It’s not a direct debate. No matter how poised Nada Al-Ahdal may be at 11 and her video, which went viral, and interview certainly show that she is, that kind of debate isn’t going to happen. But the back and forth format is effective enough.
We’ve seen debates between Muslim clerics and women’s rights advocates. But this is far more devastating. It doesn’t help that the cleric is sweating like a pig and couldn’t be creepier if he had come from central casting, especially once he begins talking about marrying his own daughter off when she reaches puberty.
Interviewer: “How old were you when they married you off?”
Nada Al-Ahdal: “Ten years old.”
Interviewer: “How old was the man who married you?”
Nada Al-Ahdal: “26 years old.”
Interviewer: “When they told you they wanted to marry you off, what did you know about marriage?”
Nada Al-Ahdal: “They told me it was a game, but it isn’t. It turns you into a servant, and places a burden that is greater than you can bear on your shoulders.”
Interviewer: “[Your parents] told you that marriage was a game?”
Nada Al-Ahdal: “Yes.”
Interviewer: “Do you know how much the bridegroom paid [your parents]?”
Nada Al-Ahdal: “Yes.”
Interviewer: “How much?”
Nada Al-Ahdal: “2,000 dollars.”
And then we get to the genuinely creepy stuff as the cleric comes on.
Egyptian cleric Sheikh Abu Yahya: “There is a difference between contractual marriage and consummated marriage. A contractual marriage can take place from day one. From the moment the baby girl is born, takes her first breaths, and is given a name, her guardian, who is her father only – and there is consensus about this in the Muslim world – is allowed to marry her off. This is an accepted custom, and perhaps even my grandparents and your grandparents married this way. The boy is kept for the girl, and vice versa.
“This marriage – a contractual marriage or engagement – is permitted [at this age]. As for consummation of the marriage – it is not permitted until the woman is ready to bear it. A guardian who acts otherwise is harming the girl under his charge.”
Interviewer: “At what age is she ready for him?”
Sheikh Abu Yahya: “This varies from girl to girl. One girl may be ready at the age of nine, and another may not be ready even at 25.”
Interviewer: “If you had a girl who reached puberty at nine years of age…”
Sheikh Abu Yahya: “I would marry her for sure. If she has reached puberty…”
Interviewer: “You would marry her off?”
Sheikh Abu Yahya: “If you say she has reached puberty, that’s it.”