This is a cross-post by George Readings from The Spittoon
Here we go again. The Times reports that there are “fears of Muslim anger” because an academic book critical of Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha, his third wife who was six or seven years old at the time of the marriage (according to traditional reports, although consummation did not occur until she was nine) is to be published soon.
This matter, questioning the sexual behaviour of a man held to be a prophet by 1.2 billion people, is unsurprisingly fraught: it is only a few weeks since the conviction of three men for attempting to diesel bomb the UK publisher of ‘Jewel of Medina’.
But it is not just historical novelists and academics who discuss Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha, some people who are not very keen on Islam also tend to focus on it. Here are a couple of examples taken from the comments threads at Harry’s Place.
The “argument” goes that Muslims believe Muhammad to be a perfect model for behaviour and therefore the fact of Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha somehow proves Islam to be a depraved religion. That no good can come of following it etc etc ad nauseam. This attempt to aggressively apply a modern British definition of paedophilia to seventh century Arabia strikes me as a sign of severe anthropological illiteracy; but the right to express such offensive, anthropologically illiterate statements must be defended staunchly.
In the jurisprudence of the main schools of Islamic law it was accepted that a child could have a marriage arranged for them by their marriage guardian but it should not be consummated until puberty was reached, when the child would have the “Option of Puberty” (khiyar al-bulugh). This meant that the child would be allowed to repudiate the marriage if it had been contracted by a marriage guardian who did not have the right of ijbar (ie who was not their father or, apart from the Hanbalis, their father’s father). As the Qur’an does not deal with these matters many of the rules governing them would have been drawn from pre-Islamic custom and Muhammad’s implicit endorsement of them through not rejecting them.
In considering the question of marriage age in Islam it is, therefore, entirely appropriate to discuss Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha. A book entitled ‘Does God Hate Women?’, which looks at various religious attitudes towards women, would do a disservice to its readers if it were to ignore a matter of such relevance: marriage to a pre-pubescant child with whom consummation occurs upon reaching puberty is not a model most people would be happy with in the modern world (although Bolivia sets the age of consent at puberty).
Which is probably why nearly all Muslim countries have reformed these rules beyond recognition. The age of consent in Algeria and Malaysia is 16, in Indonesia it is 19 for males and 16 for females. In Egypt it’s 18 for both and Tunisia 20. Reform has not, however, come to Saudi Arabia. Back in April the world followed the case of a mother trying to obtain a divorce for her eight-year-old daughter who had been married off by her father to a friend he owed a debt. In the end she succeeded and now there is even talk of Saudi Arabia preventing marriage before the age of 18.
Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha would logically only be of real concern to a non-Muslim living in 21st century Britain if Muslims were, following his model, regularly involved in child marriages. But, apart from possibly in Saudi Arabia and Iran, they aren’t. If your claim is that Islam is fundamentally depraved because Muslims seek to emulate Muhammad and he married a six-year-old, then it is entirely shot down by Muslims not emulating Muhammad on this matter.
But people like “Old Peculier” and “kafuruk” are not concerned by this. They just want to level two of the most heinous accusations thinkable at Muhammad because he is respected by Muslims. It’s stupid and designed to offend but, if people really want to prove their idiocy in this way, then they must be entitled to do so. Not because it’s A Good Thing that people accuse Muhammad of paedophilia, but because defending their right to make such statements is the best way to defend those who would publish books like ‘Jewel of Medina’ and ‘Does God Hate Women?’.