'Plowing fields' and marrying little girls in the Quran

Most of us have heard that Muhammad married a little girl. Is this true?

Shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in Iran (1979), he lowered  the marriage age for girls from eighteen years old down to nine years old. Why would these devout Muslims do such a thing? Did they stray from original Islamic ideals?

Furthermore, most realize that seventh—century Arabia was patriarchal, so it stands to reason that the Quran would reflect its surrounding culture. How does this patriarchy show up in the Quran?

However, devout Muslims believe that the Quran is universal; that is, it is good for all of humanity at all times, since Allah, the god of the world, sent it down through Gabriel to his favorite prophet. So why wouldn't traditional Islamic societies endorse this patriarchy as really being universal?

To answer all of these questions, the revealed Quran speaks of two unpleasant (but allegedly universal) truths about women.

The goal in this article is to analyze ALL of Islam,  not simply to put it down.

1. A husband has sex with his wife, as a plow goes into a field.

The Quran in Sura (Chapter) 2:223 says:

Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like . . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur'an, Oxford UP, 2004)

For the historical and literary contexts of Sura 2, readers should go here.

We should make no mistake about this verse. It includes sexual positions. In a footnote to this verse, Haleem says that Muslims in Medina heard from the Jews that 'a child born from a woman approached from behind would have a squint.'

The hadith are the reports of Muhammad's words and actions outside of the Quran. The two most reliable hadith collectors and editors are Bukhari (d. 870), Muslim (d. 875). The hadith often explain a passage in the Quran.

Since the following hadith are explicit, the readers are invited to click here and read for themselves, at their own discretion: Muslim nos. 3363—3365

The next hadith is a little more discreet than the ones in Muslim. 

. . . Nafi added regarding the verse [2:223]:——'So go to your tilth when or how you will' Ibn 'Umar said, 'It means one should approach his wife in' . . . (Bukhari)

The following hadith explains a little more fully the meaning of the previous one:

Jews used to say: 'If one has sexual intercourse with his wife from the back, then she will deliver a squint—eyed child.' So this Verse was revealed: 'Your wives are a tilth unto you; so go to your tilth when or how you will.' (2.223) (Bukhari)

Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi is a highly respected traditional commentator on the Quran (The Meaning of the Qur'an, 6 vols.). He tries to smooth over the jarring metaphor by extending it to a farmer at work in his field.

Says Maududi:

Allah has not created women merely for the enjoyment and entertainment of men. The relation between the two is as serious an affair as that of a farmer and his field. The farmer does not go into his field merely for recreation and enjoyment but for cultivations to get produce from it. In the same way, a man should go to his wife to produce children. Allah's law, however, is not concerned with the method of cultivation but with the demand that man should go to the field and not elsewhere and to his own field and for production. (vol. 1, p. 162, note 241).

It is difficult to know where to begin in critiquing this extended metaphor. First, the comparison has the man as a farmer and the woman as a dirt field. This still puts women down. Second, it is positive that Maududi limits a farmer's 'field' to his own because this prohibits cross—pollination or seed—mixing (adultery) with another farmer's 'field.' Third, the farmer may 'cultivate' his 'field' in any way he likes. Says Maududi: 'Allah's law, however, is not concerned with the method of cultivation' . . . (emphasis added). This means a farmer / husband may choose his sexual method. But the metaphor breaks down because surely a farmer did not have that many methods to plow a field and plant his seeds in seventh—century Arabia, did he? Also, why doesn't the field get to choose? The answer is obvious. A field just lies there while the farmer does all the work.

To carry on the passive field metaphor, we should have no doubt that early Islam assumes that a man controls his wife's body. She must have sex when he wants, or angels will curse her.

This hadith says:

The Prophet said, 'If a man invites his wife to sleep with him and she refuses to come to him, then the angels send their curses on her till morning.' (Bukhari)

To skeptical Westerners, this hadith appears curious, especially the curse of angels. But to a devout Muslim woman living when the hadith was first spoken and then possibly spread around in the Muslim community, it is no laughing matter. The announcement of a curse falling on her is heavy social pressure. Why wouldn't she comply with her husband's demand, if she is a believer?

So who qualifies as a 'field'?

In the Quran, little prepubescent girls qualify.

2. The Quran permits men to marry prepubescent girls.

In the context of divorcing wives, the Quran in Sura 65:1, 4 says:

65:1 O Prophet, when you (and the believers) divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed waiting—period and count the waiting—period accurately . . . 4 And if you are in doubt about those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, (you should know that) their waiting period is three months, and the same applies to those who have not menstruated as yet. As for pregnant women, their period ends when they have delivered their burden. (Maududi, ibid., vol. 5, pp. 599 and 617, emphasis added)

For Maududi's analysis of the historical and literary contexts of Sura 65, readers may go here.

Maududi correctly interprets the plain meaning of verse 4:

Therefore, making mention of the waiting—period for girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl at this age but it is permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Qur'an has held as permissible. (Maududi, vol. 5, p. 620, note 13, emphasis added)

So the fathers of prepubescent girls may give them away, and their new husbands may consummate their marriage with them. Maududi also rebukes Muslims who deny that this verse is valid. At least he is being consistent. According to traditional Islam, Allah speaks universal truths for all places and all times. If Islam ever spread completely around the world, no one should be surprised if Quran—believing Muslims would lower the marriage age of girls to nine years old.

This is precisely what happened in Iran  after the religious revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. Why should this surprise us? After all, Muhammad was betrothed to Aisha when she was six years old, and he consummated their union when she was only nine.

The hadith says of her age:

. . . [T]hen he [Muhammad] wrote the marriage (wedding) contract with Aishah when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed [sic, consummated] that marriage when she was nine years old. (Bukhari;  once the readers click on this link, they should please read the parallel hadith below this one.)

The Ayatollah Khomeini followed his prophet carefully. He married  a girl of ten, and encouraged other men to do this, saying that fathers should give their daughters away before their first period:

...the Ayatollah himself married a ten—year—old girl when he was twenty—eight? Did she[the Khomeini supporter] know that Khomeini called marriage to a girl before her first menstrual period 'a divine blessing,' and advised the faithful: 'Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house'?

The following hadith proves beyond doubt that Muhammad pursued Aisha when she was six years old. Abu Bakr was Muhammad's right—hand Companion and the father of little Aisha.

The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said 'But I am your brother.' The Prophet said, 'You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry.' (Bukhari)

This hadith shows spiritual manipulation. Abu Bakr hesitates to give his daughter away because he believes that he is the brother of Muhammad—they are both mature men, after all. The Prophet clarifies for him that they are spiritual brothers, not blood brothers, so Abu Bakr's little girl is lawful for Muhammad to marry. This sort of sexual hunger is wrong in all places and all times. If a modern Muslim were to argue that we should take this marriage in its seventh—century historical context, then that is a step in the right direction. However, why wouldn't the Allah—inspired Prophet receive a message from on high to lead the way past this dubious custom? Instead, he mentions the Quran as proving that he and Abu Bakr are spiritual brothers. Why doesn't the Quran say that marrying little girls is haram (forbidden)?

Maybe Muhammad, his book, and his religion would have been evaluated more positively if he had been a pioneer in leading his community to a higher place. But this is wishful thinking.

Aisha herself recounts this next hadith concerning the moments leading up to the first sexual encounter between fifty—plus—year—old Muhammad and this nine—year—old girl. She was playing on her swing set with her girlfriends when she got the call.

...[M]y 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)

Further, Muhammad endorses marrying little virgins for the extra thrill it gives a grown man.

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:

When I got married, Allah's Apostle said to me, 'What type of lady have you married?' I replied, 'I have married a matron.' He said, 'Why, don't you have a liking for the virgins and for fondling them?' Jabir also said: Allah's Apostle said, 'Why didn't you marry a young girl so that you might play with her and she with you?' (Bukhari; see parallel hadiths here and here on this unpleasant topic.)

Finally, Aisha herself describes how Muhammad and she would have ill—timed sexual encounters, taking baths together:

Narrated Aisha:

The Prophet and I used to take a bath from a single pot while we were Junub. During the menses, he used to order me to put on an Izar (dress worn below the waist) and used to fondle me. While in Itikaf, he used to bring his head near me and I would wash it while I used to be in my periods (menses). (Bukhari)

Conclusion

One way of escape from all of this unpleasantness that liberal Muslims look for is to attribute these two verses to seventh—century Arabia. These were the attitudes and customs back then, so how can we blame Muhammad and the early Muslims? This is a step in the right direction. However, many devout, Quran—believing Muslims, especially those who occupy places of political and legal power, understand what this escape means. They would have to leave behind many passages in the Quran (besides Suras 2:223 and 65:4), and many, many passages in the hadith.

But how can they? Their sacred texts are inviolable, especially the Quran. Many regard Muhammad as sinlessly perfect, despite the plain evidence. The hierarchy in many Islamic countries cannot leave Muhammad and the Quran behind, not to mention the hadith. To do so would be to deny pure Islam. What good is it without them?

The only hope is for secular revolutions to erupt throughout the Islamic world, like the one in Turkey after World War I. Clear—thinking Muslims must throw off the hyper—religious oppressors and move away from Muhammad and the Quran.

Can and would they do this? Let's not hold our breath.

James M. Arlandson may be reached at jamesmarlandson@hotmail.com

Supplemental Material

For more evidence on this most outlandish of marriages even for seventh—century Arabia, readers should refer to this article.  It cites many hadith passages, classical commentaries, and modern Muslim opinions.

This article responds to Muslim defenses of this indefensible Quranic permission to all men to marry prepubescent girls.

This summary of a news reports also reveals an Islamic nation lowering the marriage age to twelve years old for girls. Twelve? Now that's an improvement on revolutionary Iran!

See this article on why Muhammad allowed himself so many wives. The same site also has an article on Aisha's age, listing the hadith and analyzing the classical Muslim commentaries.

Most of us have heard that Muhammad married a little girl. Is this true?

Shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in Iran (1979), he lowered  the marriage age for girls from eighteen years old down to nine years old. Why would these devout Muslims do such a thing? Did they stray from original Islamic ideals?

Furthermore, most realize that seventh—century Arabia was patriarchal, so it stands to reason that the Quran would reflect its surrounding culture. How does this patriarchy show up in the Quran?

However, devout Muslims believe that the Quran is universal; that is, it is good for all of humanity at all times, since Allah, the god of the world, sent it down through Gabriel to his favorite prophet. So why wouldn't traditional Islamic societies endorse this patriarchy as really being universal?

To answer all of these questions, the revealed Quran speaks of two unpleasant (but allegedly universal) truths about women.

The goal in this article is to analyze ALL of Islam,  not simply to put it down.

1. A husband has sex with his wife, as a plow goes into a field.

The Quran in Sura (Chapter) 2:223 says:

Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like . . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur'an, Oxford UP, 2004)

For the historical and literary contexts of Sura 2, readers should go here.

We should make no mistake about this verse. It includes sexual positions. In a footnote to this verse, Haleem says that Muslims in Medina heard from the Jews that 'a child born from a woman approached from behind would have a squint.'

The hadith are the reports of Muhammad's words and actions outside of the Quran. The two most reliable hadith collectors and editors are Bukhari (d. 870), Muslim (d. 875). The hadith often explain a passage in the Quran.

Since the following hadith are explicit, the readers are invited to click here and read for themselves, at their own discretion: Muslim nos. 3363—3365

The next hadith is a little more discreet than the ones in Muslim. 

. . . Nafi added regarding the verse [2:223]:——'So go to your tilth when or how you will' Ibn 'Umar said, 'It means one should approach his wife in' . . . (Bukhari)

The following hadith explains a little more fully the meaning of the previous one:

Jews used to say: 'If one has sexual intercourse with his wife from the back, then she will deliver a squint—eyed child.' So this Verse was revealed: 'Your wives are a tilth unto you; so go to your tilth when or how you will.' (2.223) (Bukhari)

Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi is a highly respected traditional commentator on the Quran (The Meaning of the Qur'an, 6 vols.). He tries to smooth over the jarring metaphor by extending it to a farmer at work in his field.

Says Maududi:

Allah has not created women merely for the enjoyment and entertainment of men. The relation between the two is as serious an affair as that of a farmer and his field. The farmer does not go into his field merely for recreation and enjoyment but for cultivations to get produce from it. In the same way, a man should go to his wife to produce children. Allah's law, however, is not concerned with the method of cultivation but with the demand that man should go to the field and not elsewhere and to his own field and for production. (vol. 1, p. 162, note 241).

It is difficult to know where to begin in critiquing this extended metaphor. First, the comparison has the man as a farmer and the woman as a dirt field. This still puts women down. Second, it is positive that Maududi limits a farmer's 'field' to his own because this prohibits cross—pollination or seed—mixing (adultery) with another farmer's 'field.' Third, the farmer may 'cultivate' his 'field' in any way he likes. Says Maududi: 'Allah's law, however, is not concerned with the method of cultivation' . . . (emphasis added). This means a farmer / husband may choose his sexual method. But the metaphor breaks down because surely a farmer did not have that many methods to plow a field and plant his seeds in seventh—century Arabia, did he? Also, why doesn't the field get to choose? The answer is obvious. A field just lies there while the farmer does all the work.

To carry on the passive field metaphor, we should have no doubt that early Islam assumes that a man controls his wife's body. She must have sex when he wants, or angels will curse her.

This hadith says:

The Prophet said, 'If a man invites his wife to sleep with him and she refuses to come to him, then the angels send their curses on her till morning.' (Bukhari)

To skeptical Westerners, this hadith appears curious, especially the curse of angels. But to a devout Muslim woman living when the hadith was first spoken and then possibly spread around in the Muslim community, it is no laughing matter. The announcement of a curse falling on her is heavy social pressure. Why wouldn't she comply with her husband's demand, if she is a believer?

So who qualifies as a 'field'?

In the Quran, little prepubescent girls qualify.

2. The Quran permits men to marry prepubescent girls.

In the context of divorcing wives, the Quran in Sura 65:1, 4 says:

65:1 O Prophet, when you (and the believers) divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed waiting—period and count the waiting—period accurately . . . 4 And if you are in doubt about those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, (you should know that) their waiting period is three months, and the same applies to those who have not menstruated as yet. As for pregnant women, their period ends when they have delivered their burden. (Maududi, ibid., vol. 5, pp. 599 and 617, emphasis added)

For Maududi's analysis of the historical and literary contexts of Sura 65, readers may go here.

Maududi correctly interprets the plain meaning of verse 4:

Therefore, making mention of the waiting—period for girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl at this age but it is permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Qur'an has held as permissible. (Maududi, vol. 5, p. 620, note 13, emphasis added)

So the fathers of prepubescent girls may give them away, and their new husbands may consummate their marriage with them. Maududi also rebukes Muslims who deny that this verse is valid. At least he is being consistent. According to traditional Islam, Allah speaks universal truths for all places and all times. If Islam ever spread completely around the world, no one should be surprised if Quran—believing Muslims would lower the marriage age of girls to nine years old.

This is precisely what happened in Iran  after the religious revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. Why should this surprise us? After all, Muhammad was betrothed to Aisha when she was six years old, and he consummated their union when she was only nine.

The hadith says of her age:

. . . [T]hen he [Muhammad] wrote the marriage (wedding) contract with Aishah when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed [sic, consummated] that marriage when she was nine years old. (Bukhari;  once the readers click on this link, they should please read the parallel hadith below this one.)

The Ayatollah Khomeini followed his prophet carefully. He married  a girl of ten, and encouraged other men to do this, saying that fathers should give their daughters away before their first period:

...the Ayatollah himself married a ten—year—old girl when he was twenty—eight? Did she[the Khomeini supporter] know that Khomeini called marriage to a girl before her first menstrual period 'a divine blessing,' and advised the faithful: 'Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house'?

The following hadith proves beyond doubt that Muhammad pursued Aisha when she was six years old. Abu Bakr was Muhammad's right—hand Companion and the father of little Aisha.

The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said 'But I am your brother.' The Prophet said, 'You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry.' (Bukhari)

This hadith shows spiritual manipulation. Abu Bakr hesitates to give his daughter away because he believes that he is the brother of Muhammad—they are both mature men, after all. The Prophet clarifies for him that they are spiritual brothers, not blood brothers, so Abu Bakr's little girl is lawful for Muhammad to marry. This sort of sexual hunger is wrong in all places and all times. If a modern Muslim were to argue that we should take this marriage in its seventh—century historical context, then that is a step in the right direction. However, why wouldn't the Allah—inspired Prophet receive a message from on high to lead the way past this dubious custom? Instead, he mentions the Quran as proving that he and Abu Bakr are spiritual brothers. Why doesn't the Quran say that marrying little girls is haram (forbidden)?

Maybe Muhammad, his book, and his religion would have been evaluated more positively if he had been a pioneer in leading his community to a higher place. But this is wishful thinking.

Aisha herself recounts this next hadith concerning the moments leading up to the first sexual encounter between fifty—plus—year—old Muhammad and this nine—year—old girl. She was playing on her swing set with her girlfriends when she got the call.

...[M]y 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)

Further, Muhammad endorses marrying little virgins for the extra thrill it gives a grown man.

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:

When I got married, Allah's Apostle said to me, 'What type of lady have you married?' I replied, 'I have married a matron.' He said, 'Why, don't you have a liking for the virgins and for fondling them?' Jabir also said: Allah's Apostle said, 'Why didn't you marry a young girl so that you might play with her and she with you?' (Bukhari; see parallel hadiths here and here on this unpleasant topic.)

Finally, Aisha herself describes how Muhammad and she would have ill—timed sexual encounters, taking baths together:

Narrated Aisha:

The Prophet and I used to take a bath from a single pot while we were Junub. During the menses, he used to order me to put on an Izar (dress worn below the waist) and used to fondle me. While in Itikaf, he used to bring his head near me and I would wash it while I used to be in my periods (menses). (Bukhari)

Conclusion

One way of escape from all of this unpleasantness that liberal Muslims look for is to attribute these two verses to seventh—century Arabia. These were the attitudes and customs back then, so how can we blame Muhammad and the early Muslims? This is a step in the right direction. However, many devout, Quran—believing Muslims, especially those who occupy places of political and legal power, understand what this escape means. They would have to leave behind many passages in the Quran (besides Suras 2:223 and 65:4), and many, many passages in the hadith.

But how can they? Their sacred texts are inviolable, especially the Quran. Many regard Muhammad as sinlessly perfect, despite the plain evidence. The hierarchy in many Islamic countries cannot leave Muhammad and the Quran behind, not to mention the hadith. To do so would be to deny pure Islam. What good is it without them?

The only hope is for secular revolutions to erupt throughout the Islamic world, like the one in Turkey after World War I. Clear—thinking Muslims must throw off the hyper—religious oppressors and move away from Muhammad and the Quran.

Can and would they do this? Let's not hold our breath.

James M. Arlandson may be reached at jamesmarlandson@hotmail.com

Supplemental Material

For more evidence on this most outlandish of marriages even for seventh—century Arabia, readers should refer to this article.  It cites many hadith passages, classical commentaries, and modern Muslim opinions.

This article responds to Muslim defenses of this indefensible Quranic permission to all men to marry prepubescent girls.

This summary of a news reports also reveals an Islamic nation lowering the marriage age to twelve years old for girls. Twelve? Now that's an improvement on revolutionary Iran!

See this article on why Muhammad allowed himself so many wives. The same site also has an article on Aisha's age, listing the hadith and analyzing the classical Muslim commentaries.