September 24, 2005
'Plowing fields' and marrying little girls in the QuranBy James Arlandson
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:
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.
The following hadith explains a little more fully the meaning of the previous one:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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.
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.
Further, Muhammad endorses marrying little virgins for the extra thrill it gives a grown man.
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:
Finally, Aisha herself describes how Muhammad and she would have ill—timed sexual encounters, taking baths together:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!