Omer Subhani seems to largely miss the point of the Muslim Public Affairs Council piece on child marriages, which was posted last week here on Altmuslimah. Especially considering that both MPAC and Mr. Subhani staunchly oppose the horrendous practice, it would be immensely more productive if we could channel that agreement to defeat injustices in our communities. Our intent with this report is to shine a light on the issue as one that we must all confront head-on.
Subhani completely misrepresents a central part of our analysis when he states:
Muslim scholars of the classical period are largely of the opinion that virgin girls who had not yet reached puberty (or maturity) could be married off without their consent. Even MPAC seems to agree: “A young girl who has not achieved mental and physical maturity can hardly make sound decisions for herself regarding marriage.”
The Qur’an states that a woman must consent to be married. It is precisely because a young girl does not have the maturity to make sound decisions that child marriages should be unequivocally forbidden by Islamic jurisprudence. This is the central argument of this case study, and Subhani uses it to support the exact opposite conclusion. The Qur’an is clear about the fact that a woman must consent to being married. There is no getting around that.
Subhani critiques two arguments: that the Wahhabis aren’t the only school of Islamic thought to sanction child marriages, and that the fact that it exists in many places today demonstrates its Islamic credentials.
He’s right on the point that the heads of at least two other schools of thought, Imam Shafi and Imam Maliki, also issued legal opinions allowing child marriage. The case we examined revolved around a young girl who was given away in marriage to an older man by her father in Saudi Arabia. Because it took place in a Wahhabi legal context, we focused solely on that particular school of thought and its rulings on the issue.
The other two schools of thought provide similar explanations. However, classical scholars are hardly unanimous on this issue – a point that underscores the need for continued debate on its practice. There are scholars who also suggest that female circumcision is plausible in Islam; an opinion that many others reject, which is why we must take a critical look at the laws and have legal scholars re-examine them within an Islamic framework.
Subhani’s argument that Aisha was six years old when she was married to Prophet Muhammad relies exclusively on Bukhari. He fails completely to recognize that there are large inconsistencies in the hadith on Aisha’s age that warrant close consideration. We explain this in our original article.
The Qur’an calls on us to promote justice even if against our own selves or those we love (Al Nisa: 135). This is precisely why we must elevate the voices of reform – such as Dr. Tariq Ramadan – who call for a re-evaluation of jurisprudence and a halt to such practices.
Subhani also argues that because child marriages exist in great numbers, they are somehow justifiable. This is precisely the line of thinking that perpetuates this outdated tribal practice. After all, the Qur’an states that, “God does not change the condition of a people unless they change that which is within themselves.” (Al Ra’d:11)
We invite Mr. Subhani to join our effort to unequivocally condemn injustices within our own community so that we may all take them on together.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council is a national American Muslim advocacy and public policy organization headquartered in Los Angeles and with offices in Washington DC.