The last few months have witnessed an uproar in my home state, Kerala, surrounding the government’s release of a circular legalizing the registration of marriages of Muslim women younger than 18 years old and Muslim men younger than 21 years old. India, though a secular country, allows Muslims to follow the Muslim Personal Law in all civil matters. This is one of the reasons why a Muslim man can legally marry up to four wives, and can divorce his wife with the triple talaq, while a person of any other religion can be punished by law if they do the same. (I discussed the various ill effects of this disparity in India’s civil law earlier this year, in my MMW article about Indian marriage laws.) India, however, also released the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006, which makes it illegal for any Indian woman, irrespective of religion, to get married before the age of 18.This recent circular was released by the government as a response to Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) ‘s query regarding the numerous complaints and legal issues faced by Muslims who were struggling to get a passport because their marriage was considered illegal. However, the circular met with widespread protestfrom leading feminist Muslim organisations and other political parties who felt that it legalises marriages of girls younger than 18 years of age, thus encouraging child marriages, which is in direct violation of the Child Marriage Prohibition Act .
One particular news channel conducted a debate right after a set of ten Muslim political parties got together and decided to appeal to the Supreme Court to make the Child Marriage Prohibition Act of 2006 invalid for Muslim women (or should I say girls). Bappu Musaliar, who is the chairperson of the Muslim Personal Law committee, cited the example of Prophet Mohammed (P.B.U.H)’s marriage to Aisha (Radiallahu Anha). He argued that in the Shariah, there is no law that demands a particular age for Muslim women to get married; that Prophet Mohammed, whose example we are all to follow married Aisha at the age of 9; and that even at the time of the Prophet’s death, Aisha was still not the prescribed 18 years of age. (There are disagreements on whether these ages are accurate.) He concluded that making it a punishable offence to get their children married before the age of 18 is a direct infringement on Muslim Personal laws. VP Suhara, who was herself a victim of forced child marriage, said that marrying a 14 year old is nothing but rape. She has been a lone crusader in the battle against Muslim personal law, as well as the triple talaq system. While Muslim clergy likes to always quote Prophet’s marriage to Aisha as an example to decrease marriage age laws, O. Abdullah, himself a Muslim Scholar, and leading journalist, rightfully asks (at 24:26) why the Prophet’s first marriage to a widow with four children, or his second marriage to a 63-year-old woman, are never considered examples or followed in the Muslim community. [Read more...]