Answers to Questions on Islam: Part I of VI

November 23, 2009 at 12:30 am (History, Islam)

Someone named Maxwell1313 asked me a few questions about Islam/Muhammad. For two weeks, I’m going to answer his questions.

Issue one

But the question arises, to what extent did the people of Arabia really object to Muhammad’s actions and to what extent were they merely the result of his environment? The ubituitous example is Aisha. From what I’ve read, it seems the evidence that anyone in Arabia, pagans, Jews or Christians, objected to his marraige with Aisha due to her age simply due to her age is not there. One could argue he used revelations to gain support and intimitaded would be objectors, but even his multitude of critics never found Aisha’s age objectionable. Hence, it seems that either Arabs, including Jews and Christians, had condoned sexual relations with little girls and that only modern post-Enlightment Christians have come to find it objectionable, or that ultimately it didn’t really happen and the hadiths that suggest this are false. Obviously, you both reject the latter, but that would create a problematic situation for Arabs, even Christian and Catholic ones, who would have to come to terms with the fact that their culture has condoned mistreatment of women for centuries and only post Enlightment values have changed this. And although their defense of Muhmmad as a role model for all times would still fall flat, Muslim can argue that early Jews and Christians clearly did not see Muhammad’s marriages objectioanble and objectioning to it today is cultural elitism. Now, I would say sex with a nine year old girl is grotesque regardless of the age but unfortunately it can be argued this results from unreasonable cultural standards.

The issue you are referring to is called “child marriage.” This was, indeed, permissible in Judaism. The Talmud has regulations on it. It is, furthermore, relatively recently that normative Judaism stopped practicing child marriages.

There is also a phenomenon called “presentism” wherein one applies standards and expectations and ways of thinking of the present to past eras. This is not always good because people in the past did not believe or think the way we do. Thus, in the past, child marriages were acceptable. If we find Muhammad’s marriage to Aishah bint Abi Bakr objectionable, we should realize that we are offended because our current standards finds such a thing objectionable, not necessarily because it was in and of itself objectionable.

The problem with Muhammad’s marriage to Aishah bin Abi Bakr is its impact today: because Muhammad did it, Muslims find it acceptable even today. Thus, while we cannot condemn Muhammad’s marriage (because that was acceptable even by Christians and Jews of that period), we can condemn the perpetuation of child marriage among Muslims in today’s world that rejects such a thing. If we wish to declare that what Muhammad did was intrinsically evil, we must likewise condemn similar practices by Christians, Jews, and other peoples through history.

UPDATE:
th3cow comments:

Your answer is somewhat misleading, but that is not surprising.

While in Judaism it was ok for young girl to be married off at a relatively young age, as was the custom in the ancient world, it is not ok now, and it is well grounded in Jewish religious jurisprudence. That is – the religious scholars and leaders (The Rabbis) have the authority to pass rulings that amend laws in order to adapt them to the present day social environment.

In Islam, however, this is not permissible. If Muhammad did it, then it was right then and it is right now and it will be right in the future.

Muslims find it acceptable even today not just because Muhammad did it, but because they are obliged to follow his example, as he is the perfect role model (al Insan al Kamil).

Islam needs to be reformed to remove this element, so that it can be adapted to changes.

Thank you. You are correct, and part of what you said was the point I was trying to make.

I am reading the Talmud Bavli and currently reading Maseches Avodas Zara, and am going through daf after daf on yayin nesech (wine contaminated by contact with idolators – Maseches Avodas Zara is about idolatry). But a vast majority of those rules are no longer followed. This is a significant issue – many Jews know the Talmud better than the Bible, and yet they are free to set aside Talmudic dicta.

This is why for the modern world it is not a problem that the Talmud permits child marriages. Jews today do not perform child marriages, despite Talmudic permission for it.

Of course, underlying this – which I should have discussed and which th3cow mentioned – is the role of injunctions. For Jews, they are halakha or law: this what you do, this is what you don’t do, and often wherefore. There is no person whose example pervades Talmud. There is no this is how Moses bathed, or this is how Abraham cleaned his nose, or this is how Isaac ate. On the other hand, as th3cow mentioned, Muhammad is seen as al-insaan al-kaamil or the perfection of humanity. Everything he did is not only good to follow but practically incumbent on those Muslims who claim to love God and to love Muhammad. Thus, if he performed a child marriage, so can the rest of the Muslim world, and no one can say it is reprehensible.

Also, as th3cow said: rabbinic authorities can, in effect, overrule Talmud. It’s interesting to read Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (a list of halakhos) and see notations that say, essentially: the Talmud says X, but halakha is the opposite. In other words, rabbis can modify Talmudic injunctions and can even overrule them. (This is why to study halakha, studying the Talmud is important, but it is most vital to study not only prominent historical compendia of halakhos (like Shulchan Arukh and Kitzur Shulchan Arukh) but also modern, prevailing responsa and compendia on halakha.) Such an idea is anathema in Islam. No one can overrule sunnah (the way Muhammad lived) or ahadeeth (what Muhammad said). They are eternal. This is why child marriages still are done, and cannot be overruled, and why slavery can still exist in Muslim lands.

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2 Comments

  1. th3cow said,

    Your answer is somewhat misleading, but that is not surprising.

    While in Judaism it was ok for young girl to be married off at a relatively young age, as was the custom in the ancient world, it is not ok now, and it is well grounded in Jewish religious jurisprudence. That is – the religious scholars and leaders (The Rabbis) have the authority to pass rulings that amend laws in order to adapt them to the present day social environment.

    In Islam, however, this is not permissible. If Muhammad did it, then it was right then and it is right now and it will be right in the future.

    Muslims find it acceptable even today not just because Muhammad did it, but because they are obliged to follow his example, as he is the perfect role model (al Insan al Kamil).

    Islam needs to be reformed to remove this element, so that it can be adapted to changes.

    Have a look at what I propose in my book “The Cow”:

    http://th3cow.wordpress.com/sample-pages/

    (look at the last 3 pages. In time, I will post the complete text).

  2. Gregory said,

    Ahem.

    Although child marriages and child brides have existed for eons (even the Chinese have practiced such, promising their firstborn son to the other’s firstborn daughter and such), I believe the major issue is child marriage *consummation*.

    At the age of 9, this is well below the age of accountability even for the Jewish people, and I believe that most marriages of this nature are consummated only in their adolescent stages (i.e. 12 onwards).

    Ol’ Mo started banging Aisha when she was *9*. This I find objectionable, and I will find any dumb donkey (even King David, if he did) practicing this objectionable as well, regardless of who they were or when they were.

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