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Austin Cline

Shariah in Niger: Marriage & Sex with Prepubescent Girls

By February 18, 2008

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When I wrote to criticize the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Willaims about introducing aspects of Shariah into British courts, I pointed out that we must remember the degree to which "family law" in Shariah is oppressive to women and girls. A dramatic example of this comes to us from the African state of Niger, where young girls can be married off even before they reach puberty.

Girls have no say and the state does not treat this as pedophilia ó sex between an adult man and pre-pubescent girl is only pedophilia if they aren't married. Why does marriage make a difference unless it's because the girl becomes the property of the husband instead of the father?

In many Western and Muslim countries what happened to Hadjo would be called paedophilia and the male attacker would be arrested and imprisoned. In Niger that word is only applied to men who have sex with girls outside of marriage, said Idrissa Djibrilla, head of the Niger branch of Defence for Children International (DCI), a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

"Here we only talk about paedophilia when sex happens outside marriage," Djibrilla said. "If we look at it from the biological, physiological point of view, it's clear that at nine, 10, 11 or 12 years old a girl simply is not ready for sex and child bearing. That's the reality, but it is hard to make our communities understand."

The effects can be long-lasting and extend beyond physical health, human rights workers and psychologists who have studied child brides say. Forced sexual intercourse, denial of freedom and domestic violence are "frequently" found in child marriages, the long-term effects of which are poorly understood, according to a confidential NGO study shown to IRIN. Eventually, the girls are likely to be abandoned when their polygamous husbands take another young bride. In Niger, women have little or no rights after a divorce.

Source: All Africa

Fortunately not every Muslim nation is this bad, but that's in part because Shariah is not a single set of laws. Not only are there different legal schools in Islam, but different countries incorporate different local traditions. This is a major problem with Rowan Williams' suggestion that Britain introduce Shariah into British courts. Which Shariah? From which country? Privileging any one form of Shariah over all others would be an illegitimate move by the British government.

 

Why shouldn't Britian introduce the tradition of child brides? Not every Muslim country follows this tradition, but it's as secure as a legitimate religious tradition as anything else in Islam:

In reality, activists say 13 is a common age for marriage, and some girls are married off as young as nine or 10. They will be forced to have sex even before their first period.

Negotiations over the Family Code (Code de la Personne et de la Famille) - a piece of domestic legislation which would have defined the legal relationship between husbands and wives and children and parents, and included a legal minimum age for marriage and sexual intercourse - collapsed in 2006.

According to Alice Kang, a University of Wisconsin researcher who studied the process, the Family Code was "vilified and abandoned" after mainstream Islamist associations lobbied against it. ...

Diadiť Boureima, deputy representative of UNFPA in Niger, said the government is "a bit reticent" about tackling early marriage "because of the religious reaction" and said if things are going to change "the 'marabout' (religious leaders) will have to be involved."

"If there was a law against paedophilia it would be applied here," said Boureima. "But, instead, Islam has legalised it by saying the Prophet had a nine-year-old wife, even though that marriage was not consummated."[emphasis added]

Muslims believe that Muhammad lived an exemplary life and his actions are a model for how Muslims should behave today. That's why his teachings and behavior were recorded in the Hadith, which is nearly as authoritative as the Qur'an. Diadiť Boureima is being rather disingenuous here about what happened with Aisha. Well, perhaps I'm being to generous ó what he says is flatly false, so either he is too ignorant about Islam to be speaking on the subject or he is trying to put a good face on things for an audience he expects won't like the truth.

The Hadith is absolutely clear that Aisha was forced into a marriage with Muhammad when she was about six years old and then he consummated their marriage by having sex with her when she was just nine:

Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married 'Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old. [Sahih Bukhari 5:58:236]

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).] [Sahih Bukhari 7:62:88]

When we came to Medina, the women came to me when I was playing on the swing, and my hair were up to my ears. They brought me, prepared me, and decorated me. Then they brought me to the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he took up cohabitation with me, when I was nine. [Sunnan Abu Dawud 41:4917]

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old. [Sahih Muslim 8:3311]

Notice in the above news report that it was mainstream Muslim organizations which destroyed efforts to keep adult men from having sex with little girls. This can't be blamed on a few fringe extremists, and that's hardly surprising since the Prophet Muhammad led the way in this area. If Muhammad can marry a little girl and then have sex with her, why can't Muslim men today do the same?

"We have advocated that religious officials can perform marriage ceremonies between adults and children, but that people should not consummate the marriage until the child reaches puberty," he said. "The real problem is that at the national level the government is afraid to take certain measures," he added.

In the spirit of cooperation and compromise, defenders of the right of girls not to be molested by adult men are trying to work out a deal with religious traditionalists who want to preserve men's access to child brides. The "compromise" is that men should be allowed to continue marrying little girls, but they should refrain from having sex with those little girls until menstruation begins.

And it still won't be pedophilia.

Emotional maturity is irrelevant. Psychological maturity is irrelevant. All other forms of physical maturity are irrelevant. All that matters is that the girl is technically capable of becoming pregnant ó even if the pregnancy might destroy her fertility or even kill her. In such a context, it's hard not to conclude that females here only have value for sex and pregnancy.

It's also hard not to conclude that it's a huge mistake to imagine that part of the problem is the belief that one should compromise even with mainstream religious groups when it comes to defending human rights. These mainstream Muslim groups may not be as bad as the extremists, but if the best they are going to offer is "no sex until puberty," then I'm afraid that they just don't value female lives and equality enough to be worth working with. It's a bit like "compromising" and saying "it's not rape until she shows skin above the thighs" or "it's not spousal abuse unless it leaves marks that last for more than three days."

Comments
February 18, 2008 at 11:03 pm
(1) Nadya says:

Why do you neglect to mention the fact that the tradition of child brides and age disparity in sexual relationships are not unique to Islamic countries?

The taboo of huge age gaps in sexual relationships is relatively new. In 1200, King John I of England married Isabella of Angouleme. He was 34, she was 12… and they had their first child when she was about 19. In the eighteenth century, one of the mistresses of Louis XIV of France (Louise O’Murphy) was 13. Do I even need to bring up the pederasty practiced by the Greeks and Romans?

It’s dishonestto bring up the fact that Muhammad married a nine-year-old and then neglect to mention that this was in no way unusual for the time–or indeed, several centuries afterward.

February 18, 2008 at 11:04 pm
(2) Nadya says:

Hooray for the straw man argument.

February 19, 2008 at 6:07 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

Hooray for the straw man argument.

If you’re going to make that claim, you should back it up.

Why do you neglect to mention the fact that the tradition of child brides and age disparity in sexual relationships are not unique to Islamic countries?

Is it relevant? If so, please explain exactly how.

Itís dishonestto bring up the fact that Muhammad married a nine-year-old and then neglect to mention that this was in no way unusual for the timeĖor indeed, several centuries afterward.

That others did the same is irrelevant unless people are venerating those who engaged in such behavior, hold up such behavior as a model for today, and/or try to justify such behavior today on the basis of such people having done such things in the past.

For example, if Muslims somewhere today were trying to justify slavery on the basis of Islamic tradition, the fact that slavery existed elsewhere for so long wouldn’t be very relevant. It would be true, but unimportant unless these Muslims tried to defend slavery on the basis of it having existed in non-Muslim cultures.

February 19, 2008 at 12:20 pm
(4) tracieh says:

Just a couple notes:

1. I know of nowhere in the Bible where there is an age minimum for when a young woman is marriagable. If I’m wrong, I invite anyone to correct me. I may be overlooking it–but I’ve never seen it.

2. There is a section in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18) that condemns sex between close relations:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=leviticus%2018&version=31

It then goes on in great detail to describe exactly what constitutes those forbidden relationships. I can’t help but note that there are two combinations that seem to be weirdly absent: Sex between a man and his daughter (but sex between a woman and her son is explicitly condemned), and sex between a man and his niece (but sex between an aunt/nephew is explicitly condemned).

Isn’t that a bit ODD?

Again–if I’m overlooking it somewhere, or if it’s explicitly stated or condemned elsewhere, I’m open to correction. The Bible contains many books, and it’s possible I simply am not remembering passages or am unfamiliar with the appropriate passages–but this is all I’ve found about it.

February 22, 2008 at 2:45 pm
(5) Che says:

Why do you neglect to mention the fact that the tradition of child brides and age disparity in sexual relationships are not unique to Islamic countries?

Is it relevant? If so, please explain exactly how.

Itís dishonest to bring up the fact that Muhammad married a nine-year-old and then neglect to mention that this was in no way unusual for the timeĖor indeed, several centuries afterward.

That others did the same is irrelevant unless people are venerating those who engaged in such behavior, hold up such behavior as a model for today, and/or try to justify such behavior today on the basis of such people having done such things in the past.

I think what Nadya is trying to say is just because some would like to follow religious laws/customs doesn’t mean they would ignore the civil laws of their land. In fact all three religions explicitly state you MUST obey the laws of your land (passed down to Moses).
Nadya is also making an arguement about your apparent hypocrisy, which is ironically a favorite attack of yours against those who oppress atheists. You take an extreme example and use it as a scare tactic to argue against those who support the use Shariah Law. There are many examples in many religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. that are filled with things we would find repulsive by today’s Western standards. Yet many people claim to use their religion as a basis of their moral and ethical code without any civil conflict. They adapt it for the society they live in. If it is true for other religions, why not give Western Muslims the same benefit of the doubt? In a previous article you give a free pass to orthodox Jews who use similar techniques within their communities without notice. Yet your arguement seems ham-handed. Compare/contrast on how Jewish vs. Shariah laws would *actually* (not theoretically using extreme examples) manifest themselves running paralled to British civil codes. Because child brides go back to Judaism, which Christianity and Islam are built off of – yet I don’t see you sounding any alarm with those religions. Don’t go all the way to another continent with a poor, illiterate population to make your point, stick to Jews, Christians and Muslims in Britain.

February 22, 2008 at 3:16 pm
(6) Austin Cline says:

I think what Nadya is trying to say is just because some would like to follow religious laws/customs doesnít mean they would ignore the civil laws of their land

Yet the introduction of Shariah is the introduction of new civil laws which people can optionally follow.

Nadya is also making an arguement about your apparent hypocrisy

No, she’s making a claim. To have an argument, she’d at the very least need an example ó yet she provides none.

You take an extreme example and use it as a scare tactic to argue against those who support the use Shariah Law.

I take an extreme example to demonstrate that Shariah is not harmless. In what way does this example not show that Shariah is not harmless.

There are many examples in many religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. that are filled with things we would find repulsive by todayís Western standards.

True. And when I find stories of people actually trying to follow those repulsive rules, I write about it.

In a previous article you give a free pass to orthodox Jews who use similar techniques within their communities without notice.

Care to cite a link?

Donít go all the way to another continent with a poor, illiterate population to make your point, stick to Jews, Christians and Muslims in Britain.

Since Shariah doesn’t exist in Britain, you are asking for something that can’t be done. I can only go to societies where Shariah exists. If that bothers people, they should work to change Shariah rather than complain about those who point out what’s wrong with Shariah.

February 22, 2008 at 4:20 pm
(7) Rob says:

Che, you wrote, “why not give Western Muslims the same benefit of the doubt?”

This is exactly the problem with “Western Muslims” .. you see, any Muslim who does not condemn the lowly, ignorant and selfish acts of Muslims is just as culpable of doing it themselves.
Western Muslims, ones that do claim to be ‘extremist’ or ‘fundamentalist’ do not get the ‘benefit of a doubt’ or a free pass because once they decide not to denounce fundamental, militant Islam, they comply with it.

England should know better, they are teetering on edge of respectability, and indeed, extinction.

February 23, 2008 at 8:08 pm
(8) Tom Edgar says:

Is there an applied law in the U S regarding age of marriage? Consent I know exists. From memory in the Ozarks, and elsewhere, pregnancy and marriage before 14 yrs age was not uncommon in the past. I believe it still occurs, usually with some form of legalistic intervention allowing it to be formalised. In India marriage pre puberty is not unknown to this day and they are not Muslim. This marriage is,very often, more akin to Western “Engagement” or “Betrothal” In Australian Aboriginal communities the Betrothal can be between two infants to be fulfilled at a later date. To expect primitive societies to adopt modern western values is as pointless as referring to the primitive times and
mentality of Mohamed. I am as much concerned that Sharia Law should never be allowed as secular law as I would have of the Anglican Canon Law, Roman Catholic, Judaic, or Traditional Aboriginal laws.
Whilst all may have some value they should never be part of general law applying to all people.
tomedgar@halenet.com.au

March 4, 2008 at 12:38 am
(9) jerry says:

None of this discussion deals with Aisha herself. By all accounts I have found, she did not consider herself a victim. She lorded over Mohammed’s other wives that she was his favorite because she was the only virgin he married (he married the widows of his cronies so they would be secure in their declining years) and after his death, when she was 18, participated in the scheming and in-fighting that surrounded the question of M.’s successor. And I have not come across any indication that she considered her early marriage a hardship. She could have been an unusually precocious child whom Mohammed saw something in.

February 14, 2011 at 4:51 pm
(10) Teg says:

It seems to me that itís going to be difficult to get Muslims to admit that child marriage is not okay when it’s accepted that the Prophet himself did it. I consider this to be an example of a broader problem with religion: it tends to view cult figures (such as Jesus) as idealised role models rather than as human beings who were products of their time, and so it fails to place their actions in context.

March 4, 2008 at 9:44 am
(11) Austin Cline says:

By all accounts I have found, she did not consider herself a victim.

Does this make it OK? Does this make it OK to treat this relationship as a role model?

She could have been an unusually precocious child whom Mohammed saw something in.

And then had sex with.

March 11, 2008 at 3:53 pm
(12) Todd says:

In an era where lifespans were so much shorter, people were considered adults much sooner. While we may balk at a man marrying/shagging a teen, it might not have been considered bad then. It might have even been viewed as necessary. Think of how much our views have changed just within living memory. Things we find prudish today where accepted then and vice versa. Holding dead people to our standards seems a bit unfair and more than a little futile/pointless. Unless we can resurrect him and throw him in the brig. As for it being a role model, no it’s not ok, at least by my Western perspective.

March 11, 2008 at 6:11 pm
(13) Austin Cline says:

In an era where lifespans were so much shorter, people were considered adults much sooner. While we may balk at a man marrying/shagging a teen, it might not have been considered bad then.

Except we are talking about pre-pubescent girls here.

March 19, 2008 at 10:17 am
(14) Amatullah says:

Bismillah
That was the practice during The PROPHET MUHAMMAD SALALAHU ALAYHI WAS SALAAM’S TIME, So get ALL OF THE FACTS, THE MARRIAGE WAS NOT FORCED.

May 30, 2008 at 7:17 am
(15) ppx says:

Read the stories of their marriage. They were very much in love. ^^

November 27, 2008 at 7:39 pm
(16) Commentor says:

I love the way that comments such as Nadhya’s (#1 above) say things such as “In 1200, King John I of England … was 34, [his bride] was 12…” and “In the eighteenth century, one of the mistresses of Louis XIV … was 13….” and “…pederasty [was] practiced by the Greeks and Romans….” and NEVER notice that their examples are hundreds or thousands of years old, while the practice of child brides is ISLAM is being PRACTICED TODAY in 2008.

February 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm
(17) Timothy Mc. Veigh says:

I am a heterosexual 39 year old male. I don’t know much about different moral standards but I DO know that it is IMPOSSIBLE in ANY culture for “normal males” above the age of 18 to be physically attracted to (by “physically attracted”, I mean being infatuated like a man might be with a woman; thinking a “cute little girl” is cute in the way a baby is cute, yes but physically attracted, NO; men marrying little girls, YES; men having sex with little girls, YES but it could NOT be due to being physically attracted unless there is something seriously mentally wrong with that particular male) even the FACE of a girl who has not started to undergo puberty (that is to say, if a girl has started to undergo puberty yet still not able to have children, a male CAN be physically attracted to THEM and still be normal but not if she’s completely prepubescent).
Timothy Mc. Veigh (does anyone remember me from 1995?)

PS. Perhaps pedophilia with adolescent and prepubescent girls

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