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Child Marriage And Islam; Myths And Realities

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Consent is another integral part of marriage which is often ignored in early and forced marriages in Muslim Community; in most of the cases, the girl is not given the right to choose her spouse which is direct violation of Islam, Jazib Rehman Khan argues.

Being a Muslim and a staunch critic of child marriage in Pakistan, a few days ago, I came across some arguments from my social circle, which majorly includes Muslims, Agnostics, and Atheists, during a discussion. Here, I will address those arguments, since these are commonly held beliefs in Pakistan.

Most of these arguments are based on fabricated Ahadith and the beliefs which are self-contradictory. Muslims all over the world have divided opinions on those beliefs and Ahadith. The most common and popular belief is that the marriage of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was consummated with Hazrat Ayesha (RA) when she was only 9 years old.

Firstly, this hadith reportedly appeared about 300 years after the passing of the Prophet (PBUH) and in-depth research by Shi’ite scholars and renowned Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has clearly shown that Hazrat Ayesha’s (RA) age at the time of marriage was not less than 18 or 19 years, and at the time of consummation of marriage, she was about 20 or 21 years of age.

I have seen the research and there are quite logical and valid reasons to believe it. Since the Muslim world is divided on this belief, using this argument in support of child marriage is quite immature. Even at that time, no criticism was witnessed regarding the marriages of Prophet (PBUH) from the enemies of Islam, despite the fact that they wouldn’t let go of any opportunity to malign Him (PBUH). That’s because what he did was entirely consistent with the social norms of the era.

Secondly, even if we suppose that the Prophet (PBUH) married a woman immediately after her reaching puberty, it doesn’t mean that it is recommended in Islam. If this is the only reason to consider recommending someone to marry at an early age, especially the girls, then to marry a widow or divorcee should be recommended more by so-called Islamic clerics. Because except Hazrat Ayesha (RA) every single wife of Prophet (PBUH) was either a divorcee or a widow. Hazrat Khadija (RA) was twice widowed before her marriage to Prophet (PBUH) and is also known to have rejected numerous marriage proposals before she met the Prophet (PBUH). Have you seen any cleric recommending someone to marry a divorced or widowed women? Don’t worry. You would not find any!

According to the Qur’an, marriage is a solemn covenant – a dignified and strong agreement. Can a person at the age of only 16 or 17 even think of this sort of agreement in today’s world? The minimum criteria in Islam for a person to marry is that they should have reached puberty and have the maturity to recognise their rights and responsibilities in a marriage and be able to fulfill them.

Just because the body is ready doesn’t mean that the person is inevitably developed enough. Age of puberty is not constant or universal and it depends upon certain factors such as the environment and diet of the person. The age range of puberty is somewhere between 9 to 15 years for all sexes.

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Consent is another integral part of marriage which is often ignored in early and forced marriages in Muslim Community; in most of the cases, the girl is not given the right to choose her spouse which is direct violation of Islam.

There are numerous Ahadith and Quranic verses in support of consent but here I will quote only one. During the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), one of his companions, Ibn Abbas (RA) spoke to him about a female who reported that her father had forced her to marry without her permission. The Prophet (PBUH) then gave her a choice between accepting the marriage and nullifying it. In another narration of this hadith, it states that she responded, “Actually, I accept this marriage, but I wanted to let women know that parents have no right to force a husband on them.”

One should be conscious of the serious consequences of marriage at such an early age. Girls who give birth before fifteen are five times more exposed to the possibility of death at the time of childbirth than adult mothers. This means that even if they have started menstruating, their bodies are still underdeveloped. According to a report of World Health Organization (WHO), it is reported that every year, 3 million girls aged between 15 and 19 undergo unsafe abortions after marriage worldwide.

Islam requires the Muslims to guard themselves, those in their care, and refrain from any practice which may result in harm. The Prophet (PBUH) stated that “There shall be no harm and no reciprocating harm. Whoever harms, Allah Will Harm him, and whoever makes things difficult [for others], Allah Will Make things difficult for him.”

In the light of Hadith mentioned above and the principle of ‘No Harm’ in Shari’a, child marriages cannot be allowed in any Muslim country.

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Other than health issues, child marriages violate the basic fundamental right of the child to seek personal development and to fulfill his/her potential. It often cuts short the girls’ right to social, educational, and economic opportunities. In today’s world of technological advancement and modernisation, no girl can afford social and educational alienation; it will eventually harm the whole family. As Dr James Aggrey has said, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.”

Since the Muslims believe that Islam is a religion for every single human and for ages to come, we should also take psychological, intellectual and other important features of a person into consideration before the marriage. In order to survive, we must not replicate or follow the practices of an era long gone.

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