by Taha Nasser
Lama al Ghamdi was a five year old girl who was repeatedly raped, tortured and eventually murdered by her father, the Saudi Wahabi cleric Fayhan Al Ghamdi in October 2012. The harrowing details of the abuse that this poor girl suffered are beyond description, suffice it to say that it makes for traumatic reading. Her father, Fayhan Al Ghamdi was subsequently arrested one month after his daughter’s death and served a short prison sentence before (astonishingly) being released when blood money was paid to the girl’s maternal relatives. Following the international public outrage that followed in early 2013 and a twitter campaign launched by Saudi activists, the Saudi royal family reportedly intervened in the case and had Al Ghamdi detained. His trial is now pending.
The exceptional public awareness surrounding this case no doubt forced the Saudi judicial system into detaining and prosecuting Al Ghamdi, as any right minded person would. Without this, however, it is possible that he would have remained free and that blood money paid to Lama’s mother and family would have been determined adequate punishment for Al Ghamdi’s unspeakably heinous crimes. Whilst in this case justice may now be closer at hand, the unfortunate reality is that many other cases do not have the benefit of such public exposure.
Within only a few days of this saddening story being published, articles popped up across the news media and blogosphere insinuating or outright claiming that this man’s twisted crimes were not just the actions of a perverse individual, but that they are linked with Islam and symptomatic of something within it’s teachings. According to this plethora of critics, such actions on the part of people like Fayhan al Ghamdi are common and inevitable, if they are Muslim. The media appears to be rife with people announcing that such sick crimes are taught, promoted and protected by Islam. This exposition should make clear to any person in doubt that such allegations are utterly baseless.
Did the Prophet of Islam marry a child?
Critics have long tried to advance the idea that Islam permits or even promotes the sexual abuse of minors by claiming that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) was married to the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) when she was nine years old. Those who seek to denounce Islam will often cite this issue, linking it to sexual abuse and the inevitability of a clash of civilisations. Unfortunately for these odious individuals, the tale that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) was nine years old when married to the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) is so obviously false and poorly evidenced, that it can only be described as vile and lazy propaganda.
The main evidence for this perverse claim lies in a hadith (account about the Prophet’s life) that was narrated by a man called Hisham Ibn Urwah, the grandson of two of the Prophet’s companions. According to Ibn ‘Urwah’s account, ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) was a child bride whose marriage to the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was consummated when she was nine years old. However, the truth about this narration is that it grossly contradicts dozens of other accounts made by multiple other narrators, all of whom unanimously draw a different conclusion. Indeed, the sheer number of narrators and narrations that contradict the claim that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) was nine years old when her marriage was consummated is astonishing, especially given how common place this vile accusation has become.
An important group of such narrations place ‘A’isha’s (may God be pleased with her) age at much older than nine when she was married. Many of these narrations illuminate the issue by establishing ‘A’isha’s (may God be pleased with her) age at other important events, the dates of which are well known. It is then possible to place her age at marriage since it is known as a fact that the earliest she could have been married was the year 1 after hijrah (AH), something that even the critics of Islam have never disputed.
In the volume of narrations called Sahih al-Bukhari (Kitab al-Tafsir), ‘A’isha’s (may God be pleased with her) own narration is recorded. She narrates that ‘I was a young girl, when verse 46 of Chapter Al-Qamar was revealed’. It is extremely important to note that she uses the Arabic word jariyah when describing herself here. In Arabic this can only be used for a girl who is older than an infant but not yet at the age of puberty. She is likely therefore to have been older than five but less than eleven or twelve when this chapter was revealed. Since it is established that the chapter of the Qur’an mentioned in this narration was revealed nine years before Hijrah (i.e. nine years before the earliest date that she was married), we know that ‘A’isha must have been five or six years old (at the very least, but likely as old as eleven) when the chapter was revealed and therefore fourteen (at the very least, but possibly as old as twenty) when she got married nine years later.
Another group of narrations place ‘A’isha’s (may God be pleased with her) age at marriage by documenting the age difference between ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) and her older sister Asma’ (may God be pleased with her). The book of narrations known as Taqrib al-Tahdhib records that ‘Asma (may God be pleased with her) lived to be a hundred years old and died in 73 or 74 AH’ (Taqrib al –Tahdhib P.654), whilst another narration records that ‘Asma (may God be pleased with her) was ten years older than ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her)’ (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, pg. 371). This information also contradicts the allegation that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) was nine years old when married, since if Asma (may God be pleased with her) was 100 years old in the year 73AH, it means she was 27 years old in 1AH and since Asma (may God be pleased with her) was ten years older than her younger sister, ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) must have been at least 17 years old in 1AH and therefore at least 17 years old at the earliest date that she was married.
Yet another group of narrations inform us of ‘A’isha’s (may God be pleased with her) age at marriage by recording her age at the battles of Badr and Uhud, which are known to have happened before her marriage. Two separate narrations make it clear that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) was present on these occasions. The first narration is from ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) herself who narrates that she accompanied the other Muslims to Badr. The narration is too lengthy to reproduce in full, but it records that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) recounted part of the journey using the words ‘when we reached Shajarah’ (Muslim, Kitab al-Jihad wa al-Siyar). This obviously means that she was present on the expedition. The other narration placing ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) at the early battles is recounted by Anas (may God be pleased with her), who is recorded as saying of that day ‘ I saw ‘A’isha and Umm al-Sulaim (may God be pleased with them), they had pulled their dresses up from their feet to save them from any hindrance in movement’ (Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad wa al-Siyar). Since we know for a fact that the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) did not permit anyone below the age of fifteen to be present during (or even near) armed conflict (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Maghazi) it means that ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) must have been older than fifteen when these battles happened. Since her marriage is known to have happened after or around the time of these battles she cannot therefore have been younger than fifteen when married.
Yet another narration is so clear about ‘A’isha’s (may God be pleased with her) age at marriage that it requires no deduction at all. Ahmad ibn Hanbal relates that after the death of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings of God be upon him) first wife, Khaulah (may God be pleased with her) came and spoke to him about the choices she had in mind regarding his remarriage. She is reported to have said ‘You can marry a virgin (bikr) or a woman who has already been married (thayyib)’. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) enquired about who the proposed virgin was, Khaulah (may God be pleased with her) mentioned ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol 6, Pg 210). Any dictionary of Arabic confirms that the word used to describe ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) as a ‘bikr’ cannot be used for a pre pubescent girl of nine years old. The word ‘Bikr’ can only be used for a young adult female who has not yet married.
It is worth noting that not only is the narration that underpins this allegation dubious because it contradicts multiple other sources, it was also considered unreliable by collators of hadith when they first came across it. In the compilation known as Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, considered to be one of the most reliable sources concerning the lives of the narrators themselves, Yaqub Ibn Shaibah is recorded as relating that ‘Hisham’s narratives are reliable, except those he narrated after moving to Iraq’ (Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, Vol. 11, pg. 50). In fact it was well known at the time that Ibn Urwah, the man who related the hadith claiming Ayesha (may God be pleased with her) was nine years old, suffered from dementia. In his book the investigator and historian Al-Dahabi records that ‘when he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered quite badly (Mizan al-I’tidal, Vol 4, Page 301). So not only does Ibn Urwah’s narration contradict multiple other sources, he himself was considered an unreliable source by his contemporaries. It should therefore be absolutely clear that the evidence does not support the accusation that the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) married Ayesha (may God be pleased with her) when she was nine years old. The narration that claims this is itself dubious and furthermore it contradicts multiple other narrations that place her as much older.
What does Islam teach about women and children?
In reality, Islam’s teachings on the topic of the rights of women and children are very different to what critics would have you believe. The Qur’an, which is the highest authority on all matters in the religion, never gives permission for men to marry female minors. Every verse of the Qur’an addressed to the issue of marriage does so in reference to marrying adult females, never to children. In fact, in the key verse of the Qur’an that clarifies the categories of women that are lawful for Muslim men, only adult women are mentioned, there is no mention of female children. The verse reads:
‘And lawful for you are chaste believing women and chaste women from among those who were given the Book before you, when you give them their dowries, contracting valid marriage and not committing fornication nor taking secret paramours. And whoever rejects the faith, his work has doubtless come to naught, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers’ (Q. 5:6)
The sole fact that the Qur’an never gives permission for men to marry children should make it clear that marrying children finds no support in Islam. To make the issue even clearer, however, the Qur’an categorically states:
‘O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will’ (Q. 4:20)
Thus in Islam, any woman who has not consented to a marriage is automatically unlawful for a man. Obviously, this principle also applies to females who are unable to consent due to their age, since proper consent requires an understanding of the sexual aspect of a marriage, something that is not possible prior to sexual maturity. Thus the Qur’an forbids marriage to females from whom valid consent has not been obtained, meaning that any female younger than adulthood cannot be married and any female who is an adult but does not consent to the marriage is also unlawful. Only marriages with grown women who willingly consent are lawful in Islam.
What does the Qur’an teach about children?
Not only does Islam prohibit marriages to children and child abuse through that means, it also enshrines the rights of children. The Qur’an explains that all children irrespective of gender or inherited position have the right to life and to be provided for (Q. 6:138; 6:141; 6:152; 17:32). As an extension of this teaching, the Qur’an actively promotes the welfare of those children who are among the most vulnerable in society, namely orphans. It admonishes believers to provide for and respect the rights of orphans with such regularity as to make it essential. The Qur’an states:
‘And they feed, for love of Him, the poor, the orphan, and the prisoner, Saying “We feed you for Allah’s pleasure only. We desire no reward nor thanks from you”‘ (Q. 76:9-10)
‘So the orphan, oppress not, And him who seeks thy help, chide not, And the bounty of Thy Lord, proclaim’ (Q. 93:10-12)
‘But he attempted not the ascent courageously. And what should make thee know what the ascent is? It is the freeing of a slave. Or feeding in a day of hunger, An orphan near of kin, Or a poor man lying in the dust.’ (Q. 90:12-17)
‘And approach not the property of the orphan, except in a way which is best, till he attains his maturity. And give full measure and weight with equity. We task not any soul except according to its capacity. And when you speak, observe justice, even if the concerned person be a relative, and fulfil the covenant of Allah. That is what He enjoins upon you, that you may remember.’ (Q. 6:153)
How did the Prophet Muhammad behave towards children?
In addition to Qur’anic commandments, the extraordinary life of the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of God be upon him) is replete with many instances of his obvious love and respect for children. On numerous occasions he showed Muslims that sons should never be given preference over daughters, that children should be provided for children generously, that they should be shown affection and that parents should strive to ensure their spiritual and secular education. The disciple Anas ibn Malik (may God be pleased with her) relates:
‘I never saw anyone who was more compassionate towards children than Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of God be upon him). His son Ibrahim was in the care of a wet nurse in the hills around Medina. He would go there and we would go with him, and he would enter the house, pick up his son and kiss him, then come back. (Sahih Muslim).
The Companion Abu Hurairah (may God be pleased with her) relates that the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was the same towards his grandchildren:
‘I went along with Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of God be upon him) at a time during the day but he did not talk to me and I did not talk to him until he reached the market of Banu Qainuqa. He came back to the tent of Fatimah and said, “Is the little chap (Hasan, his grandson) here?” We were under the impression that his mother had detained him in order to bathe him and dress him and garland him with sweet garland. Not much time had passed that he came running until both of them embraced each other. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of God be upon him) said, “O Allah, I love him; love him and love one who loves him.” (Sahih Muslim).
The affection that the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) showed towards children was not limited to his own family. He would often play with and pray openly for the children of his disciples. Usamah Ibn Zaid (may God be pleased with her), who was a young boy during the Prophet’s life, relates that the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) used to place him and his grandson Hasan (may God be pleased with her) on his lap, embracing them both and pray:
‘O Allah! Please be merciful to them, as I am merciful to them’. (Sahih Muslim).
This degree of love and regard for children extended even to affecting prayers, surely the most sacred of activities that Muslims undertake. This gives a valuable insight into the nature of the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) and his regard for the needs and feelings of children. He is reported as having said:
‘I start the prayer intending to prolong it, but on hearing the cries of a child, I shorten the prayer because I know the difficulty it will create for the mother.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari).
‘Fear Allah and treat your children fairly’. (Sahih al-Bukhari; Sahih Muslim)
‘If someone has three daughters and is patient with them and clothes them from his wealth, they will be a shield for him against the fire. A man asked ‘what if one only has two daughters?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) replied ‘He too shall go to Paradise’. Another man asked ‘what if one only has one daughter?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) replied ‘him too’.’
Does Islam permit the authorities to waive punishment for crimes if money is paid instead?
An important point that the Al Ghamdi case raises is the issue of blood money being paid as an alternative to punishment for crimes, with critics arguing that money as a means of reparation gives the wealthy a way of avoiding punishment, no matter how awful their crimes. This is due in no small part to the total misapplication of Qur’anic commandments regarding punishment for crimes. The general Qur’anic principle is that the punishment for murder is death. Exceptions to this are given, mainly in the form of payment of reparations if the family of the deceased agree that it would be more beneficial for this to happen. The Qur’anic verse giving this exception reads:
‘But if one is granted any remission by one’s brother, then pursuing the matter for the realization of the blood money shall be done with fairness and the murderer shall pay him the blood money in a handsome manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. And whoso transgresses thereafter, for him there shall be a grievous punishment.’ (Q. 2:179)
The wording of the commandment makes it clear that it is not the authorities in charge who are in a position to waive the prescribed punishment, it is only the family of the deceased who are entitled to do so. Even then, the exception falls under the general Islamic principle that it should be observed when it is more likely to be of greater benefit to the individuals involved and society as a whole. Islam does not permit murderers to simply pay off the deceased without suffering any other consequence, especially in cases of intentional and repeated abuse. By misappropriating the right to waive punishment for the murder of Lama al Ghamdi and indeed going against her mother’s wishes to release Fayhan Al Ghamdi, the Saudi authorities directly contravened these Islamic principles.
The allegations raised against Islam using the deeply saddening and unfortunate events of this case are entirely false and perverse. Islam does not allow murderers to escape prosecution for their crimes by simply paying blood money to authorities, nor does it permit or promote marriages to children, nor was ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her) married to the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of God be upon him) when she was nine years old. On the contrary, Islam promotes equitable punishment for crimes, lawful marriages amongst adults and the protection of children from all forms of abuse.