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Saudi Grand Mufti: Nothing Wrong with Child Marriages

mass-muslim-wedding-3  Saudi Grand Mufti: Nothing Wrong with Child Marriages  mass muslim wedding 3Saudi Arabia’s efforts to edge closer to setting a minimum age for marriage have received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married. [3] “There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said, quoted by local daily Al Riyadh.  [3] In a bold attempt to force changes on the grounds, the justice ministry has been pushing for setting up the minimum age. Two years ago, it submitted an integrated study on the negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages to religious scholars and requested a fatwa that sets a minimum age. The study also included medical, social and religious views as well as a set of recommendations. [3]  However, the scholars have not responded and the statement by the Grand Mufti seemed as a clear indication of the difficulties to impose a minimum age for marriages in the country. The changes that the justice ministry wants to reinforce include mentioning the age of the bride and groom in the marriage contract to ensure there are no abuses and the bride is at least 15 years old.  The ministry said that only competent courts could endorse the marriage of a bride less than 15 years old after judges make certain that specific conditions are fulfilled. One recommendation for the exceptional underage marriage is to ensure it is not consummated immediately and that the bride should be given sufficient time to prepare her psychologically and train her for family requirements, the sources said. [3] No underage marriage should be allowed until the bride’s father presents a report in which medical staff and social workers testify that the bride is not physically and mentally at risk, the sources added. The drive to set the minimum age has been consolidated by human rights groups that have been pushing for setting a minimum age. They recommended the consent of both the bride and her mother as a sine qua non condition to go ahead with the wedding plans and called on judges to make sure that the bride would not be harmed in any way by the marriage. [3]

child-marriages  Saudi Grand Mufti: Nothing Wrong with Child Marriages  child marriagesUnsurprizingly, not very long after the Justice Ministry said that it would act to regulate marriages between prepubescent girls and men in the Islamic kingdom, Sheik Saleh al-Fawzan, one of the country’s most important clerics, issued the ruling. The Wall Street Journal have reported the ruling of the Grand Mufti as follow: Senior Saudi cleric issued a religious ruling to allow fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters “even if they are in the cradle.”  [7] “Those who are calling for a minimum age for marriage should fear God and not violate his laws or try to legislate things God did not permit” them to legislate, Sheik Fawzan wrote in a fatwa, or religious decree, which was published on his website. [7]  It is perfectly permissible for girls to get married at age 10, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti has said, criticizing those who want to raise the legal marriageable age, the World Observer reported [5] [8] A girl becomes ready for marriage at the age of 10 or 12 according to Islam, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh said while stressing that Islamic law did not oppress women.  “Those who call for raising the age of marriage to 25 are absolutely mistaken,” al-Sheikh reportedly said in a lecture he gave at the faculty housing the mosque of Imam Mohamed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. “Our mothers and grandmothers got married when they were barely 12. Good upbringing makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties at that age,” al-Sheikh said in response to a question raised by a female attendee on the practice of marrying minor girls without their consent. [5]

grand-mufti  Saudi Grand Mufti: Nothing Wrong with Child Marriages  grand mufti

The Grand Mufti

The Grand Mufti is a descendent of Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the puritanical Islamic scholar who created the modern Saudi religious doctrine of Wahhabism. Due to a power sharing arrangement made between al-Wahhab and the original al-Saud, the descendents of al-Saud rule Saudi Arabia as kings, while the descendents of al-Wahhab, known as ash-Shaikh, control religious affairs.  [4] According to Islamic expert Raymond Ibrahim, the clout wielded by the Grand Mufti is considerable: “He is the Grand Mufti of the nation that brought Islam to the world.  Moreover, he is the President of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and Chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. Accordingly, when it comes to what Islam teaches, his words are immensely authoritative.” [10]  It isn’t clear what legal weight Sheik Fawzan’s fatwa would have if the Saudi justice ministry proceeds with its plan to outlaw child marriages. Saudi Arabia’s legal system isn’t codified, but because it is based upon an interpretation of Sharia law, the rulings of senior clerics can be used by individual judges when deciding cases. [7] Saudi media reported that the Justice Ministry would push ahead with setting a minimum age for marriage, despite the fatwa. The Wall Street Journal  reported that the ministry couldn’t be reached to comment [7]

Strangely enough, Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which considers those under the age of 18 as children. [14] [15]  Yet, they continue to do like they always done.  Most of the Islamic apologists in the West argue furiously that child marriage has nothing to do with Islam, and that the idea that Muhammad married a child is the invention of greasy Islamophobes. [1] The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, unaccountably, seems to be one of those Islamophobes. [1]  In reality, 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 [1] [2] 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). [1] [2]

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 Allright, 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). [1] [2]

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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.” [1] [2]

According to Amir Taheri in The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution [13], 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. [1] [2]

child-marriages2  Saudi Grand Mufti: Nothing Wrong with Child Marriages  child marriages2Arabian Business reports the conservative Kingdom is facing strong pressure to raise the minimum age for marriage, following international criticism of cases involving children forced into wedlock with older men.  [11] [12] The Saudi Nation Human Rights Association (NHRA) has criticized the marriage of minors in the kingdom, considering it to be a “violation of childhood.”  [5] NHRA said the practice of underage marriage was a breach of several U.N. treaties, including the Child Rights Treaty, which was signed by Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the Treaty for the Rights of Women, which the kingdom adopted in 2000.  [5] Cases of child marriage, including brides as young as eight-years-old, have made headlines in local and international media in recent years, drawing heavy criticism against the conservative U.S. ally. [14] In 2009 the Justice Minister said that there were plans to regulate the marriages of young girls after a court refused to nullify the marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a man 50 years her senior.  [15] The Christian Science Monitor notes that, in 2009, Saudi courts declined to nullify a marriage between a 6-year-old girl and a 58-year-old man.  According to Reuters, the Saudi ministry considering the minimum age “was still in discussions over what age the limit should be.”  [15]  In 2010, the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a government affiliated group, hired a lawyer to help a 12-year old girl divorce her 80-year old husband. [12] [14]  Activists at the time saw the divorce proceedings as a test case that could pave the way for introducing a minimum age for marriage. [14] [15]   Human-rights activists have demanded change. “Fawzan’s comments are nonsense,” said Mohammed al-Qahtani, head of the Human Rights First Society in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “There has to be a minimum age [for marriage] because marrying children is rape.” [7] Back in 2008 a similar fatwa, or religious ruling, by Salafi preacher Sheikh Mohamed al-Maghrawi allowing girls as young as nine to marry was condemned by Morocco’s Supreme Scientific Council. The council said it lacked religious validity because it was based on only one case—the marriage of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) to Aisha bint Abu-Bakr. [8] Human rights organization Amnesty International said the Saudi government had been saying for several years that it planned to introduce a minimum age for marriage.  “But until we see actual legislation and how it’s implemented, rather than merely fine words, we will continue to have serious concerns about lack of protection for girls from early and forced marriage,” said James Lynch, Amnesty’s Middle East spokesman. [14][15] Saudi Arabia, a patriarchal society that applies an austere version of Sunni Islam, currently has no minimum legal age for marriage and fathers are granted guardianship over their daughters, giving them control over who they can marry and when.  Financial considerations have in the past prompted some Saudi families to wed young daughters to much older men in return for lavish dowries. [15]

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Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, told The Huffington Post that al-Sheikh’s comments show he is out of touch with modern Islam. [11] “The Mufti’s quote is disastrous on so many fronts, namely because it removes the element of consent from marriage, (no 10-year-old girl can reasonably be expected to give her consent to marriage to an adult),” Safi wrote in an email. “It is yet another indication of the way in which the Saudi religious authorities are out of touch with their own populations and the emerging consensus of Islamic norms worldwide.” [11]   This is happening despite the fact that, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, Saudi Arabia is supposed to considers anyone under the age of 18 to be children. [14][15] NHRA stressed that underage marriages are a breach of several United Nations treaties including the Child Rights Treaty, which Saudi signed in 1996 and the Treaty for the Rights of Women that the kingdom joined in 2000. [8]

[1] Robert Spencer, Saudi Grand Mufti: Child marriages are OK, Jihad Watch, December 23, 2014 9:11 am
[3] Habib Toumi, Saudi Arabia Grand Mufti says no opposition to underage marriage, Gulf News, 15:29 December 21, 2014
[4] Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Men May Marry Girls Under 15, The Clarion Project, Mon, December 22, 2014
[6] No minimum age for marriage of girls – Grand Mufti, Arabian Business, Monday, 22 December 2014 1:26 PM
[7] Angus McDowall And Summer Said, Cleric Fights Saudi Bid to Ban Child Marriages, The Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2011
[8] Saudi mufti okays marriage for 10 year old girls, Al Arabiya, Thursday, 15 January 2009
[9] Raymond Ibrahim, New Saudi Fatwa Defends Pedophilia as ‘Marriage’, Front Page Mag, July 25, 2011
[10] Timothy Whiteman, Saudi Grand Mufti authorizes marriage to 10-yr-old girls, The Examiner, April 23, 2012 6:17 PM MST
[11] Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabian Mufti, Says Girls Ready For Marriage At 10 Years Old, The Huffington Post, 04/24/2012 6:34 pm EDT
[12] Sara Anabtawi, Girls ready for marriage at 12 – Saudi Grand Mufti, Arabian Business, Tuesday, 24 April 2012 1:00 PM
[13] Amir Taheri, The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, pp. 90-91.
[14] Asma Alshari, Child brides: Will Saudi Arabia set age limit for marriage?, The Christian Science Monitor,  April 18, 2012
[15] Saudi might soon set minimum marriage age: paper, Reuter, Wed Apr 18, 2012 7:52am EDT
[16]Andrew Brown, Feminism Saudi style, The Guardian, 2009/jan/19
[17] Top Saudi cleric: OK for young girls to wed, CNN, 7:44 a.m. EST, Sat January 17, 2009

About Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace is a self-fashioned writter, a computer programmer and cybermarketer from Quebec City, Canada who decided to enter the political arena after his disillusionment with the socialist system under which he was living in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

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