Sexual abuse and sexual assault against young boys and girls is nothing new either in the western world or Islamic countries. We hear stories of crimes against children, and for most of us, they are just stories. These are horrific and at times heartbreaking stories we have attributed to the immorality of the western world. When we hear similar stories in our community within the Islamic world, we are quick to blame religion. A few years back in South Yorkshire (UK) we heard about 1,400 girls as young as 11years being groomed and sexually abused by Muslim men over 15 years.
Recently a documentary was aired about R Kelly an RnB singer about his predatory nature. Notably, the allegation I would like to discuss is R Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah whom he met at age 12 and married at age 15. The question on everyone’s lips is ” Who failed this young lady and other children that have been victims of abuse”. The answer to this millionaire dollar question is always the parents. I spoke to a Muslimah sister about R Kelly and his marriage to Aaliyah, and she blamed the parent. She was sure the parent did not protect their daughter thereby neglecting their duty to her.
I remembered a Muslimahs in support of child marriage, she was a child bride, and she praised her parents for allowing her to marry a 55-year-old man at the age of 14. She was so proud of this act she vowed to do the same for her daughters, here is my question
“What is the difference between R Kelly, marrying a 15-year-old girl and this Man A? ” The simple answer is religion, those in favour of this practice relying on the argument about the age and the marriage of the Prophet (saw) to Aisha to support the legality of child marriage or the fact that the Quran did not specify an age to get married; this is true and false.
Age of Marriage In Islam
While the Quran did not specify an age as a number, it’s clear from the ayah below the two conditions to be met and to determine the eligibility of an individual to enter into marriage. Marriage is for those that have reached puberty and mental maturity.
Surah An-Nisa (4:6) “And test the orphans until they attain puberty; then if you find in them maturity of intellect, make over to them their property, and do not consume it extravagantly and hastily, lest they attain to full age; and whoever is rich, let him abstain altogether, and whoever is poor, let him eat reasonably; then when you make over to them their property, call witnesses in their presence; and Allah is enough as a Reckoner”.
Some scholars claimed that the above verse is not talking about marriage and cannot be related to marriage, thus proving that the Quran did not specify an age to get married. Kaleef K Karim wrote that the misconception in this ayah is due to the mistranslation of words and hidden facts. He explained that the ayah (Quran 4:6) asserts that the person getting married has to be of sound mind and can manage their affairs.
Puberty and Maturity In Islam
The issue of puberty is a ball of grey yarn, a determinant of puberty for girls is the arrival of their menstrual cycle (The period). The menstrual cycle and other indicative of puberty is different for all girls and happen at different ages. Research has shown that those in the warmer climate are likely to reach puberty sooner than those in colder weather. I was considered a late bloomer because I did not see my first red spot until the age of 15, I did not start bleeding fully until the age of 17. I could recall the day I saw my first drop of blood, that day my mum proclaimed me a woman.
It is reported that today’s girls start their period as young as nine years old while the average age is 12years. Even at 17 years old, marriage was not a decision I was willing to make nor a decision I could make. My niece started her period at age 11. Is she a woman, do I see her as an adult?
Ayatullah Khomeini (RTA) says: ‘Maturity implies the powerful presence of mind, and intelligence in one’s dealings, one’s ability to safeguard one’s possessions from being squandered away and one judiciously ‘s prudence in spending.’
The Cambridge English Dictionary says: ‘Maturity the quality of behaving mentally and emotionally like an adult’. Societal acceptance of a matured mind is the belief to make an informed decision about those who govern us. In Nigeria, the age to vote is 18 years old and for most countries including the middle east. This is the universal age, we have accepted for a person to have attained mental maturity.
The Right to Choose
The spread of Islam abolished some of the practices against women and placed a new voice and rights, one of which is the right to choose. Islam and our beloved Prophet (saw) taught us that a woman could not be married without her permission.
“O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion.”Quran 4:19
The Messenger of Allah said: “The virgin should not be given in marriage until her permission has been sought.” Sahih Al-Bukhari
Is it not right to expect an adolescent who has met the physical condition but not the mental status required for marriage. Can a young girl bear the responsibility to decide for herself without fear or coercion?
The Other Side Of The Coin
A girl who cannot understand and shoulder the responsibility of married-life is like a raw fruit that needs to remain on the tree (i.e. Her father’s home) until it ripens and sweetens. On the other hand, if a girl loses the freshness of youth while yet unmarried, then she is like an over-ripe fruit that would further wither away as the time passes.
Through various discussions with some Muslims in favour of child marriage, I was able to deduce the reason to be fear and lack of knowledge. The fear of today’s society, a society where our sons and daughters mingle freely. We live in a world with the unprecedented advancement in media and technology where you can access the world through your phones, tv and various platforms.
We hear of girls as young as 10, 12, 14, 16 off to men in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond, under the guise of Islam. Is child marriage allowed in Islam? From the ayah and hadiths, it is clear that the answer is a resounding No. A girl can start her period, have breast and can be expected to fulfil her duties and perform salats or sawn but if she cannot make decisions for herself, why then do we expect her to be married?
A distinction must be made between early marriage and child marriage; early marriage is for those in their late teens and early twenties (in my opinion). If we have a young lady of 18 years old and a young man similar in age with a strong sexual urge, we should provide a safe zone for this. I can understand early marriage in this circumstance, but I do not believe it’s the answer to curbing a young person’s zeal or urge. We blame the influence of the western world on the rise of diseases and fornication and fail to educate our children. Proper sex education should deal with topics with human development, relationship even sexual health among others. Studies have shown that if we teach children and adolescents about sex and sexuality, it reduces promiscuity, not increase it. A study conducted in 2005 to compare countries where comprehensive and abstinence-only sex education is taught, found that Netherlands has the lowest teen pregnancy. In the Netherlands, schools are expected to include discussion about pregnancy, STIs, respect for difference and skills for healthy relationships.
I will also like to point out that the first teacher a child has is the parent, schools follows. If we as parents are silent on the issue of sex, it does not mean our children do not know.
We hear stories such as that of R Kelly who married Aaliyah at age 15, and we condemn it. Whereas, we witness such union in our communities and turn a blind eye. We look to the western world and shake our heads at the evil we perceive it to be, and we do not look inward to our communities. We have many young girls paired off to marry men old enough to be their father, and we say it is allowed. When I hear the debate about child marriage, the backing argument is the age of Hazrat Aisha (RA) when she got married to Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). It is widely believed that she was just nine then, and this is used as an excuse for child marriage and sexual exploitation. However, many scholars have disputed this notion and put the age to be in her late teens.
The factor in determining mental maturity is the discretion of the parents; we work on the assumption that no one knows a person better than their parents. I have witnessed first-hand, parents who have no clue as to who their children are, let alone, understand their capabilities or make informed decisions on behalf of them.
As Muslims, we need to be just in all we do and be truthful in our actions. The Quran doesn’t specify an appropriate age for someone to get married but gives prequsites i.e. physical and mental factor that must be met.
Why should we support one act and condemn the other when they are of the same coin? ©muslimahsvoices
Kaleef K Karim: Minimum Age For Marriage In The Quran by DISCOVER THE TRUTH NOVEMBER 21, 2014)
Gabrielle Moss: The Average Age Women Got Their First Period, Throughout History Oct 2, 2015
The Age of Marriage by Mehri Zinhari [From Mahjubah Magazine]