Why does the Marriage of Underage Girls Persist in the Islamic World?
The Katsina State (northwest Nigeria) House of Assembly has recently passed a bill to protect children from abuse, but says the legislation will not regulate the age of marriage.
The decision means although the Child Right Protection Bill defines a child as a person below the age of 18, people who should by that definition be considered underage can still marry.
With more than 80 percent of its girls married before their 18th birthday, Katsina has one of the highest prevalence of child marriage. In fact, girls often get married against their will at the age of 10 or even younger.
Child marriage in Nigeria is one of the most painful and disturbing problems in the country. Usually, it is done in the poor regions, where people force their young daughters to get married, quite often to a total stranger. So, what are the reasons for early marriage and its effect on Nigerian children?
Many claim that it is due to poverty or gender inequality. Others hold that it is due to insecurity. Since the female harassment rate keeps growing, many worry about the future of their daughters. Before she becomes an adult, they arrange her a marriage with someone much older than her, believing that they are giving her into safe hands and ensuring her a trouble-free future. The ultimate reason, without disavowing the aforementioned equivocal situations, is Islamic tradition.
Pedophilia is “an ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children.” Nonetheless, Islamic doctrine validates such conduct under the pretense that it is not child abuse but a young girl’s capacity to live out her dignity as a woman. Despite many Islamic states prohibiting such matrimonial contracts, sharia courts have the power to override state laws. In various Islamic countries, a nine-year-old girl is not, according to sharia law, considered a child for she can already be considered to have reached the age of puberty.
Click below to hear the tragic accounts of underage girls wedded to adult men
The justification is based on the hadiths—the sayings and acts of the Prophet Muhammad—that condones this sexual depravity.
Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, for example, was six years old when, he as a man in his fifties, wedded her and consummated the marriage when she was nine:
- “The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).” —Sahih al-Bukhari Book 7: 62, 88
- 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 girl friends. 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 a 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. —Sahih al-Bukhari Book 5: 58, 23
In some places, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, this observance has the approval of state law. Article 1041 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that girls can be engaged before the age of nine, and married at nine:
“Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interests of the ward are duly observed.”
In fact, its first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. He called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing” and advised the faithful:
“Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” Khomeini’s justification was found in the Shi’ite hadith: “The Prophet entered upon ‘A’ishah when she was 10 years old, and that one does [not] enter [upon] a jaariyah [girl] until she became a woman.”
And because in Islam Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct, he pattern of life is initiated to the present day:
There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often. —Sura 33, 21
This is why in April 2011, the Bangladesh Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage in that country were putting Muhammad in a bad light:
“Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of the holy prophet of Islam, [putting] the moral character of the prophet into controversy and challenge.” He added a threat: “Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women.”
This is one of the principal reasons why Kemal Atatürk, the founder and president of modern Turkey referred Islam as a “theology of an immoral illiterate Arab [and] a decaying corpse that is poisoning all of our life.” Atatürk’s statement naturally does not classify every Muslim, but it is up to Muslims to acknowledge and altogether disavow the hadiths that justify the debauchery of marrying off pre-pubescent and teenage girls to adult men.
Islamic scholars argue that marriage to prepubescent girls was common in biblical times. While this may be true, it has nothing to do with God endorsing the practice.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.