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 all right, 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.
“Islam has no age barrier for marriage — MURIC Director, Akintola,” Punch, March 6, 2016:
A professor of Islamic Eschatology and Director of Muslim Rights Concern, Ishaq Akintola, speaks with BAYO AKINLOYE about the abduction saga of Ese Oruru
Is child marriage permitted in Islam, looking beyond the case of Ese Oruru?
Islam is a complete way of life. As a religion, non-Muslims will have to take Muslims as they are, not as they want them to be. Neither Muslims nor their religion should be judged according to other standards. There will never be any inter-religious understanding so long as non-Muslims continue to measure Muslims and their way of life by Christian, Buddhist or Confucianist yardsticks. The simple truth is: Islam has no age barrier in marriage and Muslims have no apology for those who refuse to accept this, particularly since 99.99 per cent of such marriages are conducted among Muslims themselves. If the man is a Muslim and the girl is also a Muslim and the girl’s parents give their approval, what is the business of any non-Muslim in that? It is sheer interference in the affair of Muslims and an attempt to exert undue influence on them. More often than not, those who interfere in this manner have ulterior motives. It is either for the purpose of smearing the image of Islam or to gain a comparative advantage and score a religious point (for their own faith of course).
We are not unaware of all these antics, yet we patiently endure them. Non-Muslims should therefore keep off Muslims’ affairs. Who are non-Muslims to be the judge of Muslims when every religious group has its own failings? This interference often causes unnecessary strain on Christian-Muslim relationship. Despite the fact that our Christian neighbours sing the hymn ‘I want to be like Jesus…’ repeatedly, they are not behaving like Jesus (peace be upon him). Neither are they following his teachings. There will be peace if they do. But they don’t. Jesus taught Christians to mind their own business and to resist the temptation to judge others. He said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure that you give will be the measure you get.’
That means your organisation, Muslim Right Concern, supports child marriage?
I am a Muslim and I support all truly Muslim practices. Our organisation, MURIC, is an Islamic human rights outfit. So naturally we should support all principles of Islam. It promotes Allah-given fundamental human rights as well as Allah-given fundamental rights of all creatures, animals – mammals, invertebrates, birds in the sky, the environment and all natural entities. Everything created by Allah has a right. We promote their rights. MURIC believes in all Shariah-compliant marriages, regardless of the age of the girl. The sensationalisation of intra-Muslim marriages to the so-called minors is uncalled for and, more often than not, done with hidden malice. For your information, we don’t have what you call ‘child marriage’. We have nikah (Islamic marriage). I affirm clearly, emphatically and unequivocally, that what happens among Muslims is strictly a Muslim affair and should remain so as long as it is Shariah-compliant. Non-Muslims have no right to poke their noses into any religious action taken by Muslims for Muslims. Nikah is a marriage of the Muslims conducted by the Muslims for the Muslims. How the Muslims do it is nobody’s business. Do we come into the church to criticise the way marriages are conducted? Have Muslims said anything about gay marriages inside churches? That is the Christian way of life and they should stop attempts to impose their lifestyle on Muslims. We will never allow that. It is an attempt to subject Muslims to public ridicule.
You cannot hold us in contempt and talk about love. It is sheer deceit. It is hypocrisy. Even Jesus (peace be upon him) called those who ignore their own faults to interfere in other people’s matters, hypocrites. He said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So, instead of paying attention to marriages conducted among Muslims, Christians should do something about gay marriages inside churches.
What is your view on the abduction, forceful marriage and conversion to Islam of Ese Oruru by Yunusa Dahiru?
MURIC issued a statement on this ugly episode immediately it broke out. Let me pick the highlights. It was a kind of Romeo and Juliet affair. We demanded that Yunusa Dahiru, the ‘boyfriend’ with whom the girl eloped, should be arrested and prosecuted because the girl is a minor and a Christian. Attempting to marry off the girl without her parent’s permission is not only a breach of common law but also a violation of the Shariah provision on the need for the parents’ approval before nikah can be deemed valid. La nikah bila waliyyin is a basic condition before marriage can be conducted in Islam and Qur’an 4:25 lays emphasis on this same condition. Now, we cannot talk of forceful marriage in this case because both parents of Yunusa, the Shari’ah Council in Kano and even the Emir himself, His Eminence Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, refused to conduct the marriage on the basis that the girl is a Christian; she is underage and her parents had not given consent. So there was no marriage.
Where is the forceful marriage they keep talking about? But we in MURIC are displeased with the conduct of our Romeo (Yunusa) for two major reasons: One, he did not listen to his father who warned him not to bring the girl to Kano. Islam frowns heavily on disobedience to parents –Qur’an 17:23; 31:14. Two, contrary to the provisions of Qur’an 17:32 which forbids fornication and adultery, he may have had carnal knowledge of the girl because it is now being rumoured that Juliet (Ese) is five months pregnant. MURIC is not going to say Yunusa is innocent just because he is a Muslim. Islam teaches justice and fairness. The religion or tribe of the parties involved does not matter. The Qur’an commands Muslims to ‘…Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses of Allah, even if the case is against yourselves, or your parents, or your family, and whether it is against a rich or poor man…’ That is why we called for Yunusa the Romeo’s arrest.
Ijaw youths are not looking at it from an objective angle. They are spoiling for war. All they see is a northerner that abducted their daughter. But is it abduction or elopement? Can we prevent a young boy and a young girl from falling in love with each other? Even Ese’s father has his own faults despite his attempt to blame the Emir of Kano. But the truth is, Ese’s father has a big portion of the blame; same with the mother. How did they train their daughter?
But is the forceful conversion right?
Regarding Ese’s conversion, it is not acceptable to us yet, until the girl is 18. At least, that is what the Nigerian law says and we have to comply since we are Nigerians. The condition for accepting conversion as valid in Islam is different, however. It is buluug, which is maturity that matters. Buluug is measured by the time the girl starts menstruating, which may vary according to her physiological condition….
Religious crises are not uncommon in the country. Is there a potential for this situation to degenerate into a religious and tribal upheaval? Yes, it is quite dicey. There are extremists, terrorists and fanatics on both sides of the divide. We need to step up enlightenment about the need for religious tolerance. But above all, we need to leave the Muslims alone. Let the Muslims go. Nigerian Christians should stop measuring Muslims by Christian yardsticks. We have different norms and values. Let us respect one another’s freedom of religion.
Yunusa is seen by many as the culprit in Ese’s predicament. Do you think he acted alone?
What else are we looking for? We have seen Juliet. We have seen Romeo. Are we still looking for the whole feuding Montague and Capulet families?
Would you prefer Yunusa being tried under Sharia to being tried under the penal or criminal law, having allegedly committed crimes across two states?
Oh yes, I would love that (to be tried under Sharia law)!…
Following Ese’s case is a growing number of allegations of other minors being abducted, forced into marriage and converted to Islam. Isn’t this worrisome?
Which cases? Do you have the proof? Why is the press more interested in investigating Muslims and anti-Muslim whistleblowers? That is my worry. Why is the press silent about hundreds of Muslim children taken to Christian camps from Edo State? Why isn’t the press interested in that? People are free to beat about the bush anyway. They have to justify their pay. The Henry Townsend spirit has to be there too, you know.
What is the Muslim community going to do about these alleged abductions (like the one in Sokoto)?
There you go again! Baseless, clueless, unfounded and untenable allegations; rumours, rumours and rumours! Where you have cases, bring them forward. You cannot turn us into suspects overnight. You know where abduction is rampant. I won’t mention states. Why is the Nigerian press so keen on causing distractions? A whole region has turned abduction into family and tribal business. The Nigerian press looks the other way and starts prying into issues that have nothing to do with abduction.
Abductions of female children for sex slavery and forced marriage have become a trend in the country. What’s the way out?
That’s not true. You are making a mountain out of a molehill and I am not under any obligation to answer that kind of question. It is prejudicial. I respect the press and I will continue to cooperate with them but I will not be an accomplice to untruth. Better still, if you must have an answer, the security agencies are the ones who would provide an answer to your question.…