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Ask a Harvard Genius: Does Sharia Law Mandate Child Rape?

Posted on June 21 2010 5:00 pm

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Did God tell Mohammad, at the age of 50, to marry Aisha, who was only nine?  More importantly, does Sharia Law, based in part on the conduct of Mohammad, still permit the imposing of marriage upon Muslim girls at the age of nine?

In February, the Harvard Islamic Society hosted a teleconference featuring some of the world’s leading Islamic scholars and cultural leaders as part of its Islam Awareness Week.  Among those showcased was Hamza Yusuf, a California convert to Islam.  Yusuf is the founder of the Zayatuna Institute and is engaged, like the 9-11 Memorial Mosque Imam, in presenting Islam to the Western world as a religion that can peacefully co-exist with others.

Among Islam’s public relations nightmares Yusuf has to contend with, is the question of women in the Islamic religious system.  Those pesky little issues of burqas, honor killings, and Quranic tutorials on the proper way to beat one’s wife, genital mutilation, and the discouragement of women from seeking higher education and careers, all make educated, independent women slightly skeptical about buying the Islamic brand. A good example of such a deal-breaker is precisely the marriage of Mohammad to Aisha.

Hamza Yusuf attempted to render this event comprehensible to Western students:

“Mohammad had the same dream three times.  Somebody was carrying something wrapped in a piece of silk and said, ‘This is your wife.’   So Mohammad uncovered her, and it was Aisha.  It’s important to understand that this was not uncommon. In most modern anthropological methodologies, one of the things they teach people in anthropology is to…remove ones social frames of reference when one is examining another culture because it’s unfair to impose one’s own prejudices upon another culture. Each culture has its own traditions and its own way of doing things.”

“If you try to force upon them your own ideals, your own principles, and your own acceptabilities, then what you end up doing is being unjust towards another tradition. For the Muslim, obviously, it’s going to be, ‘What does the Sharia say?’ But it’s important to realize that this was a normal thing within their society…there’s some discussion as to whether she was nine or twelve, but he did not take her into his household until she gave up playing with her dolls. That was the sign that she was no longer a child. So she was an adult when the Prophet brought her into his household. And that’s something that Sharia permits.”

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