, traditional interpretations claim that “those who did not menstruate” refers to prepubescent girls who have not yet attained puberty, thereby concluding that Islam permits child marriage. Traditional thinkers deliberately add the word “yet” to justify the child marriage, although the word does not appear in the original Arabic text.
The verse begins by discussing the waiting period for women who have ceased to menstruate in the case of a divorce. Therefore, it has established the context of adult women who are of menstruating age. It logically follows that “those who did not menstruate” refers to adult women who are supposed to menstruate, but did not. This medical condition is called amenorrhea, and refers to when a woman’s menstrual periods cease (not due to menopause). The waiting period for such women, then, is the same—three months.
In the case of polygamy, which is only to be practiced in exceptional circumstances, many wonder if the permission of the first wife is necessary to marry a second wife. The Qur‘an comments on the conditions under which polygamy is allowable in the following passage:
“If you fear not that you will be just/equitable to the orphans, then marry as permissible for you, women, two, three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then only one, or to whom you are committed to by oath. That is better so that you do not deviate from the right course.” (4:3)
A cursory examination of this verse concludes that polygamy is not allowed merely to satisfy the sexual lusts of men. Rather, it is permissible to take more than one wife if doing so will protect her children.
Moreover, the verse emphasizes that all wives must receive just and equitable treatment, an unusual norm in polygamy. If a man were to marry another woman without getting the consent of his first wife, he would be acting unjustly toward his first wife. Justice is only served when it is distributed equally. Hence the Qur‘anic warning: “But if you fear that you will not be just, then only one….”
The Qur‘an clarifies that child marriage is something that Allah never authorized. The practice of child marriage is detrimental to the overall well-being of children, and is, in reality, a form of slavery. Logic identifies child marriage as an oppressive practice that has been justified through the misunderstanding and manipulation of Islam. When we examine what the Qur‘an actually says about marriage, a very different picture emerges.
“Have you considered those who were asked to accept judgment from Allah’s Book? When they are asked to accept judgment from Allah’s Book, some of them turn their backs and walk away!” (3:23)
Would you then, O fellow Muslim, rethink your stance?