The Silent Tragedy of Child Marriage
Last Friday, an Afghan journalist named Mustafa Kazemi posted on Facebook a harrowing story about an eight-year-old girl in the Khashrood district of Nimruz province in Afghanistan, who was sold off into marriage to a mullah in his late 50s, and who bled to death on their wedding night.
It was one of many such tragedies in a land that little notes nor long remembers such deaths. An eight-year-old girl sold into marriage and dead after a brutal sexual assault that her body could not withstand is no more noteworthy than a pack animal that collapses under a too-heavy weight. It’s time and money wasted, that’s all. Forget about it. Get another one.
Indeed, the day after Kazemi posted his account, pro-Sharia lawmakers in Afghanistan blocked a proposed Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, which would have set criminal penalties for child marriage. Pro-Sharia legislator Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada denounced the law as un-Islamic, explaining: “Whatever is against Islamic law, we don’t even need to speak about it.”
That means that more girls like the eight year old in the Khashrood district will continue to suffer. For 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 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).
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).
Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old.