Apr 17, 2011

Prophet Mohamed and Child Marriage?

Today, I was in Cairo University participating in a youth event for NGO employment and volunteering opportunities. I was happy to see so many youth interested in the reproductive health awareness initiative we’re doing. We were distributing booklets and flyers about those topics and things were going great and smooth until that guy showed up.

One of the flyers was on child marriage explaining the social and health implications of such practice. I never thought it could provoke people because family planning and HIV were the foremost topics that do. The guy asked me how come I want people to delay marriage until 18 while it is completely natural, and his own sister is married at the age of 12! He went on to say that old people used to marry at this age and no one ever complained, wondering why we want to change “the nature” of the society. He even said he’s engaged to a 15 year old and they are about to marry soon. He said that the practice is common in his hometown (rural lower Egypt) and that they marry without issuing official papers until they turn 18 then they declare it legally.

Away from rural Egypt, I took the discussion to twitter, I was even surprised by another Egyptian living in Canada who found increasing marriage age to 18 was exaggerated and unnecessary. He said that early marriage has no health or psychological implications. He even said that world suffers from many problems because of delayed marriage! It’s scientifically known however that early marriage jeopardizes the health of both mothers and children, causing more risk of abortion and maternal mortality.

Back to the rural person, what made me unable to argue with him was the fact that he used Prophet Mohammed as a justification for early marriage as it is known that he married his wife Aisha at a very young age. That was basically why he believed such awareness efforts were corruptive of “good societies”. He said he saw Prophet Mohamed as a role model for life and that all Muslims should take this view. While I tried to argue that there’s no comparison between that day’s society and ours, etc it evidently seemed useless.

This conversation made me think of culture and how it impacts people. While this person is educated, he still thinks that all those practices are natural and pose no health threat. He places no value to science over what he was raised to. Is it that his perception of health concepts is limited? What about the rights of those girls? Their right to freely choose their husbands, to finish their education, and to happily live their adolescent years. These are all necessary factors to form a woman able to raise healthy children.

Yes, the conditions rural Egyptians live in are different and women carry more responsibilities from an early age which make them mature earlier. The community there sees women’s sole function is to marry and raise children; however I can’t help but see it as a violation of these young girls to develop themselves fully.

I’d like to think that these two guys were an exception, however studies show that 11% of currently female youth in rural areas were married before age 16, and 30% before 18.

There is a law against marriage before age 18 and awareness efforts taking place, but these kinds of attitudes have to be dealt with carefully since they’re deeply embedded in the culture. Religious leads have to play a key role in countering such beliefs and attitudes.

Child marriage is obviously declining in Egypt, there’s more to be done, much more!


  1. the behavior of that young man really mad me feel so sad for what Egyptian girls face in rural Egypt, but I'd like to look to that issue from different way. the real reason mad that young man feels that there is no any difference between the age of prophet Mohamed and our recent time is that there is no any kid of development in the rural Egypt, because of the centralization that mad the comparison between the rural society and the urban one is not even applicable. and I dare say that this centralization policy wasn't just from the government but also it was from the civic society. It is the time for all of us to look at what we all forgot ages ago, it is time to include those people in the development process and don not walk and leave them behind

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  2. I just have to say this is FREAKIN SCARY !!! the only time i went on a charity in upper Egypt i asked them about those stuff and they told me since 2 sheikhs were jailed because of marrying girls under 18 the whole city stopped it.. and i thought it was over..

    Anyway the argument should be how come an uneducated child (under 18) would be able to support a household and take care of it or take care of her family?

    Life now requires a couple to move on and it was not the same a thousand years ago when they lived in tents!!

  3. Great post, Ahmed. I think one sentence in your post pretty much sums it up: the rural persona placed tradition (what he was raised to believe) over science that shows that early marriage is unhealthy. However, the underlying problem to me seems that he doesn't really care about the rights of these girls who marry early, or that he sees their rights in a completely different manner. Even if you can dispute the science that shows that early marriage is unhealthy, I suspect he'd still support this because he thinks that there is a greater benefit to this, which is to limit promiscuity, sexual frustration, etc. The harm FGM does, for example, is quite visible and known, you don't have to be a scientist to know that this operation can go *very* wrong, and yet the "benefit" of "purifying" the girls by making them a-sexual in a way outweighs the possible damage to the girl's health.

    The rural person doesn't see the fact that those girls can't choose whom to marry as negative, as you do. This is why dialogue with such people is very difficult if not pointless.

  4. I just want to ask you a question :
    Why don't you tread a line or two about underage sex in western countries? We in Iran as Shias believe that when the prophet Muhammad married Aysha she was not as young as 9 , as some books belonging to Sunnis say, she definitely was older but it became as a pretext to attack Islam and especially the prophet.
    if marriage before 18 is harmful to girl , mothers and children how about underage sex which is completely legal in the West ?
    These kinds of comparisons make me sick when I see all the attacks are on Islam and nothing else!

  5. The age of consent for sexual activity in Europe is mostly 14 years. In spain it is 13 years. Can someone explain to me what is the difference between allowing sexual activity at say 13 but not approving of marriage and any real commitment to a relationship.

  6. Who is saying that Europe is happy with teenager having sex at that young age???

  7. Let girls marry on attaining puberty. As to what science says, well, one scientist will contradict another scientist. They grope in the dark.
    In Western society girls become"sexually active" at a much younger age. So, why fix an age for marriage?

  8. The law is saying they are happy with it, in so far as it is legal in Spain to have sex with a 13 year old boy or girl. The rights or wrongs of age of consent are not black and white. Islam links sexual activity to maturity and acceptance of responsibility. Some men and women are both mature and sexually active at a young age and others are not. That is true today and all the more true in the past as in 6th century arabia. The practice of the prophet can be seen as an exemplar across human history and we need to map out the suitability and applicability on a person by person basis, or should I say on a couple by couple basis as a relationship involves two. The prophet had a long time monogamous relationship with his first wife for 20 years. He was a young 20 and she was 40 when they married. At the other extreme he consumated a marriage to Ayesha when she was 11 and he was 40. It is worth noting that things haven't changed as much as some might think. In Spain today a teeneage boy can legally marry a 70 year old lady and a 13 year old girl can legally marry a 70 year old man. Leaving a wide margin in the law does not mean the extremes are the aspiration or the norm but as I said relationships need to be assessed individually. The important point is that Islam stresses responsibility ans sex in a relationship rather than promiscuity.

  9. If the rural guy thinks he made his mind & doesn't want to change it, why did he attend your lecture from the first place? Or is he of the secret police or the intelligence agency and want to provoke the attendees against you?
    Tell me, what did his accent look like? Urban or rural?
    That type of people has a problem, which is "dogma". Those people are in a state of dogmatose (dogma coma) :D

  10. btw One must not link the valid discussion of age of puberty and responsibility with the age old male domination of women and taking of young trophy wives. That is just as common in East and West. Look at berlosconi for instance in his late 70's sleeping with an alleged 20 prostituts in 30 days. And he is regarded as a hero by some italian men

  11. Typical medieval ideas expressed here by some members of a medieval religion. I especially find disturbing the statement " As to what science says, well, one scientist will contradict another scientist. They grope in the dark.". Spoken like someone who missed the Age of enlightenment and probably think the coputer he is using to post this ignorance was created out of thin air by him imaginary god.

  12. The people on here disgust me!!! Underage sex is not legal and it is not acceptable so stop trying to defend your trifling urges! It's not right. You cannot defend it. Stop trying. It doesn't matter if it's underage sex or marriage. Either way it is wrong and you all should be shamed for trying to say otherwise!!!!!!!!! People burn in hell for this kind of behavior. It's not okay. It doesn't matter who does it. You can't make it okay. You people are disgusting and I hope you burn.

  13. the problem begins when you start following the Qu'ran or the Bible or these other books of nonsense. The Qu'ran is a rambling amalgam of copies of passages from the bible, passages from the Greeks, and heresay....there is nothing in this book which indicates that it is anything cut a contemporary book written by mortals....god did not create man...man created god.

    The fact that Mohammed had sex with his wife when she was 9 years old (that is clear in the Hadiths)...is just an illustration of this larger issue..."it was common at the time" is a common refrain. My sentiments exactly....we know this to be wrong today but it wasn't 600 years ago...is symptomatic of the whole book....if there was a "god" he wouldn't have instructed a man in his 40s to have sex with a 9 year old....

    Wakey wakey people...a whole bunch of dumb asses have bought this pile of crap hook line and sinker...lets not add to the pile of losers. This religion...like all of the others, Christianity included, doesn't pass even the most basic inspection or scrutiny...

  14. Well i can see a heated discussion is going on here, its wrong to judge something without doing your own personal research. Islam does not allow promiscuity rather encourages taking responsibility and doing things legally i.e marrying. What is the difference of a 11/12 yr old girl getting married lets say to a 20 year old boy, it is the same as the current youth as young as 11 who engage in sexual activities in our schools and neighborhoods but without the marriage tag. so lets stop being hypocrites and say what is really happening, the facts okk...

  15. The age of sexual consent is Spain is the age at which children (of similar age i.e. within 2 years) will not be prosecuted for having sex...It is not to allow 13 year old's to have sex it is instead to give the courts legal guidance on when to prosecute minors having sex....Only applies to minors within 2 years of each other - Definitely not a child and an adults - No 13 year old child in Spain of either sex could get married to an adult...

  16. The View from IsraelApril 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Sex between an adult and a child is always wrong period. There is no way a child can validly consent, as it does not have the psychological maturity to do so. This is a proven fact and not some idle speculation. To assert otherwise is to advocate child abuse. It doesn't matter how many people do it now or who did it in history: if the prophet Mohammed did it, then he was a child abuser. What's next? Legalizing rape? Oh, I forgot - Islam does that too, by making it virtually impossible to prove (four male witnesses needed).

  17. So, is it society & culture as you say or is it religion?
    Thanks for posting.

  18. I know I'm rather late but this article refutes the claim that Aisha was a child bride. It seems to be an idea with no concrete evidence behind it that we've taken as fact, for granted.

  19. Some country is 16 for marriage, but still needs guardian consent as they haven't reach their 18.

    In some cases (at the particular country), and if it'll earlier than 16 and already consented they (both girl and guardian) they just need to go to the court and ask permission. It wasn't so much difficult. (but still,not so many marry as early as teen age there. it is different thing)

    what i'm trying to say, ppl rule the law nowadays. don't judge Islam by its ppl misconduct. It's more likely still-many-rooms-for-improvement in practicing Islam.

    Ppl could give suggestion etc. the best one to decide is the ppl themselves however =)

    About our prophet here they are so much table discussion etc. however, here i quoted some http://effysaiful.blogspot.com/2010/11/was-prophet-pedophile-by-marrying-9.html

    Also we can see from sirah nabawiyah (history) that the enemies of the Prophet tried very hard to destroy the reputation of the Prophet. They accused him of being a sorcerer, a magician, a liar, a fabricator. But NEVER once we heard they call him a pedophile. This is clearly because the Arabs 1400 years ago see this as something normal, otherwise this would be a very perfect opportunity to destroy his reputation in a blink. But they didn't, because it's irrelevant.

    Good luck

  20. Angela from MarrakechMay 12, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Issues of child marriages and teenaged sex are not the same despite being similar. The real problem is the morality of a sexuality before girls are psychologically or physically ready for childbirth.
    I have only a limited understanding of Mohammed, but I know there is more to the story about Mohammad and Aisha than age. H accepted to marry her because she was the daughter of a friend who needed protection. Historically, young girls were educated for marriage by her husband's family in his household for a period of many years time before a marriage was finalized. We assume married people had to have sex, but did these 2 people? We know from history these 2 did not have any children despite spending time alone in the same chamber.At his death she was clearly at an age when young women have children. It is said that Mohammad enjoyed to watch her playing with child toys. He attended to her education. This suggests that the nature of their marriage may not have been a typically sexual one. Maybe his marriage to Aisha was simply to protect her.
    If his reference to child marriage is used as justification for the morality of the practice today, then likewise a man should be forbidden to have sex with a woman (marriage or not) until she attains the age a wife of Mohammad when first giving birth to his children. Of the 11 to 13 wives he had only one for certain did, and she was about age 40(assume a couple years for discrepancy in the records either way). In this spirit it sounds like "hands off little girls!" to me.

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