One of my chief complaints about religious belief is that it takes the individual work out of ethical decisions. Rather than thinking through one’s moral dilemmas with reason, intuition and empathy, the Abrahamic religions in particular — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — tend to prescribe a system where one just submits to authority figures on a series of millenea-old books and traditions. Many of the worst of these teachings are so bad that even modern fundamentalists have abandoned them on the long, bloody march to modernity.
These holy books, written by people in a world where the divine right of kings and slavery were thought of as natural and correct, are still held up today as beacons of wisdom while people politely ignore that they often recommend murder, genocide, xenophobia, slavery and the subjugation of women. We’re so used to ignoring the most egregious of these passages that it often takes us by surprise when a lone nut, or even a government, decides to take these books at their word.
That’s where people like Shiekh Muhammad Al-Munajid come in. He’s a Muslim cleric from Saudi Arabia and a television personality on a conservative religious network called Iqra TV. He makes a lot of weird statements, like blaming the 2005 Southeast Asian tsunami on ” immorality, abomination, adultery, alcohol, drunken dancing, and … and revelry.” He’s sort of like the Saudi equivalent of Pat Robertson or James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, calling down divine retribution on people he doesn’t like by channeling the dark power of his pet deity.
Except, of course, Pat Robertson doesn’t have the backing of a government who can turn his superstitious prejudices into executions for bizarre “crimes” like witchcraft.
Al-Munajid also answers fan mail. On his Islam Question and Answer website, the cleric addresses questions from people who, rather than trust their own moral decisions, want to take orders from an angry bearded man who blames natural disasters on sin.
This email and its response was bouncing around Facebook for the past week, and when I went looking for it, it seemed to have been taken down. However, Google still has the cached version up. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but my experience with reactionary clergymen who say stupid things that elicit a backlash has made a bit cynical about disappearing internet posts. I’ve left the bad grammar and spelling errors uncorrected:
I’m a boy of 26, and i have come to know a very nice girl, belonging to a very good family. I wish to marry her and to propose to her parents for this purpose. But the problem is that the girl is still a child, and only 13 years old, which makes her 13 years my junior in age.
I wish to ask if its morally acceptable for me to think about her, be attracted to her and to propose for her in marriage. And do u think our relationship would be legitimate and socially and religiously acceptable with this age difference.
Also, if per chance it is acceptable, it raises a question that islam advocates soliciting a girl’s opinion in marriage, but how can such a young girl make an intelligent decision for herself. In such case, what are the basis for islam’s allowing such a marriage to take place.
What strikes me about this letter right away is how apparent his ambivalence about the relationship is. This is a guy who is clearly having serious ethical qualms about dating a little girl who is still in the target demographic for Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. He’s already questioning the morality of his attraction to this girl and whether she, as a thirteen year-old child, is even capable of consenting to marriage.
My second thought: Ew.
Now, before we get into Al-Munajid’s answer, I want to ask you to imagine that this young man had sent you this letter, and that he wants your advice. What would you tell a man who tells you that he’s seriously considering the possibility of a romantic relationship with a thirteen year-old child, half his age. What would you tell this man? Take your time.
Got that answer in your head? Good. Let’s look at the Sheikh’s answer:
Praise be to Allaah.There is nothing wrong with your marrying this girl, even though there is this difference in age between you. What matters is that she should be religiously committed and of good character. These are what matters when it comes to marriage, and are the factors that lead to harmony and happiness in sha Allaah.
By what right do you talk about “good character” and sexual relations with children in the same breath? If there are just two things that I cannot find a way to reconcile, it would be pedophilia and strong moral fiber. If you hear that one of your mid-twenties peers is romantically and sexually interested in a junior high school student, what’s your immediate reaction?
If you’re anything like me, you back away slowly and reevaluate your friendship with this person. That isn’t because I’m some paragon of virtue, it’s because a reaction of horror and disgust should be the bare fucking minimum. The cleric goes on:
The validity of marriage to a minor girl is proven by the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning):
“And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the ‘Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubt (about their periods), is three months; and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their ‘Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise, except in case of death]”
So the ‘iddah for those who do not menstruate because they are too young is three months, and ‘iddah has to do with divorce after getting married, which indicates that the girls in question has been married and divorced.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) married ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) when she was six years old, and he consummated the marriage with her when she was nine, and at that time he was over fifty.
Al-Bukhaari (3894) and Muslim (1422) narrated that ‘Aa’ishah said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) married me when I was six years old and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine.
Holy shit. He’s basically saying, “if there’s grass on the field, play ball.”
And, yeah. I should probably address this.
The Prophet Muhammad was kind of a child molester. This is not something usually brought up in polite conversation on comparative religion. And as far as I can tell, the vast majority of modern Muslims aren’t marrying the Sesame Street peanut gallery, but it’s frightening to me how many moderate Muslims seem to have no problem that their religion’s founder — a guy so holy and revered that it generally elicits threats of violence to simply draw a picture of him — was basically Mary Kay LeToureau.
Whatever contextual moral wiggle room you’re willing to give Muhammad — a 5th century shepherd and merchant without formal education, living in a world where women are still property, the world is flat, disease is caused by demons, and slavery is the norm — that same ethical latitude cannot be given to Al-Munajid, an educated cleric, living in the 21st Century, where any decent human being is disgusted by the sexual abuse of minors.
And who doesn’t hate child molesters? I doubt even other pedophiles like them much.
Hell, these guys aren’t popular anywhere. Even in a prison surrounded by convicted murderers and assorted violent felons — even the most despised criminals, like dog rapists, wife beaters and Nazis — it’s not a safe thing to be a pedophile behind bars.
Is there really any distinction between a sex offender who marries their victim and one who doesn’t? It’s not as if monogamous abuse and statuatory rape within the bonds of matrimony somehow dispells the fact that she’s thirteen fucking years old!
It takes a very special type of monster to hold that there isn’t anything wrong with a child bride.
How the hell is a thirteen year-old girl emotionally prepared or qualified to make decisions about marriage or sex? Do you remember being thirteen? Can you imagine your thirteen-year old self having sex, getting married, voting, driving or drinking? I can’t remember any decisions at that age more urgent than whether I was going to play a wizard or a thief in Dungeons and Dragons.
Okay okay.. wizard!
It freaks me out that (1), Al-Munajid, an educated man in the 21st century, doesn’t seem to have a problem with Muhammad having sex with a nine year old child-bride, he’s actually using it as moral precedent to advise a young man that it’s okay to walk down the aisle with a middle schooler. And (2) how often people who are otherwise progressive, decent and humane will make excuses for the worst atrocities when they’re done by religious icons in the Iron Age.
I don’t even know the name of the young man who wrote the original letter, but the obvious moral ambivalence and doubt inherent in every word of his letter already makes him a far better person than Al-Munajid’s unquestioning, fanatic certainty that it’s perfectly fine for a fifty year-old to marry a child. It physically hurts me to know that this young man will likely veto his own moral impulses and obey the word of this pious clown.
Wait, there’s more!
A girl who is thirteen years old may have reached the age of puberty, in which case her consent is essential according to the more correct of the two scholarly opinions, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “A previously-married woman should not be married until she has been consulted, and a virgin should not be married until her permission has been sought.” They said: “O Messenger of Allaah, what is her permission?” He said: “If she remains silent.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5136; Muslim, 1419, from the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him). See also question no. 22760
If she has not reached the age of puberty, then her father has the sole right to arrange her marriage and does not have to ask her permission.
Ibn Qudaamah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: With regard to a virgin who is still a minor, there is no difference of opinion concerning her (i.e., that her father may marry her off even if she objects). Ibn al-Mundhir said: Every scholar from whom we learned was agreed that it is permissible for a man to marry off his virgin daughter who is still a minor, if he marries her to someone who is compatible, and it is permissible for him to marry her off even if she objects and refuses.” Al-Mughni, 9/398
But it was narrated from Imam Ahmad that whoever reaches the age of nine years comes under the same ruling as a girl who has reached puberty, so her permission must be sought. But if the father opts to be on the safe side and ask her permission, that is better. Al-Mughni, 8/398-405.
And Allaah knows best.
What shines through is the belief that a child — particularly a female child — is a piece of property and that she can be sold by her parents to a complete stranger with the expectation of a sexual relationship. And how can any good parent, whether they get their child’s input or not, do something like this?
One of the many reasons I’ve decided to never have children is that I don’t think I’d be any good at it. There are a lot of selfish decisions I like making with both my free time and my disposable income that are simply incompatible with parenthood. Good parenthood, anyways. I’m not willing to make the sort of personal and financial sacrifices that are the hard necessities of being a good parent.
Raising a kid means that I need to put another human being before myself in a way that I’m not prepared to do. It means protecting this child from people who want to harm or use him or her. It means teaching this child to be a good person and being the sort of moral example that makes those words stick. It means being largely responsible for shaping what that child becomes in life, whether it’s the next Marie Curie or the next Jeffrey Dahmer.
I don’t want that sort of responsibility and I don’t think I’m worthy of it.
And it scares the hell out of me when I see people who become parents so thoughtlessly and stupidly, when they’re even less qualified for the job than I am. And if you think it’s okay to hand your little boy or little girl over to an adult for the purposes of a marriage that is little more than pederasty, you’re falling short not just of the standards of being a good parent. You’re not a good human being, period.
It boggles my mind to see how often religious belief can override one of the oldest defense mechanisms that natural selection have given us mammals: the drive to protect our children. Doubt this? Try touching a bear cub in front of its mom some time. Be sure to have your running shoes on.
Not only have we seen this idiot and thousands like him crowing about how matrimonial pedophilia is perfectly fine, but we can include Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff’s multiple child brides and a Christian Oregon cult that denied their children necessary medical care, killing them through inaction.
It isn’t just that religion gives bad people an excuse to do bad things. I mean, they’d do bad things anyways. What scares me is how easy religion makes it for otherwise good people to do unthinkable things or follow reprehensible orders from someone who speaks in the name of an old book or an invisible being in the sky.
There are real consequences to believing the things written in the world’s holy books, consequences to abdicating our responsibility to make those decisions ourselves, rather than pass that duty off to a superstitious old bigot that dresses like Professor Dumbledore.
Sometimes that means shouting down the nagging doubts that a young man might have about being attracted to a child. Doubts that make him a far better human being than so-called “moral authorities” like Muhammad Al-Munajid will ever be.
And you can’t hide behind an ancient book of angry desert fairy tales and pass the ethical buck on your imaginary friend. You’re chosing to do this. You. You own the consequences of your actions, even if you just cede your moral responsibilities on that man on the television who dresses like a wizard and blames earthquakes on the gays.