Child Marriages 2

Posted in: Reports : Yemen Observer
Written By: Sama'a Al-Hamdani
Article Date: Aug 13, 2005

This column is dedicated to early marriages in Yemen and its significance to both individuals and society as a whole. 

Many people believe that early marriages are strongly related to Islamic beliefs. It is only natural that religion plays a major role in every culture, but it is necessary, however, to understand that Islam, the predominant religion in Yemen, does not mandate early marriage, nor does it prohibit it. Islamic legislation does not set a definite age for marriage, and so it is left to the individual and families to decide the right age based on interests, circumstances, and location. 

Before deciding whether Islam promotes child marriages, it is essential to understand the religion's values and beliefs. The Holy Koran and the Hadiths are the Muslim's reference on how to conduct one's life according to the rules of Allah. In the Koran, marriage is considered something very special.  Islam specifies that if marriage is beneficial to the individual and society, then it is permitted by Allah. If it is detrimental, then it is forbidden.  The Koran states:
He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and he has put love and mercy between your (hearts). 

In the Holy Koran, the importance of partners finding comfort in each other and living in harmony is given due emphasis, but this serenity may not be achieved if one of the partners is not content in the union.  Even though the Shari' a, Islamic religious law, does not specify a suitable age for marriage, it does say that a married woman should have already reached puberty so that she can bear children.

Marriage is Sunnah, which means it is recommended, but it may become an obligation to protect oneself from disgrace or from engaging in illegitimate sexual relations before contracting marriage. In another sense, marriage should be mandatory if a person is afraid of committing Zina, or fornication. Extramarital fornication is forbidden in Yemeni culture and in Islam, where marriage is viewed as a means of protection from unwanted attentions and taboo relations.  Many people believe that Islam encourages early marriage because of the interpretations of scholars and the Hadiths, or sayings and quotes, of the Prophet.  Many men and women marry early because of hadiths that encourage marriage.
 O, you, young men! Whoever is able should marry because it will help you to lower your gaze and preserve your modesty, and those who cannot should fast because it preserves [narrated by Al- Bukhari, Moslem, Ahmed and others].

This Hadith encourages early marriage because it preserves and protects Muslims from premarital relations and prevents them from sin. Here follows another Hadith which relates marriage to fulfilling a religious duty towards Allah:
 When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah in the remaining half [narrated by Anas about the Prophet].
Many people cite the example of the Prophet Mohammed (MPBH) when he married Aisha at the age of 9. However, they seem to forget that he was a Prophet and married more women to help spread the religion through several tribes.  Also, little responsibility was placed on Aisha. While many people mention that the Prophet married Aisha at such a young age, no one mentions that Fatima Al-Zahra, daughter of the Prophet, was married at 18 years of age and was the only wife of her husband.  When Fatima married, the Prophet gave her the choice of whether she wanted to go through with the union or not.  
When a young girl is married off, she should be given the choice to agree or disagree with the marriage. There are Hadiths by the Prophet that state that a girl's consent to marriage is of great importance.  If a girl rejects a marriage, then it is forbidden for her to be married off.  When a girl is silent, it is taken as a sign of consent. After understanding the rules for marriage in Islam, it is plain to see that the decision to marry early remains with the partners and their families.

Many westerners believe that early marriage is obligatory in Islam because in their cultures premarital relations are generally accepted. In other words, early marriages are common in Middle Eastern societies to satisfy natural sexual needs. Child marriages represent more of a cultural belief than an Islamic belief. In Egypt, we find that both young Christian and Muslim girls are married before the age of eighteen. The same is true for Iraq and Jordan.
Child marriages are a common feature of Yemen society and needs to be addressed to prevent their sometimes nefarious consequences for Yemen's society.