LAGOS – Nigerian Muslim scholars have rejected suggestions that early marriage has any negative effects on the couples involved, insisting instead that breakdown in communal values and failure to adhere to divine rules account for much of the problems.
“There's no problem with early marriage. As far as Islam is concerned, it does not support anything that draws back humanity. And come to think of it, no religion or culture has a particular age set for marriage,” Sheikh Dhikrullahi Shaafihi, a chief preacher with The Muslim Congress (TMC), told OnIslam.net
“Whatever problem you associate with so-called early marriage is misplaced. The problem is with the society. The society has failed in its responsibility. Parents have failed in their responsibilities to their children, especially those given out in marriage.”
Sheikh Shaafihi was speaking on the recent arrest of a 14-year-old bride in Nigeria's Kano state who police claimed applied poison to the food eaten by her 35-year-old husband and his friends.
The husband, Umar Sani, and three of his friends died shortly after the meal.
Zakat and Sadaqah Foundation Executive Director Imam Abdullahi Shuaib agrees with Sheikh Shaafihi, insisting that social violence seen in many marriages are part of the “contemporary crises” associated with failure to do what it right.
Echoing similar sentiments as Sheikh Shaafihi, Shuaib said needless modernism such as discouraging close-knit extended family is taking its toll on most families, whether young or old.
“There is nothing like underage marriage in Islam, and so people should not bring a contemporary challenge and then give it Islamic coloration. There is nothing like child marriage in Islam,” he said
“Marriage in Islam is a contract between one family and another family, not just between the spouses. It is a social contract between one family and another one and it is their duty to ensure the marriage works.”
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Marriage in Islam is of utmost importance as it is upon the lawful union of a man and a woman that society grows strong and that moral is preserved.
In Islam, it is not permissible for the guardian to compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone she does not desire to marry. Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and permission.
No Age Limit
Imam Shuaib said what matters most times is not the age of the bride but her physiological features which he said must be able to shoulder marital burdens.
“The second aspect of it is whether the physiology of the bride has attained age of maturity or otherwise. That's another question entirely which is different from whether that child is ripe or not ready to shoulder marital responsibility,” he told OnIslam.net.
“From the Islamic perspective one of the cases that people usually cite is that when the Holy Prophet married Aisha that she was about nine years old. But the physiological makeup of Aisha showers was already a grownup child. Yes in terms of age, it was low. But in terms of physiological growth, she was ripe. In spite of that, the prophet did not consummate the marriage until when Aisha was over 15 or so.”
The Zakat and Sadaqah Foundation Executive Director noted that similar aspect was noticed in European girls who look grown up at a young age.
“Even in Europe today when you see a child of fourteen years she's already a full-blown girl and you would doubt if she tells you she's just 14. If you take it from that angle, a girl may already be grown up but may be young in terms of age,” imam Shuaib said.
“Taken from that perspective, in Islam there is nothing like underage marriage. But what Islam looks at is whether the child is grown up enough.
“Once a child attains liberty it means she's on her way to womanhood. But the physiological makeup could be very small and therefore not mature enough to withstand the rigor of womanhood,” he added.
Deacon Joseph Ilelaboye has also asserted he doesn't believe that age of spouses contributes hugely to the rise in marital crisis and eventual break up.
“What I think is that everybody wants to be the boss. The rise in marital crisis is just a reflection of our society, a reflection of our values and character,” the Christian cleric told OnIslam.net.
“It cannot be true that early marriage was why a woman poisoned the food of her husband. What about people who got married in late 30s and yet not a day go without having terrible fight? We have seen celebrated marriages of grownups who are in fact university graduates but it didn't even last a year. There are many of them. Is that because of early marriage?”
Acknowledging the enormous problems afflicting many marriages, Muslim scholars stressed the need for parents and the society to empower everybody especially the girl child with sound education, moral and other empowerments before marriage.
“Islam brought a lot of reforms and in fact went ahead to recommend the way to resolve marital crisis,” Sheikh Shaafihi said.
“One, Islam recommends that we tutor the girl child before giving her out in marriage. There should be morals. For instance, the prophet said we should teach/instruct our children to observe salat and if at ten he/she refuses to pray, we can apply some punishment. That is training.”
Echoing Imam Shuaib, Sheikh Shaafihi said both families involved in a marriage have responsibility to stand by the couple, old or young.
“In Islamic Shari`ah when you give a child out in marriage or your son is getting married, that is not the end of it,” the scholar observed.
“They deserve our continued care, regardless of their marital status. That is what Islam says. Although the prophet had given Fatimah out in marriage to Ali, he was still going to check them and ask about their wellbeing. He was still guiding them. But today once our children proceed to their marital homes, we assume our responsibilities end there. That is not true.
“If parents/guardians continue to stand by their children, all these social malaise we talk about would not arise in the first place. It is the duty of a bride's mother to continue to stand by her. The same for the father, brother, sister to ask after their welfare with a view to give them moral and psychological support. In essence, these so-called social effects of the so-called early marriage arise because we have failed to do our own part in the guise of civilization.”
Imam Sa'adallah Ibrahim, a prominent preacher in Nigeria's north central Ilorin town, weighed in on the matter, saying that parents have the responsibility to consciously prepare their children for marriage.
“It is the position of Muslim scholars that we should consciously prepare our children, daughters and sons alike, for marital life,” he said.
“We should prepare them socially, economically, psychologically, and even intellectually. About eight different preparations. But how many of us take our children through the rudiments? It is not about child marriage, it is about our community failing in our duties to our children. We have seen people who graduated from university and are well old enough to marry, they get married in grand style only for the marriage to collapse after one year or even less.
“So this is not about the age. It is about us not managing our affairs the right way. We are refusing to adhere to our religious and even cultural norms. That is our problem. That is the issue.”
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