The MMDA of Sri Lanka – A Religious Perspective

The DailyMirror states that the Muslim women’s rights organizations around Sri Lanka had urged to implement necessary reforms to Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), by pointing out several issues which needed reforms in the Act. Such as;

• Minimum age of marriage for all Muslims must be 18 without any exceptions.

•Women should be eligible to be appointed as Quazis (a Muslim court judge), members of the Board of Quazis, marriage registrars, jurors, and registrars.

• MMDA must apply to all Muslims irrespective of their sect.

• Signature of both the bride and bridegroom is mandatory in an official marriage.

• Mandatory registration required for the legal validity of a marriage.

• Polygamy to be permissible only under exceptional circumstances, with just cause, under specific conditions including financial capacity, consent of all parties, and with court authorization.

• Procedures for divorce initiated by husband and wife must be the same.

• Expand dowry to include immovable assets and make recoverable at the time of divorce. Granting and obtaining dowry without recording during marriage registration to be illegal and be subjected to a penalty.

• Introduce, recognize, and facilitate the concept of the marriage contract to be entered into by a Muslim couple prior to marriage.

• Upgrade the quality of the quazi court system as effective family-friendly courts by improving the qualifications of quazis to ensure efficient access to justice for women and men, and a robust monitoring mechanism. 

While this on one hand is a news that lightens the heart of Muslim women and girls who have been expecting voices to raise against this sort of a law that had been permitting ‘child marriages’ and deteriorating the legal system of the country in whole, what saddened me is the alleges made in the platforms of Twitter and Facebook regarding the minimum age of marriage for all Muslims and the incautious statement made by the ACJU (All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulamah) that came as an output of gender discrimination. Situation being made worse, when the pundits have highlighted the marriage of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (mpbuh) to Aisha (mabpwh) as an example to justify this prevailing law.

This, disappointing and enraging the community first, had now brought in people from various communities putting forward their opinions in regards to this issue faced by the Muslim women of Sri Lanka, eventually seeing it in the view that the Holy Prophet cannot be a proper example for the Muslim community.

Repeated alleges are made that Muhammad was a pedophile, because he had married Aisha (mabpwh) when she was only six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine, when he was in his 50s himself, making the Prophet look like a bad example to the Muslim community and falsifying the teachings of the religion in whole.

It is indeed sad, wrong and disappointing how the leaders of the Muslim community and some of the modern Muslims are handling this sensitive issue.

When taking this matter into consideration, the truth about Aisha’s age at her time of Nikkah and the consummation of marriage is very necessary.

So how old was Aisha really when she got married to the Prophet and their marriage was consummated?

The controversy regarding this matter arises from the grounds of the blind beliefs of Muslims themselves.

  1.  Muslims believe that the alleges that Aisha was just six years old when she was betrothed to Muhammad, himself in his 50s, and only nine when the marriage was consummated to be a historically accurate account basing this on a saying attributed to Aisha herself (Sahih Bukhari volume 5, book 58, number 234).
  2.  Although most Muslims would not consider marrying off their nine-year-old daughters, those who accept this saying argue that ‘since the Qur’an states that marriage is void unless entered into by consenting adults’, thus, believing that Aisha must have entered puberty early.
  3. Some modern Muslim scholars have more recently cast doubt on the veracity of the saying, or hadith, used to assert Aisha’s young age. In Islam, the hadith literature (sayings of the prophet) is considered secondary to the Qur’an. While the Qur’an is considered to be the verbatim word of God, the hadiths were transmitted over time through a rigorous but not infallible methodology. Taking all known accounts and records of Aisha’s age at marriage, estimates of her age range from nine to 19. Because of this, it is impossible to know with any certainty how old Aisha was.

How then do we come to a proper conclusion regarding her age at marriage?

In a society without a birth registry and where people did not celebrate birthdays, most people estimated their own age and that of others. Aisha would have been no different. On another note, Aisha had already been engaged to someone else before she married Muhammad, suggesting she had already been mature enough by the standards of her society to consider marriage for a while. Thus, again, it seems difficult to reconcile this with her being six.

 In the booklet Prophet of Islam, which was later incorporated in 1948 as the first chapter of his book Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad, the great scholar Maulana Muhammad Ali writes in a lengthy footnote as follows:

“A great misconception prevails as to the age at which Aisha was taken in marriage by the Prophet. Ibn Sa‘d has stated in the Tabaqat that when Abu Bakr [father of Aisha] was approached on behalf of the Holy Prophet, he replied that the girl had already been betrothed to Jubair, and that he would have to settle the matter first with him. This shows that Aisha must have been approaching majority at the time. Again, the Isaba, speaking of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, says that she was born five years before the Call and was about five years older than Aisha. This shows that Aisha must have been about ten years at the time of her betrothal to the Prophet, and not six years as she is generally supposed to be. This is further borne out by the fact that Aisha herself is reported to have stated that when the chapter [of the Holy Quran] entitled The Moon, the fifty-fourth chapter, was revealed, she was a girl playing about and remembered certain verses then revealed. Now the fifty-fourth chapter was undoubtedly revealed before the sixth year of the Call. All these considerations point to but one conclusion, viz., that Aisha could not have been less than ten years of age at the time of her nikah, which was virtually only a betrothal. And there is one report in the Tabaqat that Aisha was nine years of age at the time of nikah. Again it is a fact admitted on all hands that the nikah of Aisha took place in the tenth year of the Call in the month of Shawwal, while there is also preponderance of evidence as to the consummation of her marriage taking place in the second year of Hijra in the same month, which shows that full five years had elapsed between the nikah and the consummation. Hence there is not the least doubt that Aisha was at least nine or ten years of age at the time of betrothal, and fourteen or fifteen years at the time of marriage.”

To facilitate understanding dates of these events, it is advisable to note that it was in the tenth year of the Call, i.e. the tenth year after the Holy Prophet Muhammad received his calling from God to his mission of prophethood, that his wife Khadija passed away, and the approach was made to Abu Bakr for the hand of his daughter Aisha. The hijra or emigration of the Holy Prophet to Madina took place three years later, and Aisha came to the household of the Holy Prophet in the second year after hijra. So, if Aisha was born in the year of the Call, she would be ten years old at the time of the nikah and fifteen years old at the time of the consummation of the marriage.

Further research as beautifully explained in an Urdu pamphlet published by the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam clarifies that Aisha was older than this. As in a summary, the scholars believe that Aisha should have been at least 19 years old when she consummated her marriage to Muhammad (Sal) and 14 or 15 years old during her Nikkah, considering the age difference between her sister Asma (rali) and her.

While confusions and controversies shall continue to prevail among people regarding coming to a conclusion about Aisha’s age, it is important to ponder on certain facts regarding this matter, both in the light of Islam and from the perspective of the intellectual world.

As mentioned in an article published in the Council on Foreign Relations, it is evident that International conventions prohibit child marriage and define eighteen as the age of adulthood. These laws are based on the argument that children and adolescents are not mature enough to make choices about marriage, and that marrying too young can lead to lasting emotional, physical, and psychological harm. Moreover, development experts say child marriage stunts girls’ educational opportunities and income-earning prospects, and perpetuates poverty in communities worldwide, inhibiting progress toward national and global development goals and threatening stability. Delaying the age of marriage and investing in girls’ futures, they say, can have a multiplier effect that benefits the communities at large.

This, being the perspective of the intellectual world, is a highly acceptable, logical fact that every person with a sound mind would agree upon.

In accordance with the Islamic teachings, or the life of Aisha with Prophet Muhammad (mpbuh), it is important to understand that,

The Qur’an says, “And test the orphans until they reach a marriage­able age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind/sound in judgment, hand over to them their possessions…” (Quran, 4:6)

Hence, by ‘mature of mind/sound in judgement’ the Qur’an refers to those who have reached an age of proper maturity and not ‘CHILDREN’ who don’t even know what ‘marriage’ means or how it works.

2. The same woman who is believed to have had been oppressed by an elderly man called Muhammad who the modern intellectuals term as a ‘pedophile’, had enjoyed her childhood, has had a fruitful youth and had played a significant role as a woman in the society, setting a great example to every single woman who lived during her period and came after. 

This is evinced through innumerable incidents in history.  It is of the greatest relevance to note the pivotal role she had played as a teacher, exponent and interpreter of the religion of Islam. Aisha had been an exceptionally intelligent and astute woman, a young prodigy, and this had been the main reason why she was married to the Holy Prophet, as is clearly proved by events after the Holy Prophet’s life. She entered his household, shortly after his emigration to Madina, just at the time when the teachings of Islam in all fields of life for the Muslim community were starting to be revealed to the Holy Prophet and demonstrated by him by his example and practice. An intellectually gifted person was required who would have daily contact with the Holy Prophet at the closest and most personal level, so as to absorb the teachings that he was giving on all aspects of life by his words and actions. Such a person would need to possess the following qualities:

  • an excellent, precise memory to retain a vast amount of detail accurately,
  • the understanding to grasp the significance and the principles of the teachings,
  • powers of reasoning, criticism and deduction to resolve problems on the basis of those teachings,
  • the skills to convey knowledge to a wide range of audience,
  • and, finally, have the prospect of living for a considerable period of time after the death of the Holy Prophet in order to spread his message to distant generations.

Hence, how Aisha possessed all these qualities and carried out this mission is an absolutely positive and undeniable, historical fact. After the Holy Prophet’s death, she had acted as a teacher and interpreter of Islam, providing guidance to even the greatest of the male Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. They had made a special point of going to her to gain knowledge and seek her opinion. A vast number of sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet are reported from her in books of Hadith. She not only quoted his sayings and reported her observations of events, but interpreted them to provide solutions to questions. Whenever necessary, she corrected the views of the greatest of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. She made rulings and judgments on which Islamic law is based.

Child marriages, starting from history until present happen due to various reasons and are easily justified by adults using various lame excuses and circumstances, mainly being economic, social and for the fulfilment of sexual needs.

What one must understand from this is that, the intention of the Prophet in marrying Lady Aisha had not been economic, social or as frequently accused, in terms of fulfilling his sexual desires at his old age, but with pure intentions. Also, it would be wise of anyone to understand that Aisha was not oppressed, but her status before and after her marriage to Muhammad, as a woman and as a human being in general, had been raised to a pedestal. Their marriage had not only been beneficial for the people of that time but had become the most important one out of all the marriages of Prophet, to have set forward a lot of great examples to follow under the MMDA.

Some of them are;

• Aisha (rali) had played an important role as a woman who had granted judgement regarding many situations that could not be solved by the companions of the Holy prophet.

• Aisha had helped Establish a Woman’s Right to Choose Her Husband. When a girl came to Aisha unhappy that her father was forcing an arranged marriage upon her, Aisha brought the matter to the Prophet who for the first time- established that a woman’s choice in marriage was hers to make. Though arranged marriages exist still today in many cultures of various faiths with both good and bad outcomes, it is this period in time that forced marriage became prohibited in Islam.

O You who have chosen to be graced with belief! It is not lawful for you to force women into marrying or holding on to them in marriage against their will. (Quran, 4:19)

• There was never hesitation from Aisha to become the wife of the Prophet of Islam. She loved him so much; she wanted him all to herself.

Hence, as far as child marriage is taken into consideration, it is important to understand that it has no place in any community, and trying to justify it in the light of any religious or social communities, including Islam is an unforgivable mistake.

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