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As promised, not about Islam

By Maryam Uwais

Ahmed Yerima, currently a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a former Governor of Zamfara State, has been widely reported in several media to have recently married a 13 year old girl from Egypt. We are informed that the child was imported along with about 30 members of her family, into Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory, for the ceremony of marriage that held at the National Mosque. Un-denied reports indicate that the distinguished Senator paid some $100,000 as dowry.

It is a well publicized fact that this same Senator recently divorced a girl of 17 years of age, after 3 years of marriage during which he fathered a child by the divorced minor. This apparently created the vacancy for the latest child bride. The unfortunate girl is reported to have recently returned to secondary school, although still nursing her baby.

There are several implications arising from this marriage, apart from the blatant disregard of S. 21 of the Child Rights Act, including the health implications and the spectre of trafficking in children, which has become a major concern in Africa.

On  April 29, 2010, the Senator broke his loud silence in a media interview. He claims to have married the Egyptian girl according to the tenets of Islam, and asserts that he had divorced the earlier wife, also because Islam permits it. In the same interview, he accused his political opponents of being responsible for the undue publicity given to the marriage merely to tarnish his reputation.

Furthermore, he says his Egyptian wife is not 13 years old, but declines to give information as to her age, claiming it to be an ‘invasion’ of privacy for a man to be asked to disclose the age of his wife.

The Senator is cleverly weaving religion, privacy rights and politics, in breach of a clear and simple law applicable in the Federal Capital Territory. As a Muslim woman, proud of my heritage and of my faith I am alarmed. As a rational and compassionate human being I am hard pressed to accept that an arrangement capable of causing such harm, hardship or misery can be a part of the Shari’a, even if some people hold such views.

Although I am no scholar, I find support in the Qur’an itself. ‘God desires ease for you and desires not hardship for you’ (Qur’an: 2:185). I also believe that exertion in pursuit of knowledge is mandatory and incumbent on every Muslim, so I will not hesitate to offer my humble views on the issues, having conducted some research on the matter.

Because my understanding of Shari’a does not correspond with that of the Senator’s, I am compelled to speak out against what I perceive to be a careless affront to my religion.

The adverse perception of the Shari’a (as being bereft of reason, compassion, ethics and morality) arising from these two acts, just cannot continue to persist, without a rejoinder in the public domain. Indeed, the respected jurist Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyy defines the purpose of the Shari’ah thus:  “The foundation of the Shari’ah is wisdom and the safeguarding of people’s interests in this world and the next.

In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transcends justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the Shari’ah although it might have been introduced therein by implication. Contrary to what is perceived by many, even amongst Muslims, I am not aware and so do not agree that there is an Islamic injunction that Muslim men should marry young girls, as the Senator (and those who seek to defend his action) asserts so categorically.

The Senator relies on the tradition that our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) married a girl of tender years, whose precise age is a matter of contention among some historians. It is on record, however, that the Prophet did not consummate the marriage until after she had attained puberty.  But the Prophet is also known to have first married a woman 25 years older than he. Research conducted also points to the fact the Prophet did not marry off his own daughter, Fatima, to her husband, Ali, until she attained the age of 18 or 19.

A specific age of puberty has not been defined in Islam, but culturally, in our own environment it is perceived as beginning when the girl child begins to menstruate. Under the Shari’a, however, the age that a person reaches the age of responsibility or maturity is one that scholars differ on. The age of puberty for the different contexts not having been defined, is however, problematic, as in medical terms, puberty is a process rather than a single event, and so the ambiguity surrounding this issue introduces an element of subjectivity in determining a suitable age for marriage.

In Islam, marriage is encouraged (‘sunna’ or ‘mustahab’), but not compulsory (‘fard’). Since the Shari’a does not prescribe a definite age as suitable for the male or the female to wed, marriage at any particular age can only be said to be permissible (‘mubah’), but certainly not an injunction.

In the development of the Shari’a, the focus of our learned scholars and jurists has always been to look at the larger picture, the intent and objective (‘maqasid’) always being to make regulations in favour of what is considered to be most in the public interest, always respecting clear injunctions of the Qur’an and the sunna.  In respect of the permissible, therefore, its advantages have always been weighed against the perceived disadvantages.


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