Guardians of faith – the Saudis?

Owing to location of Kaaba within the territories of their kingdom and the fact that Prophet Mohammad lived in the cities of Makkah and Medina, both of whom are situated within the present day Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Sheikhs who spend their leisure in activities that Prophet Mohammad would himself have disapproved of, consider their version and understanding of Islam as the most genuine. This is far from true. Unfortunately unfathomable amounts of the money gained from petroleum sale and tourism generated because of Kaaba, is being spent in countries like India to further propagate their ideology.

A case in point is the new Saudi fatwa which defends child-marriage – euphemism for pedophilia – as well as the Saudi dictate to disallow women from driving the cars. Dr. Salih bin Fawzan, a prominent cleric and member ofSaudi Arabia’s highest religious council, recently issued a fatwa asserting that there is no minimum age for marriage, and that girls can be married “even if they are in the cradle.”

The fatwa complains that “uninformed interference with Sharia rulings by the press and journalists is on the increase, posing dire consequences to society, including their interference with the question of marriage to small girls who have not reached maturity, and their demand that a minimum age be set for girls to marry.”

Fawzan insists that nowhere does Sharia set an age limit for marrying girls: like countless Muslim scholars before him, cites that Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s role model, married Aisha when she was 6-years-old, “consummating” the marriage—or, in modern parlance, having physical relations—when she was 9.

Such interpreters of Islam say that it is permissible for fathers to marry off their small daughters, even if they are in the cradle.  But it is not permissible for their husbands to have sex with them unless they are capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men.  And their capability in this regard varies based on their nature and capacity.  Aisha was 6 when she married the prophet, but he had sex with her when she was 9 [i.e., when she was deemed capable].

This issue of child marriage is not a topic of discussion among Shias whose scholars opine that the narration of Aisha’s marriage at the age of six is itself a distorted one. They claim that Aisha was earlier married to an idolator but that marriage got annulled when she accepted Islam along with her father, and was later taken into marriage by Prophet Mohammad when she was very much in her twenties. They are of view that certain narrow-minded Muslims of the period thought it ‘unthinkable’ that the respected wife of the Prophet be associated with an unbeliever by marriage. By claiming that Aisha was 6 years old when she got married to the Holy Prophet, such over-zealous followers may have succeeded in proving that the respected lady was a virgin but eventually they forgot that in the process they were discrediting the image of Prophet of God. Had they continued with the truth, it would have further enhanced the respect of their Prophet, who created personal examples for widow-remarriage at a time when the world was against such notions.

Truth, however, remains that Quran favours early marriage, both for men and women, and the motive is to do away with illicit relationships and other related ills that creep in society due to late marriage. Even there, it is not for the parents to decide but for the boy or girl to decide whether he or she is fit for marriage.

This can be seen in the light of a recent Supreme Court verdict in India which, after noticing that several young girls were indulging in sex and even eloping with their loved ones prior to attaining the defined marriageable age, gave indications of softening its stand on the 18 year minimum mandatory age limit for marriage.

Certain scholars claim that spirituality cannot be understood by minds immersed in material thoughts. Saudi clerics’ inability to understand the core of Prophet’s teachings results in the Western media portraying Islam, rather ‘justifiably’ in bad light. Revolution and repulsion against such dictates is even simmering withinSaudi Arabiawhere Saudi human rights groups have recently succeeded in delaying the consummation of marriage of several 10- and 11-year old boys and girls.Saudi Arabiais already rocked by a high divorce rate that has jumped from 25 percent to 60 percent over the past 20 years, according to Noura al-Shamlan, head of the research department at theCenterofUniversity Studiesfor Girls.

Likewise, in their attempt to slap the ultra-conservative policies of their mullahs, women inSaudi Arabia are openly driving cars in defiance of an official ban on female drivers, leading to arrests of such women. A woman, Manal al-Sherif, was recently accused of “besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion,” and was put to 10 days custody when her only fault was that she uploaded a video of herself driving a car.

It is ironical that the country that claims to make laws on the basis of Islamic traditions and Prophet Mohammad’s life are unable to cite any example from these that could justify the ban on women driving a car. Women not only drive cars but work shoulder-to-shoulder with men in offices in countries likeIran. Even in Prophet Mohammad’s time, it was common for women to ride horses and camels, the mode of commuting in those days. Even Aisha is described in traditions having ridden a mule as well as a camel.

But clerics like Fawzan adamantly sounds a warning: “It behooves those who call for setting a minimum age for marriage to fear Allah and not contradict his Sharia, or try to legislate things Allah did not permit.  For laws are Allah’s province; and legislation is his excusive right, to be shared by none other.  And among these are the rules governing marriage.”

It is such adamant interpretation of Islamic teachings which has become a cradle for nurturing the violent and threatening face of Islam visible in the acts of Al-Qaida and Talibanis. Hope the pseudo-mullahs take lessons in time!