Being a Muslim and a staunch critic of child marriage in Pakistan, a few days ago, during the advocacy of marriage after 18, I came to know about some arguments from my social circle that majorly includes Muslims, Agnostics, and Atheists. Here, I will address those arguments since, many people in Pakistan do have these types of thoughts back in their heads. Most of these arguments are based on fabricated Ahadith and the beliefs which are self-contradicted, hence, Muslim World does not have same opinion 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.
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Firstly, this hadith was reportedly appeared about 300 years after the passing of the Prophet (PBUH), and in-depth research by the Shi’ite school of thought of Islam and world-known Islamic Scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has clearly shown that Hazrat Ayesha’s age at the time of marriage was not less than 18 or 19 and at the time of consummation of marriage about 20 or 21. 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, so the grounds of this argument are quite immature. Even at that time, no criticism was witnessed regarding the marriages of Prophet (PBUH) from the enemies of Islam, even though they used to avail themselves of every single opportunity to attack and insult Prophet (PBUH). That’s because what he did was entirely consistent with the social norms of that time.
Secondly, even if we suppose that Prophet (PBUH) married a woman immediately after her reaching puberty doesn’t mean that it is recommended in Islam. If this is the only reason to consider for 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 divorced or widowed. Hazrat Khadija (RA) was twice widowed before her marriage to the Prophet (PBUH) and is also known to have turned numerous marriage proposals before she met the Prophet (PBUH). Have you seen any cleric recommending someone to marry a divorcee or widow or a widower? Don’t worry you would not find any!
According to Quran, marriage is a solemn covenant – a dignified and strong agreement. Can a person at the age of mere 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 he/she should have reached puberty and have the inclusive maturity to recognize his/her rights and responsibilities in 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 a person. According to experiments of biological sciences, the age range of puberty is 09 – 15 for all sexes. Therefore, each country shall be free to determine the legal age to marry and consent, based on maturity and other social factors of that particular country.
Consent is another integral part of marriage that is often ignored in early and forced marriages in Muslim Community; in most of the cases the girl has not given the right to choose her spouse which is a contradiction to Islam. This drawback has facilitated the Non-Muslim community to attack and malign Islam for not weighing the consent of both male and female before the marriage. 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 death at the time of childbirth than those over fifteen. This means even if they have started menstruation, 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 – 19 undergo unsafe abortions after marriage worldwide. Islam requires the Muslims to guard themselves, those in their care, and refrain from any practice which will 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.” According to the light of Hadith mentioned above and the principle of ‘No Harm’ in Shari’ah, child marriages shall not be allowed in any Muslim country.
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’ rights to social, educational, and economic opportunities. In today’s world of technological advancement and modernization, no girl can afford social and educational alienation; it will eventually harm the whole family as Dr. James Aggrey has said that “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, then we shall also take psychological, intellectual and other important features of a person into consideration before the marriage. To survive, we must not replicate or follow the Arab’s old culture of marrying early.