Recently, a bill to discourage child marriages was discussed in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs. The Committee was overwhelmingly dominated by religious right. I attended that meeting thanks to Marvi Memon (Member National Assembly from Pakistan Muslim League N, and mover of the Bill) who invited me to join and see what happens in such meetings.
It was clear from the very beginning that the Committee had already made up its mind for rejecting the bill, and the meeting was a mere formality. As they did not want to discuss the pros and cons of the bill at hand, the chairman cut everything short by inviting the representative of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to share the Council’s views on the bill.
Everybody in Pakistan is aware of the views of the Chairman CII on various women’s and children’s rights issue, so nobody needed to guess CII opinion on the bill. However, we were looking forward to hear their arguments in favor of child marriages.
But discussion is something that Mullahs don’t like, because when you argue you can be proven wrong. Hence, they would always resort to divine scriptures, for which they alone reserve the right to interpret. The more they resort to such tricks, the more they expose their weakness.
The CII Representative said that declaring child marriage a crime would mean we declare that (God forbid) the holy prophet committed a crime. Hence, those who introduce or support such a bill would be committing blasphemy. Furthermore, he said that setting age limit for marriage was also against Islamic teachings.
The discussion ended right there and then. Most of the other participants instantly joined the chorus, with only one feeble voice of dissent – Kishwar Zehra of Muttahida Quami Movement (a political party in Pakistan).
Their very attempt to silence dissent with a threat of blasphemy shows that they have no solid argument in favor of child marriages. They are weak. Their strength does not lie in their argument, but in their power to get us lynched. They are holding the society hostage because of their power to incite mob violence.
There is no reason Muslims should reject a bill that protects children especially young girls from violence and abuse. I am not an Islamic scholar, and would not quote verses from holy Quran or Hadith. I would come up with some very simple commonsense arguments:
- The holy prophet marrying a 9 year old girl is something controversial. There are Islamic scholars and researchers who disagree with this idea.
- Though the holy prophet might have married a minor girl, I have not come across any injunction of Islam in which people have been ordered to arrange marriages of their minor daughters. Hence, setting a bar on marriage age is not against any injunction of Islam.
- The holy prophet married 11 women, and only one of them is believed to be 9 year old girl. The rest were all adult women. Should Muslims follow one example or 10 other examples set by the same prophet.
- Muslims are not allowed to do everything the holy prophet did. For example, all scholars and researchers agree that the holy prophet had more than 4 wives simultaneously, but Muslim men are not allowed to have more than 4 wives simultaneously. Hence, if holy prophet married a minor girl, it does not become imperative for all Muslim men to marry minor girls.
- There are quite a few Muslim countries which have legislated on minimum age for marriage, and set the age limit, and nobody in those countries accused anyone of committing blasphemy. (18 years in UAE, Egypt, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Tajikistan, Jordan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Oman, Turkmenistan; 20 in Libya)
- A convention of Islamic countries was held in Cairo in November 2009. The declaration issued at the convention asks the OIC countries to set 18 years as minimum age for marriage (page 6). Of course, nobody in the Muslim world accused them of blasphemy.
- The world has moved on. There are things which were allowed 1400 years ago, but are not practiced today … for example slavery. Atricle 11 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan says that slavery is forbidden. Should we turn the wheel back on the progress, and reintroduce slavery because it was allowed during the life time of the holy prophet?
Hence, it becomes clear that CII and Members of National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs have no ground to block this bill. They are threatening us to incite mobs against us to silence us. They have already acknowledged their defeat by resorting to such threats.