It is really nice to receive a question from Alaska at a time when the weather has already been heating up here in Cairo! Besides, it is really amazing to know that our Web site has reached that far.
I need to thank you for your question, but I think you have confused many different types of marriages: girl child marriage (12-13 years old), quick marriage, forced marriage, pragmatic marriage without love (for money), and early marriage. And you held Islam responsible for them all!
As for girl child marriage, as far as I know the Islamic law has not directed us towards it; I have never come across a rule which dictates the age of marriage. It is left to considerations of time, place, and social norms. In India, for example, both Muslim and Hindu girls marry at the age of ten and below; in some Egyptian rural areas it is the custom of both Muslim and Orthodox Christian parents to marry their girls below fifteen, and the same applies to girls in desert areas such as the Arab Peninsula. But in most urban places all over the Muslim world and among Muslim minorities in Western societies, the established norm for girls is to get married after higher education above the age of twenty.
Moreover, in some places the marriage crisis that is hitting the whole world is heavily affecting the Islamic countries, which are part of the world at large. I myself, as an active member of many women’s NGOs, have participated in a lot of seminars and workshops discussing how to get out of this crises and how to help the youth out, financially or otherwise, to be able to get married. Both sociologists and psychologists are working hard to investigate the causes of the crisis, which has pushed the age of marriage up to over 28 in most Islamic societies.
Thus, it becomes clear that the girl child marriage has never been an Islamic proposition, and if there are a few cases of girl child marriage, it is not an Islamic regulation as much as a tradition of certain societies shared by both their Muslim and non-Muslim members. But apparently it is always Islam that is in focus!
As for forced marriage, there is an article in Islamic marriage law that the girl's consent is a condition for the legality of the marriage contract, without which the contract is null and void. In a story from the life of our Prophet—whose instructions are the second main source of law after the Noble Book of the Quran—it is reported that a young woman came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and complained that her father had given her in marriage to a man without her consent. Here, the Prophet (peace be upon him) annulled her marriage. Till this day, the girl's opinion should be heard by the one who registers the marriage contracts. Otherwise, he doesn't register the contract.
Again, quick marriage is unacceptable, as the marriage law of Islam directs the girl and the parents to wait till the one with good morals and pious character comes to propose.
You criticized the tendency of Muslim parents to overlook love under the glamour of money. Again, I assure you that individual cases do not establish rules, but rules come from the existing law of Islam directly taken from the Noble Book of the Quran and the instruction of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
In this context, I'm only going to mention that a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, “Oh Prophet of Allah! I am the guardian of an orphan girl. Two men proposed to marry her. One is rich, the other is poor. We like the rich while she likes the poor.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) answered, “For those in love we don't see any better than marriage” (Reported by Ibn Majah).
This consciousness of the value of love in the lives of people was brought about 1433 years ago and yet you accuse Islam of breaking hearts because of some immature individual choices?
As for early marriage, before we discuss it we have to define the term early. According to the Western agenda—as appears in the UN Child Summit Declarations of 1990 and 2002—the child is the one under 18! Thus, a young man and a young woman of 17 are considered children in the Western vision, and their marriage is "early" or rather a child marriage! Contradictory enough, the latter Declaration of 2002 recognizes those children's emotional and physical needs and allows them to hold premarital relations under the protection of the government and if a pregnancy takes place it is called a teenage pregnancy.
Unlike the West, Islam defines the child as the one below the age of puberty. Once boys and girls reach puberty, they are children no more. Thus, a girl of 16 or 17 is considered a full grown female with a free choice and her decision to get married is not considered early. The physical and emotional needs of young men and women of this age should be respected if they need to express them.
In Islam premarital relations are not allowed under any circumstances, and they are looked upon as fornication. Illegitimate pregnancies are not acceptable in this religion. Thus, the only way for adults (those who have reached puberty) to satisfy such needs is to get married according to their own personal choice and with the blessing of the family and the whole society and to have legitimate children.
Therefore, teenage sex is recognized in both Islam and the West but the difference is that in Islam it is only allowed to take place within a marriage bond, whereas in the West it is left free. In general, with the need for higher education, the phenomenon of early marriage has shrunk.
With the spread of globalization and the mixing between Muslim and Western societies, divorce has increased but with the help of God, the active Muslim scholars are trying to preserve the Islamic identity in the Muslim societies and bring people back to their family value system, which is unadulterated by strange styles of life.
I hope this answers your questions. Thank you again and looking forward to hearing from you again.
The Blessed Covenant of Love and Mercy
Handling Marital Rights
Bonds of Love and Mercy