Pakistani writer Aalia Suleman reported in Pakistan’s Express Tribune Monday that “American Muslims find themselves holding their heads and groaning over the new wave of sneering and jeering coming their way again.” Why all the sneering and jeering? “The tidal wave was set in motion last week with the arrest of Ahmad Saleem in Florida in a sting operation that busted a major child sex ring.”
Saleem, explains Suleman, “was one of the 100 men arrested in attempting to have sex with girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Police officers in Lake and Polk counties in Florida posed as young girls on chat forums to lure in these predators. When Saleem arrived at the arranged house looking to have sex with a 12-year- old, what he found instead was a detective.”
In doing all this, Suleman writes, “Saleem threw all caution to the wind in behaving in this manner and vilified not only his own reputation but the name of Islam in the process.” It’s noteworthy that Aalia Suleman is more worried about Islam’s image than about the child victims of pedophilia that is sanctioned by Muhammad’s example, but that is par for the Islamic supremacist course. In reality, Islam’s image is and ought to be tarnished by this arrest, and it ought to become the starting-point for genuine reform — but it won’t.
This is because Muhammad’s example sanctifies the abuse of children in this way. The Catholic Church was plagued by pedophile priests who were protected by venal bishops, but at no time did the Church teach that such behavior was acceptable.
By contrast, Ahmad Saleem had every reason to believe, by his lights, that what he was doing was perfectly acceptable, since Muhammad did it. That is what needs to be addressed here, but it won’t be.
Islamic apologists in the West argue furiously that child marriage has nothing to do with Islam, and that the idea that Muhammad married a child is the invention of greasy Islamophobes. In reality, 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 all right, 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.
Marrying young girls was not all that unusual for its time, but because in Islam Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct (cf. Qur’an 33:21), he is considered exemplary in this unto today. And so in April 2011, the Bangladesh Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage in that country were putting Muhammad in a bad light: “Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of the holy prophet of Islam, [putting] the moral character of the prophet into controversy and challenge.” He added a threat: “Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women.” The Mufti said that 200,000 jihadists were ready to sacrifice their lives for any law restricting child marriage.
Likewise the influential website Islamonline.com in December 2010 justified child marriage by invoking not only Muhammad’s example, but the Qur’an as well:
The Noble Qur’an has also mentioned the waiting period [i.e. for a divorced wife to remarry] for the wife who has not yet menstruated, saying: “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women, if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated” [Qur’an 65:4]. Since this is not negated later, we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl. The Qur’an is not like the books of jurisprudence which mention what the implications of things are, even if they are prohibited. It is true that the prophet entered into a marriage contract with A’isha when she was six years old, however he did not have sex with her until she was nine years old, according to al-Bukhari.
Other countries make Muhammad’s example the basis of their laws regarding the legal marriageable age for girls. Article 1041 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that girls can be engaged before the age of nine, and married at nine: “Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interests of the ward are duly observed.”
According to Amir Taheri in The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution (pp. 90-91), Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing,” and advised the faithful to give their own daughters away accordingly: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” When he took power in Iran, he lowered the legal marriageable age of girls to nine, in accord with Muhammad’s example.
The arrest of Ahmad Saleem could have been an occasion for a searching re-examination and reevaluation of all this, so that children would no more be victimized in this way. Instead, there will be more finger-pointing and cries of “Islamophobia.” As always.
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