Islamic apologists in the West argue furiously that child marriage has nothing to do with Islam, and that the idea that Muhammad married a child is the invention of greasy Islamophobes. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, unaccountably, seems to be one of those Islamophobes.
In reality, 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.”
According to Amir Taheri in The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution (pp. 90-91), 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.
“Saudi Arabia Grand Mufti says no opposition to underage marriage,” by Habib Toumi, Gulf News, December 21, 2014 (thanks to Naveen):
Manama: Saudi Arabia’s efforts to edge closer to setting a minimum age for marriage have received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married.
“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said, quoted by local daily Al Riyadh on Sunday.
In a bold attempt to force changes on the grounds, the justice ministry has been pushing for setting up the minimum age.
Two years ago, it submitted an integrated study on the negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages to religious scholars and requested a fatwa that sets a minimum age.
The study included medical, social and religious views as well as a set of recommendations, sources told the daily.
However, the scholars have not responded and the statement by the Grand Mufti seemed as a clear indication of the difficulties to impose a minimum age for marriages in the country.
Changes that the justice ministry wants to reinforce include mentioning the age of the bride and groom in the marriage contract to ensure there are no abuses and the bride is at least 15 years old.
The ministry said that only competent courts could endorse the marriage of a bride less than 15 years old after judges make certain that specific conditions are fulfilled.
One recommendation for the exceptional underage marriage is to ensure it is not consummated immediately and that the bride should be given sufficient time to prepare her psychologically and train her for family requirements, the sources said.
No underage marriage should be allowed until the bride’s father presents a report in which medical staff and social workers testify that the bride is not physically and mentally at risk, the sources added.
The drive to set the minimum age has been consolidated by human rights groups that have been pushing for setting a minimum age.
They recommended the consent of both the bride and her mother as a sine qua non condition to go ahead with the wedding plans and called on judges to make sure that the bride would not be harmed in any way by the marriage.
Exceptions should be kept to a strict minimum and should be confined to girls with no families and living in orphanages, they said.