By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
13 October 2017
It is astounding. No sooner had the Supreme Court said that sex with a minor wife would amount to rape, Hashtags began to run on prominent news channels that Muslim clerics were opposing the verdict. It must have taken an hour or two for any Muslim mullah to actually come on camera and give his opinion. Right from the very beginning therefore, prominent media outlets had read the judgment in a particular way and consequently decided to make it into a debating point. That’s the not so subtle politics which the media is indulging in these days. The verdict actually does not single out any religion or community for special mention, the media houses polarised the debate as they wanted to give a particular spin to it. Of course they could not have done so without the special assistance received from our Mullahs who were more than willing to play the game for grabbing some eyeballs on prime time or for the simple reason that they really thought they would be doing good to community which they claim to represent.
The objections raised by the Mullahs on the verdict fulfilled the objectives for which the media had put a spin on the story. Mullah after Mullah after Mullah opined that the judgment was in contravention of the Muslim personal law which flows from the Shariat. They contended that the Shariat proclaims that Muslim girls can get married as soon as they reach puberty. The language was hardly civil and one Mullah actually said that if a girl reached puberty at the age of 10, then she is allowed to marry. It defies logic that these Mullahs would still be stuck in the medieval morass of tribal Arabia despite living in a democratic country like India in the 21st century. The Mullahs have another arsenal: they shout you down if they cannot reason out with you. Thus the saner voices from within the Muslim community who were welcoming the judgment were shouted into silence by these Mullahs who kept repeating their age old nonsense that this was a conspiracy to malign Islam.
Actually it is the custodians of Islam like the Mullahs who are maligning Islam today. Defending sex with underage girls and that too under the cloak of religion is nothing but some sort of depravity. It is delusional to think that the codes which were operating in the 7th century Arabia would be applicable to all Muslims today located in very different contexts. Just yesterday, Egypt has proposed a bill to criminalize all marriages below the age of 18. Now al Azhar, located in Egypt has been the source of intellectual fountainhead for so many of our Mullahs. The obvious question to be asked is that if Egypt can do it without any debate on whether it is contravening the Sharia or not, why can’t Indian Muslims also come forward and voluntarily raise the age of marriage for girls? But then here, we have the opposite trend: the Jamat e Islami in Kerala is actually campaigning for lowering the age of Muslim girls! What is wrong with such people and organization is the complete non-realization that the world and society has moved ahead and that if Islamic laws do not keep pace with them then this religion would be called as medievalist and far worse.
Indeed the number of child marriages amongst Muslims is also far less as compared to Hindus. I am of the firm belief that no Indian Mullah would want to marry their own daughters just after they reach puberty. So are they arguing that the rest of the Muslim community should follow one set of norms while they (the Mullahs) should have their own set of norms? Why is there a deep reluctance on the part of the Mullah community to acknowledge that theologically there seems to be a problem with Islam with regards to age of marriage of Muslim girls? And this is perhaps a problem which is symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the Muslim community itself.
This malaise is the stark refusal of the community and the religious figures to look itself in the mirror and see the horrors of the theology of silence which they have practising for centuries. There should be no beating around the bush. Let’s accept that Islamic theology permits marriage with minor girls and that centuries of Islamic scholarship and practice have upheld it. If the Mullah is afraid that questioning such a tradition will amount to weakening it, then let it weaken. After all, traditions are meant to be broken. And if the tradition subjugates a section of the population, then it should be broken with a vengeance. Secondly, the Mullahs also have a problem in abrogating such practices like marriage with minors because it is said that the Prophet himself married Ayesha when she was merely nine years old.
Now, rather than questioning whether this actually happened, the Mullahs have taken this as a fact because it forms a part of the hallowed tradition. They should perhaps take inspiration from the Pakistani theologian Javed Ahmed Ghamidi who has argued that the material on which we know that the age of Prophet’s wife Ayesha is itself doubtful. He argues that it does not make sense to marry a minor when in fact the tradition describes that the Prophet was looking for someone who could take care of his household. It defies common sense that a minor would be able to fulfil this particular need of the Prophet. Ghamidi is therefore right in asserting that due to the various contradictions in the Hadith traditions, he suspends his judgment on the age of Prophet’s wife. Why a similar exercise cannot be done by Indian Mullahs is simply baffling.
Even if we come to the conclusion that Prophet did in fact marry a minor, then a historical and contextual reading of this decision can always be done. What was right during the Prophet’s time is no longer valid. What was Sharia (the path) at the time of the Prophet is no longer the Sharia of the present. Contextualising the actions of the Prophet in its time is perhaps the only way out of the morass which we find ourselves in today. Rather than shying away from the problem, we must first have the courage to recognise it and then throw it open for debate. Pretending that everything is fine with Islam only obfuscates the problem and has already done irreparable harm to the community and the religion. Obfuscation of the problem also leads to a belligerent and senseless defence of something which is clearly wrong and unethical.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with www.NewAgeIslam.com
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