Why is this human rights abomination so common?
Islamic apologists in the West routinely claim that Muhammad did not marry a child and that child marriage is not permitted in Islam, but actually, few things are more abundantly attested in Islamic law than the permissibility of child marriage. Islamic tradition records that Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, was six when Muhammad wedded her and nine when he consummated the marriage:
“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).
Another tradition has Aisha herself recount the scene:
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 Allright, 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. (Bukhari 5.58.234).
Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old.
Marrying young girls was not all that unusual for its time, but because in Islam Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct (cf. Qur’an 33:21), he is considered exemplary in this unto today. And so 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.” The Mufti said that 200,000 jihadists were ready to sacrifice their lives for any law restricting child marriage.
Likewise the influential website Islamonline.com in December 2010 justified child marriage by invoking not only Muhammad’s example, but the Qur’an as well:
The Noble Qur’an has also mentioned the waiting period [i.e. for a divorced wife to remarry] for the wife who has not yet menstruated, saying: “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women, if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated” [Qur’an 65:4]. Since this is not negated later, we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl. The Qur’an is not like the books of jurisprudence which mention what the implications of things are, even if they are prohibited. It is true that the prophet entered into a marriage contract with A’isha when she was six years old, however he did not have sex with her until she was nine years old, according to al-Bukhari.
Other countries make Muhammad’s example the basis of their laws regarding the legal marriageable age for girls. 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.”
Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing,” and advised the faithful to give their own daughters away accordingly: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” When he took power in Iran, he lowered the legal marriageable age of girls to nine, in accord with Muhammad’s example.
MAFRAQ, Jordan — The bride-to-be was so young and shy, she spent her engagement party cloaked in a hooded robe that swallowed her slim figure but could not quite hide the ruffled pink dress her fiancé’s family had rented for her.
As the Syrian women celebrating her coming wedding to an 18-year-old cousin chattered around her in the Zaatari refugee camp, she squirreled herself in a corner, perking up only when a photo or message from a friend popped up on her cellphone. The girl, Rahaf Yousef, is 13.
Speaking wistfully of her days at school, she declared herself throughout the day to be “indifferent” to the marriage she says will keep her from finishing her education. But no one seemed to be listening.
For many Syrians stuck in Jordan’s squalid and sometimes dangerous refugee camps, marrying girls off at younger and younger ages is increasingly being seen as a necessity — a way of easing the financial burden on families with little or no income and allaying fears of rape and sexual harassment in makeshift living spaces where it is harder to enforce the rule of law. As a result, Unicef says, the number of marriages involving girls younger than 18 has ballooned since the war in Syria started.
“The parents feel a man can protect” their daughters, said Ola Tebawi, an official at Jordan Health Aid Society, a nonprofit that provides primary health care for refugees with United Nations support. “These families feel marriage would be the best option for a girl growing up as a refugee.”
But the trend — even among displaced Syrians who live outside the camps — is increasingly worrying international aid groups and women’s advocates who say that the Syrians are simply trading immediate dangers for longer-term ones. They tick off a laundry list of threats for women worldwide that accompany marrying before they are 18.
High on the list, they say, are increased risks of being the victims of domestic violence and an abrupt end to the young women’s education. The aid workers also worry about pregnancies among girls whose age makes them more vulnerable to certain life-threatening complications like eclampsia, which is characterized by seizures.
During the first six months of this year, 32 percent of all registered marriages of Syrian refugees in Jordan involved a girl under the age of 18, according to the Jordanian government. That percentage was up from 25 percent during all of 2013 and, according to Unicef, more than twice as high as the 13 percent of marriages in Syria just before the war that included girls younger than 18.
A majority of the Syrian girls marry into Jordanian families, Unicef reported, ensuring themselves a place in Jordan outside the refugee camps, and a new home country for the long term.
Although the marriage of girls as young as 13 is not unheard-of in parts of the Middle East, including rural Syria, that practice has not been common in areas of Syria or Jordan with higher levels of education. Jordanian law allows marriages for girls and boys 15 to 18 years old, but it requires that a chief justice of a Shariah, or Islamic, court determine that all sides agree to the match.
In an attempt to ensure the same level of scrutiny for Syrian marriages, the Jordanian government — which has struggled to accommodate more than 600,000 of the more than three million Syrians who have fled their country — has opened a Shariah court in the Zaatari camp. But the minister of social development, Reem Abu Hassan, said that it was difficult for judges to say no to early marriages given the circumstances — and difficult to ensure even that all the marriages were registered….