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Marriage and Consent

MARITAL RAPE

A common misconception is that the husband holds an unmitigated right to demand sexual relations from his wife at any time, and if she refuses, to force her to do so.  

This view is justified by selective references to hadith which call on women to be attentive to their husband's sexual desires, and criticise the refusal to do so. Meanwhile, numerous hadith which call on men to do precisely the same are usually ignored. Taken together, these narrations show that Islam envisages a wholesome and reciprocal sexual relationship between husband and wife, based on love, intimacy, mutual consent, and mutual enjoyment - rather than any sort of one-sided drive to fulfil base material impulses.

One narration from the Prophet describes a man's intercourse with his wife while failing to indulge in intimacy and satisfying her sexual needs is a fundamental inadequacy:

“Three things are counted inadequacies in a man. Firstly, meeting someone he would like to get to know, and taking leave of him before learning his name and his family. Secondly, rebuffing the generosity that another shows to him. And thirdly, going to his wife and having intercourse with her before talking to her and gaining her intimacy, satisfying his need from her before she has satisfied her need from him.” (Imam Abu Mansur ibn al-Daylami, Musnad al-Firdaws)

In another hadith, the Prophet explicitly commands men that they "must not" force themselves upon their wives like animals:

"You must not throw yourselves on your wives as do beasts, but first there must be a messenger between you.ö His companion asked: 'What messenger.' The Prophet relied: 'Sweet words and kisses.'" (See al-Daylami, who records this narration on the authority of Anas ibn Malik. Also cited in Sayid Akhtar Rizvi, Marriage and Morals, World Organisation for Islamic Services, 1983, from Shi'a hadith collections.) 

Similarly, the fourth Caliph and Prophet's cousin, Imam Ali, commanded:

"When you intend to have sex with your wife, do not rush because the woman also has needs which should be fulfilled." (Cited in Sayid Akhtar Rizvi, Marriage and Morals)

Similarly, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim reports that the Prophet expressly prohibited men from engaging in sexual intercourse with their wives before engaging in foreplay. (Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Tibb al-Nabawi, 183, reported from Jabir ibn Abd Allah)

The intent here is clear - that the woman should not be compelled into sexual intercourse, but that the man must engage in efforts to entice and invite his wife into sexual activity by mutual consent, and endeavour to fulfil her sexual needs.

 

CHILD MARRIAGE

Another common misconception - amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims - is that the Prophet married his wife Aisha when she was aged 6, then consummated the marriage at the age of 9. The narrations that this idea derives from are reported in several canonical hadith collections like Sahih Bukhari. As we have seen, however, these hadith collections are hardly infallible, containing many reports which are contradictory to the Qur'an, and historically weak due to unreliable chains of narration. 

In reality, a close inspection of clearly authenticated traditions and historical reports shows that it was physically impossible for Aisha to have been 6 or 9 years old when she had married the Prophet, and that she most likely was aged at least 19 years old at the time of marriage.

The main hadith which report the 6-9 age trace back to a single source, Hisham ibn Urwah, the last narrator in the hadith's isnad (chain of narration), who apparently reported the tradition on the authority of his father. All the narrators of this hadith were Iraqis - but hadith authorities have warned against accepting hadith from ibn Urwah reported through Iraqis for being unreliable. This is because ibn Urwah moved to Iraq toward the end of his life, and reportedly suffered memory problems. In his Mizan ul-Tidal, Imam al-Dhahabi catalogued the life and reliability of the hadith narrators, and challenged ibn Urwah's credentials. 

Similarly, Imam Yaqub ibn Shayba confirmed that “narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq," a matter corroborated by one of ibn Urwa's students,  Malik ibn Anas, who dismissed the reliability of traditions attributed to ibn Urwa by Iraqis. (See Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani's Tahdhib ul-Tahdhib

The final nail in the coffin for the Sahih Bukhari report claiming Aisha was aged 6-9 when she married the Prophet is another tradition in Bukhari itself, where Aisha narrates that she was Jariya (a "young girl") when the 54th surah (chapter) of the Qur'an was revealed (rather than calling herself sibya, which means "infant"). Historians confirm that this surah was revealed around 612AD, or 9 years before Hijra (the migration of Muslims from Mecca to Medina). Aisha married the Prophet around 623-624 A.D. Thus, for the 6-9 year old marriage claim to be correct, Aisha would have had to have been born after 612 AD, rather than being a young girl at that time. 

In sum, the reports that Aisha married the Prophet at the age of 6 or 9 years old come solely from a single source whose reliability is questioned by historians due to his ailing memory, and contradict other reports from the same hadith collection.

In addition to this, there is a wide range of complementary evidence from respected Islamic histories confirming that Aisha was most likely at least 19 years old, if not older, when she married the Prophet. In his well-known history, Imam Tabari recorded: 

“In the time before Islam, Abu Bakr married two women. The first was Fatila daughter of Abdul Uzza, from whom Abdullah and Asma were born. Then he married Umm Ruman, from whom Abdur Rahman and Aisha were born. These four were born before Islam.” (Tarikh Tabari, vol. 4)

This means that Aisha was born sometime before the call to Islam (around 610AD). How far before?

According to Imam al-Khatib, who compiled the hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih, Abu Bakr's older daughter Asma "was the sister of Aisha Siddiqa, wife of the Holy Prophet, and was ten years older than her. … In 73 A.H. … Asma died at the age of one hundred years.”

Therefore, Asma was 28 years of age in 1 A.H., the year of the Hijra, which means at that time her younger sister Aisha must have been about 18 years old. This would put her at about 19 years told when she consummated her marriage to the Prophet. 

Another reliable historian, Ibn Hisham (al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 1), provides evidence that Aisha was actually older than this. He records that Aisha had accepted Islam long before the well-known companion, Umar ibn Khattab, who was among the earliest to embrace Islam. This means that Aisha became Muslim very shortly after the first revelation around 610 AD, making her a young girl. Even if she was barely 6 or 7 years old at this time, by the time of her marriage to the Prophet (623 AD), she would have been at least 20 years old. 

The relevant Qur'anic verses further put all this into sharp relief:

“Test the orphans until they reach the age of marriage ; if you then find sound judgment in them, release their property to them… When you release their property to them, take witnesses in their presence.” (Quran, 4:6)

This verse shows very clearly that the Qur'an equates marriageable age with psychological maturity - not just physical maturity - and that this is evidenced solely by the young person reaching an age at which she or he is able to independently and responsibly take care of their own wealth and property. 

Critically, this verse demonstrates that scholars who try to innovate minimum marriageability age rules based purely on a fixed idea of the age of physical puberty, are going directly against the explicit injunction of the Qur'an to also take into account psychological and social maturity, and the capacity of the person to fend for themselves as autonomous individuals. 

There is therefore simply no basis within Islam to justify child marriage (which in fact is child rape). On the contrary, the Qur'an provides a firm basis to legislate for an age of consent that protects children, derived from the best scientific evidence.