Italian television looks like fun. (Video thanks to Frank.)
“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).” — Bukhari 7.62.88
This behavior by the man whom hundreds of millions of people regard as the exemplary standard of conduct (Koran 33:21) has brought suffering to untold numbers of women and girls.
One Islamic land where child marriage is common – in fact, more common than anywhere else in the world – is northern Nigeria, where Sharia is in force. The Nigerian government has tried to act against the practice, passing a law in 2003, the Child Rights Act, that set the minimum age for marriage at eighteen. Islamic clerics have been the fiercest opponents of this law: Imam Sani, a Nigerian cleric, explained: “Child marriage in Islam is permissible. In the Koran there is no specific age of marriage.” Consequently, “the Muslim clerics have a problem with this Child Rights Act and they decried it, they castigate it, they reject it and they don’t want it introduced in Nigeria.” If the government imposed the law, Sani said, “There will be violent conflict from the Muslims, saying that ‘no, we will not accept this, we’d rather die than accept something which is not a law from Allah.'”
Nigeria is made up of 36 states, of which 18 have passed the Child Rights Act; however, only one majority-Muslim Nigerian state has passed the law, and that with a change that set “puberty,” rather than the age of eighteen, as the minimum requirement for lawful marriage. The result? As many as 800,000 Nigerian women are afflicted with fistula, a disease resulting from early intercourse and pregnancy.
Nigeria is not alone, either in the prevalence of child marriage there or in attempts at reform the practice. In September 2008, Moroccan officials closed 60 Koranic schools operated by Sheikh Mohamed Ben Abderrahman Al-Maghraoui – because he issued a decree stating that marriage to girls as young as nine was justified by Muhammad’s example. “The sheikh,” according to Agence France-Presse, “said his decree was based on the fact that the Prophet Mohammed consummated his marriage to his favourite wife when she was that age.”
It should come as no surprise, then, given the words of the Koran about divorcing prepubescent women and Muhammad’s example in marrying Aisha, that in some areas of the Islamic world the practice of child marriage enjoys the blessing of the law. Time magazine reported in 2001 that “in Iran the legal age for marriage is nine for girls, fourteen for boys,” and notes that “the law has occasionally been exploited by pedophiles, who marry poor young girls from the provinces, use and then abandon them. In 2000 the Iranian Parliament voted to raise the minimum age for girls to fourteen, but this year, a legislative oversight body dominated by traditional clerics vetoed the move.” The New York Times reported in 2008 that in Yemen, “despite a rising tide of outrage, the fight against the practice is not easy. Hard-line Islamic conservatives, whose influence has grown enormously in the past two decades, defend it, pointing to the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a 9-year-old.” (The Times doesn’t seem fazed by the fact that “conservatives” in the U.S. are not generally advocates of child marriage.)
And so child marriage remains prevalent in many areas of the Islamic world. In 2007, photographer Stephanie Sinclair won the UNICEF Photo of the Year competition for a wedding photograph of an Afghani couple: the groom was said to be 40 years old but looked older; the bride was eleven. UNICEF Patroness Eva Luise KÃ¶hler explained: “The UNICEF Photo of the Year 2007 raises awareness about a worldwide problem. Millions of girls are married while they are still under age. Most of theses child brides are forever denied a self-determined life.” According to UNICEF, about half of the women in Afghanistan are married before they reach the age of eighteen.