Does the Qur’an Encourage or Even Permit Marriage to Pubescent Girls?

getting ready for the registry office

getting ready for the registry office

The catalyst for the statement that the Qur’an permits or encourages marriage by older men to pubescent girls comes from verse 4 of Surah 65.


In this verse, it says:

“And as to such of your women as have despaired of menstruation, if you be in doubt thereof, their waiting period is three months, as also of those who have not yet menstruated. And as to those with burthens, their term is when they lay down their burthen.”

Another version says, “and those who have not menstruated as yet.”

As far as I can make out, “yet” and “as yet” are in no popular translations of the Quran except Arberry, and exists in two Quran translations by Abdul Daryabadi and Mufti Taqi Usmani. Saheeh International, Pickthall, Ali, Muhsen Khan, and Shakir all leave out the “yet.”

and (also for) those who have not menstruated.”

“and of those (too) who (have no) courses (it is the same);”

The word for word Quran translates ( وَالَّائِ لَمْ يَحِضْنَ ) “and those (who)” [wallaa’i] “not” [lam] “menstruated” [yaHidhna). Or “and those (agents) who did not menstruate.”

“Not yet” does not exist in any of these translations, so it is open to interpretation.

  1. Girls who were living with and sleeping with their husbands although they had not had their first period.
  2. Wives who had not been married long enough to have her first period while married. That is, who married just after their period and had not yet had the next period.
  3. Girls who had married a man, but had not yet moved in with him because she was underage – and had not had her first period.
  4.  A woman who has reached puberty but cannot menstruate because of some kind of abnormality or ailment

Which of these could it be?

A number of traditional explanations of the Quran all try to interpret it the first way: Prepubescent girls living with their husbands.

In support of this, a hadeeth is quoted via ‘Amr ibn Saalim from Ubay bin Ka’ab, who said, “O messenger of God! [When the verse in Surat-ul-Baqarah was sent down prescribing the waiting period for divorce] [some people of Medina said] Some women [whose waiting period has] / [have] not been mentioned in the Quran; [they are] the young, the old [whose menstruation has been discontinued] and the pregnant.” Later on this verse (65:4) was revealed.

Ibn Kathir, the author of the above explanation, says that Amr ibn Saalim never met Ubay bin Kaab, so the chain of narration is cut off – cannot be traced reliably back to the Prophet, or even to Ubay.

This link  is to the Hanbali, opinion which is close to the above mainstream consensus.

So what about the other two possible explanations?

Both postulate the couple sleeping together as a man and wife if both are of marriageable age – past puberty and responsible for their own selves before God. What does the Quran say about that?

The first verse that mentions “marriageable age” is An-Nisa verse 6.

“Test orphans (as regards to their common sense) until they reach the age of marriage; then, if you perceive them to be mature and of sound judgment, release their property to them; but consume it not wastefully, fearing that they will grow up (and take it from you). And if the guardian is well-off, let him claim no wages (for his guardianship), but if he is poor, let him take a wage that is just and reasonable (according to his work). And when you release their property to them, take witnesses in their presence: and Sufficient is God in taking account.”

The age of marriage is translated from idha balagoo un-nikaaH ( إِذَا بَلَغُواْ الْنِّكَاحَ ). What is this age of marriage? In the context of this verse, it is when the person in question is “mature and of sound judgement”. Does that sound like a prepubescent girl?

Other verses attest to stages of life, from infancy, childhood and adolescence, through to adulthood and old age.

Two other verses refer to the age of sound judgement in relation to orphans, correlating with the marriageable age mentioned in verse 4:6.

Surat Al An’am, verse 152, wherein the summary of the core commandments of ethical social behaviour are placed, declaims, “And come not nigh to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he (or she) attains the age of full strength; and give measure and weight with full justice; no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear; whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfill the covenant of God: thus doth He command you, that you may remember.

And again in Surat al Israa, verse 34, it is repeated, “Come not nigh to the orphan’s property except to improve it, until he (or she) attains the age of full strength; and fulfil (every) covenant (i.e. promised undertaking/duty), for the covenant will be asked about.”

What is this age of full strength, this age of sound judgment, this age of marriage?

The length of time you are learning is emphasised in Surat ul-Ahqaaf, verse 15: “We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: In pain his mother bore him, and in pain did she give birth. The carrying of him to his weaning is (a period of) thirty months. At length, when he reaches the age of full strength and attains forty years, he says, “O my Lord! Grant me that I may be grateful for Your favour which Thou has bestowed upon me, and upon both my parents, and that I may work righteousness such as You may approve; and be gracious to me in my issue. Truly have I turned to You and truly do I bow in Islam (submission).”

Clearly, age is of a factor, and maturity a must for the responsibility of marriage. Is maturity an attribute of a prepubescent girl?

Allah says in the Qur’an, in Surat un-Nur, verse 59, “But when the children among you come to puberty, let them (also) ask for permission, as those who were before them (in growing up) did: Thus does God make clear His Signs to you: for God is omniscient and wise.”

This proves that children should stay at home at least until they are sexually aware and have attained puberty. So does consummating a marriage with a prepubescent girl add up?

Children are “( الاطفال )” [al-aTfal], and while still a child is “( طفلا )” [Taflaa]  according to this verse, a person becomes “( الحلم )” [al-Hulum] or sexually aware because of approaching puberty and hormonal changes. If the age of marriage is when one achieves an age of sound judgment, or “full strength”, does that indicate a prepubescent child? I think not. The next verse shows there must be progress from childhood to reach full strength and maturity.

Verse 5 of Surat al-Hajj gives us all the stages of development of a human being. “O mankind! if you are in doubt about the Resurrection, then verily, We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a (leech-like) clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest it to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as children, then (bring you up) that you may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that, after knowing (much), they know nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We pour down rain on it, it is stirred (to life), and it swells and it puts forth every lovely kind (of paired growth).”

“Thumma”, or “then”, gives a sequence. One reaches maturity after childhood, not while you are a child. So copulation is not sanctioned immediately one reaches puberty. Rather, one should be adult in body and mind.

So first you develop in the womb

Then you are a baby – from before birth (when the spirit enters the body) to 2 years old (when you are weaned),

Then you are a child, learning about life (from 3 – puberty)

Then you are practicing how to be an adult (adolescence)

Then you are full grown (and mature, responsible, ready for marriage)

Then you are old (and witless)

The final verse before turning back to the two possible meanings that are left from the three I proposed, is the one saying at what stage of development and girl should, or can, marry.

In Quran, Surat un-Nissa, 25, Allah gives permission to marry young women. He says,

“If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women [al-muhsanaat ul-mu’minaat], you may wed your believing girls ( فتياتكم ) [fatayaatikum ul-mu’minaat] from among those whom your right hands possess: And God has full knowledge about your faith. You are one from another: Wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable: They should be chaste, not lustful, nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall into shame, their punishment is half that for free women [al-muhsanaat.] This (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that you practise self-restraint. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

We have two kinds of women, here. Muhsanaat and Fatayaat. One means a maid who is a free woman, and the other is a maid who is a slave, or owned. You can marry a maid that you own or marry a maid that someone else owns, the other person acting as her guardian. Neither are children (al-aTfaal) nor as yet fully grown women (al-maraa’h). As the stage is post childhood, they both refer to adolescent women who have reached puberty, or teenagers. The implication is also that they are both virgins.

As an aside, the Quran also says that a believing girl who becomes a slave, contrary to what many claim, does not automatically become a concubine (a lady whose owner can sexually possess her). She can refuse concubinage because she desires marriage.

Allah says in Surat un-Nur, “And let those who do not find the means to marry keep chaste until Allah makes them free from want out of His bounty. And (as for) those who ask for a contract (of emancipation) from among the women whom your right hands possess, give them the contract (of emancipation) if you know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you; and do not compel your maids [fayatikum] to harlotry when they desire to keep chaste, in order to seek the frail goods of this world’s life; and whoever compels them, then surely being compelled Allah is Entirely Forgiving, and Merciful (towards them).”

Once again, do these women and young girls sound like prepubescent children to you?

This brings me back to the verse “and of those (too) who (have it not) (have no) (have not had their) courses (it is the same);”

Does this mean

  1. Wives who had not been married long enough to have her first period while married? That is, who married just after their period and had not yet had the next period?
  2. Girls who had married a man, but had not yet moved in with him because she was underage – and had not had her first period?
  3. A woman who has reached puberty but cannot menstruate because of some kind of abnormality or ailment

Some people argue the first of these possibilities, but I prefer the second. Why? Because we see the evidence of it in the marriage of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her. Except they did not divorce.

Indirect evidence of the first of these explanations comes from the Shari’a law surrounding divorce before consummation. The Quran says:

There is no blame upon you if you divorce women you have not touched nor specified for them an obligation. But give them [a gift of] compensation – the wealthy according to his capability and the poor according to his capability – a provision according to what is acceptable, a duty upon the doers of good. (2:236)

This refers to men divorcing women with ‘Talaq’, one of the reasons for so doing being her being too young for intimate relations. In general, Islam considers divorce without the need for it as ‘disliked’ in the very least, and some scholars consider it to be prohibited, because it wrongs the woman, and it harms her. The Prophet () said: “Do not harm yourselves and do not cause harm to others.” [Reported by Ahmed].
However, if a man intends by marrying to keep away from unlawful sexual relations, such as fornication (sexual intercourse before marriage) or adultury (sexual intercourse you are not married to whilst being married), then being too young to satisfy his sexual desires would be an acceptable reason to divorce. It would prevent the temptation to sleep with her while she was underage (and thus damaging her) or to seek solace outside ypur marriage with her (damaging oneself) because she was underage.
In the same way, a woman who would prefer not to marry a man chosen for her can divorce a potential husband through ‘Khul’’.

Khul’ is when a wife demands divorce if she does not like her husband for any reason. She can do so by giving him back the bridal dowry he gave her. This is lawful, as proved in the Qur’an Allah says (which means):

Then if you fear that they would not be able to keep the limits ordained by Allah, then there is no sin on either of them if she gives back (the dowry or a part of it) for her Al-Khul‘ (divorce). (2: 229)

In one example, the (promised) wife of Thaabit Ibn Qays wanted to free herself from getting married to him (after it had been arranged) because she ‘did not like him’.

the Prophet asked her, “Will you return his garden?”

When she confirmed that she would, he ordered Thaabit to accept the garden and divorce her. [al-Bukhari]

In another example, a freed slave girl, Barirah, refused to remain married to a slave (Mughith) to whom she had been forcibly mated by her former owner. Mughith loved her and followed her around, pleading, but she would have nothing to do with him.

The Prophet said to ‘Abbas, ‘O ‘Abbas, do you not find it strange, how much Mugith loves Barirah, and how much Barirah hates Mughith?’

His sympathy with the slave’s feelings led him to suggest to Barirah that she went back to him.

She said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, are you commanding me to do so?’

He said, ‘I am merely trying to intervene on his behalf.’

She said, ‘I have no need of him.’” (Fath al-Bari)

One can surmise that Barirah refused to sleep with him from the moment she was freed, and therefore, would not have had her period within marriage to him as shed had not been lawfully wedded to him.

These indirect pieces of evidence suggests a woman who had not been married long enough to have her first period while married can divorce and fulfil her waiting period (before irrevocable divorce, and lawfully get married again, until she had either her third period or ninety days had passed.

Finally, there is a 4th possibility, which is described in the links I am about to offer.

That is, one writer (in the Huffington Post) wrote:

“I’ve discussed the verse with progressive Islamic scholars and learned that “Lam Yahidna” negates menstruation in the past tense and the jussive mode and means “did not menstruate,” with the expectation that the woman should be menstruating, since that natural cycle is part of her normal state.”

Interesting. That would mean a woman can be without menstruation though she has reached puberty because of some kind of abnormality or ailment (sickness), rather than because she is a child. Allah covers this possibility with the verse, too.

And so to my suggestions for reading.

The article at Huffington Post from which I quoted (which has some interesting new angles to me) in Islamic Pedophilia

Two articles at Patheos, a discussion forum about God, that more or less put forward the same ideas I suggested: Quran and the Marriageable Age (One) and Child Brides ?

Spend some time  reading them and thinking about what they say, and give this article a chance to make you ponder.


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