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Child Marriage

A Recent recommendation by the Council of Islamic Ideology to allow child marriage in Pakistan has invited a new debate on whether Islam allows marriage of minors.

At the very heart of the CII’s recommendation is the understanding of our traditional religious scholars that since the Prophet (PBUH), according to interpretations of some ahadith, married Hazrat Ayesha when she was six years old and nine years old at the time of consummation of marriage, no law that ignores this historical reality can be deemed to be valid from an Islamic point of view. If the Prophet can marry a minor girl, so goes the argument, how can doing so be declared unacceptable for Muslims?

The important question that must be asked is this: is everything mentioned about the Prophet in history a part of Islam?

The fact is that there are two categories of Islamic information that are available to us: one that is completely authentic and the other that is not. The former type of information is fully reliable because God made it so. The other category is not fully reliable because it is based on human efforts, beset with a number of threats to its authenticity.

The Almighty states most emphatically in the Quran about the first category of information: “Indeed We have revealed this reminder and indeed We are going to ensure its preservation” (15:9). This emphasis itself implies that other categories of information do not enjoy a similar divine confirmation of authenticity.

It is not simply a matter of our faith alone that the Quran and the authentically transmitted religious rituals such as prayers (Sunnah) are deemed fully reliable. They satisfy two universally accepted criteria of reliability: unanimity among all (ijma’ of Muslim ummah) and uninterrupted continuity (tawatur) in the process of transmittal.

A piece of information that has been agreed upon by all Muslims from the very first generation and has been available during the entire Muslim history cannot be faulted. This foolproof reliability has been arranged by God. The information that has been thus preserved is the core content of Islam. Every other religious information must be consistent with this core content in order for it to be considered acceptable to Islam.

Unless the authentic sources of the Quran and Sunnah endorse it, it cannot be claimed to be definitive Islamic information. Many Muslims are thus guilty of presenting in the name of Islam what God Himself has not arranged to make a core part of His religion.

The information regarding the age of Hazrat Ayesha at the time of her marriage is derived from books of hadith which convey recorded information from individuals. That is why this category of information is called khabre ahad (information transmitted by individuals) and is not always consistent.

Credible sources give us good reason to believe that Hazrat Ayesha’s age was 18 at the time of her nikah and 19 at the time when she joined the household of the Prophet.

It is mentioned in Ibn Kathir’s Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah that Hazrat Ayesha was 10 years younger than her sister, Hazrat Asma, and that Hazrat Asma died in 72 Hijra at the age of 100. In other words, she was 28 at the time of the Hijra when her younger sister was 18.

We know that one of the conditions of a valid nikah in Islam is that both the bride and the bridegroom must agree to it voluntarily. We also know that a six-year-old child is not mentally mature enough to take rational decisions of far-reaching consequences. How could an arrangement which does not satisfy an important condition then have been promoted in religion?

In generalised terms, it takes a few years for boys and girls to reach a certain level of maturity, physically and mentally, after reaching puberty, to understand the meaning of the bond of marriage and responsibilities this lifelong partnership brings to the pair.

In Islam, marriage is an institution and both the mother and father bear the burden of bringing up their children to be not only responsible citizens of the state but responsible and pious believers. Can children understand the import of such responsibilities and can a small girl be a good and healthy mother, herself still a child?

In view of the above-stated arguments, it is neither prudent to promote the view that the Prophet of Islam married a six-year-old girl, nor is it a good idea to introduce a piece of legislation based on such information.

Published in Dawn News on March 28, 2014