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Radical Clerics Seek to Legalise Child Brides

A Salafi rally in Cairo. Islamist leaders are pushing to reduce Egypt's legal marriage age for girls, some arguing for as low as nine. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

A Salafi rally in Cairo. Islamist leaders are pushing to reduce Egypt's legal marriage age for girls, some arguing for as low as nine. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

CAIRO, Nov 14 2012 (IPS) - An ultraconservative Salafi cleric recently sparked outrage among Egypt’s liberal circles when he attempted to justify his opposition to a proposed constitutional article that would outlaw the trafficking of women for sex.

Speaking on privately-owned Al-Nas satellite channel, Sheikh Mohamed Saad El-Azhary said he feared the proposed article could conflict with the local practice of child marriage. He explained that in Egypt, particularly in rural areas, there is a culture of marrying off girls as soon as they hit puberty.

“The important thing is that the girl is ready and can tolerate marriage,” El-Azhary declared.

He went on to protest proposed laws protecting women from violence, warning that if allowed to pass husbands could be prosecuted for beating their child brides or forcing themselves upon them.

“If you have intercourse with your wife against her will, she will be able to file a complaint against you,” he said. “That’s where things are headed.”

Followers of the Salafi trend believe in a literal reading of the Quran and hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad) and aspire to emulate the lifestyle of the Prophet and his companions. Their puritanical approach to Islam has put them at odds with secular Muslims and minority groups, who denounce their intolerant worldview.

For Salafis, the fundamental justification for child marriage is passages in the hadith that state Prophet Muhammad married his third wife when she was six years old, and consummated the marriage after her first menses at nine.

Sheikh Yasser Borhamy, spokesman for the Salafi Dawah, outlined his interpretation of the Quranic texts during an interview with TV presenter Wael El-Ebrashy. He argued that Egypt’s marriage laws contradict the provisions of Sharia (Islamic law), as girls should be married off once they reach puberty, or before “if she can”.

“If Islam allowed it during the Prophet’s time, it will be permissible until the End of Days,” Borhamy asserted.

While Salafis represent just a small but vocal minority of Egyptians, the recent election of an Islamist parliament and president has extended their political clout.

But what deeply concerns child rights advocates is that El-Azhary and Borhamy are members of the committee tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution. And they are not alone. Other members of the Islamist-stacked panel are known to share their views on child marriage and may be attempting to enshrine them in the constitution.

“We fought for years to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls (from 16) to 18, and now the Islamists want to lower it,” says women’s rights activist Azza Kamel. “There are Salafis arguing it should be as low as nine.”
Some battles may have already been lost.

When a copy of the constitution’s first draft circulated last month, rights advocates were shocked to find that a proposed clause banning the trafficking of women had been omitted. Salafi members of the drafting committee had argued to have it removed on the grounds that human trafficking “does not exist in Egypt” and its mere mention “tarnishes Egypt’s image.”

International agencies strongly disagree. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. State Department, human trafficking exists at many levels in Egypt. The country is a transit point and destination for trafficked African and Asian women and children, who are subjected to forced labour and prostitution.

It is also a source of trafficked women, including young girls exploited under the guise of marriage.

Local NGO Memphis Foundation for Development says the phenomenon of child marriage is widespread in Egypt, particularly in rural areas where parents often marry off their daughters early to escape grinding poverty. Research conducted in 2008 found that nearly a quarter of all marriages involved girls under 16.

Afaf Marei, director of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE), says many of these underage girls are sold by their parents to wealthy Gulf Arabs who come to Egypt in search of “summer brides”.

The marriages are arranged by lawyers who act as brokers, and may last from hours to months according to the “dowry” paid to the parents. Often the transaction is made without the girl’s knowledge or consent.

“These marriages are a form of trafficking women (under the pretence of) Islamic law,” says Marei.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the conservative Islamic group that dominated this year’s parliamentary and presidential polls, has kept a low profile in the discourse on child marriage. While some reformists in the group reject the practice, its hardline leaders were the principal opponents of the 2008 law that raised the minimum marriage age of girls to 18.

Now, as pressure mounts on the constitutional drafting body to have the document ready by a Dec. 12 deadline, the Brotherhood’s weight could prove decisive both on the panel and at the polls. If the constitution goes to a referendum without a clause explicitly banning the trafficking of women, it is likely to pass given the Brotherhood’s ability to rally public support, say liberal activists.

“We’re fighting to win, but rationally I don’t think we can,” concedes Amal Abdel Hadi, head of the New Women Foundation. “This is just one battle and we’re fighting the Islamists on even greater issues such as (to guarantee) the equality of citizenship.” (END)

 
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  • Normlaure

    Is there realistically any hope of changing the viewpoint of these and other Fundamentalists? After all they do have a point in the fact that the pre-eminent figure of Islam was an obvious and recorded creator/supporter of the practice of what we now regard as female and notably child abuse.
    Other religions with similar historical abuse records have adjusted and moved with the times – although many are still fighting rearguard actions – note the Catholic Church and female priests to name just one isssue. Others seem intent on going backwards – see Born Again Christian Groups and Mormons as examples.
    Personally I don’t see that those with perverse (as I see them) beliefs, will change their hold to them no matter what others think. There is nothing so positive as a fanatic who believes he is right – again note the Nazis in Germany.
    It is a human condition,and much as I personally find all these things foul and inhuman, I doubt that this will change anything as the fanatics will remain.
    We don’t deserve this world, and these people offer a very good reason as to why this must be true.

  • Normlaure

    Is there realistically any hope of changing the viewpoint of these and other Fundamentalists? After all they do have a point in the fact that the pre-eminent figure of Islam was an obvious and recorded creator/supporter of the practice of what we now regard as female and notably child abuse.
    Other religions with similar historical abuse records have adjusted and moved with the times – although many are still fighting rearguard actions – note the Catholic Church and female priests to name just one isssue. Others seem intent on going backwards – see Born Again Christian Groups and Mormons as examples.
    Personally I don’t see that those with perverse (as I see them) beliefs, will change their hold to them no matter what others think. There is nothing so positive as a fanatic who believes he is right – again note the Nazis in Germany.
    It is a human condition,and much as I personally find all these things foul and inhuman, I doubt that this will change anything as the fanatics will remain.
    We don’t deserve this world, and these people offer a very good reason as to why this must be true.

  • arabrab

    Cherry picking religious texts is common in all religions so here is my choice when it comes to human rights of women and Islam-

    ” According to Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, the Prophet is reported to have said:

    If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.”

  • arabrab

    Cherry picking religious texts is common in all religions so here is my choice when it comes to human rights of women and Islam-

    ” According to Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, the Prophet is reported to have said:

    If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.”

  • Gary Rumain

    Attention, everyone. Please note that the moderator here is a fascist who will delete all comments that do not agree with his opinions.

  • Gary Rumain

    Attention, everyone. Please note that the moderator here is a fascist who will delete all comments that do not agree with his opinions.

  • Nayla

    “The important thing is that the girl is ready and can tolerate marriage,” El-Azhary declared.

    That’s so sad. The important thing should be that the girl WANTS to get married….not just merely “tolerate” it. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/lauren.damastorres Lauren Lewis Damas-Torres

    In that case, before he deletes this, I’ll say: F*ck muhammed and I hope he’s burning in Hell

  • Yusuf_Al_Kafir

    <—- Ditto that!

  • Yusuf_Al_Kafir

    <—- Ditto that!

  • Takade De Natua

    the prophet was a pedophile and a murderous slaver. we don’t care what he said. it was all garbage.

  • Hel

    How nice to see that the new reformed Egyptian administration is taking upon itself to repair the state of things in Egypt. You know, like economy, housing, welfare…
    Ah? No? What are they up to then?
    Of course, “marrying” and diddling 9 year old girls.

  • JoelB

    “If Islam allowed it during the Prophet’s time, it will be permissible until the End of Days,”

    …there you have it – a “religion” still mired in the 7th century.

  • Veiled woman

    Agree, all the important issues put in the back burner for the important issue of young girls to satisfy these one track minded idiots.

  • Veiled woman

    Agree, all the important issues put in the back burner for the important issue of young girls to satisfy these one track minded idiots.

  • Denise Matzavinos

    Born again Christian groups are not going backwards. I know many born again Christians and they live ordinary lives. Most are middle class, work at regular jobs, raise their kids, mostly in public schools, and go to college. There are plenty of born again women in business, doctors, teachers, science, and mathematics. And female ministers too.

  • Denise Matzavinos

    These fanatics see females as something to use only for sex and walking incubators.

  • Jorge

    Radicalism is a disease. Impotence consented to sex, lack of friendship, the lack of human respect. The difficulty of accepting the opposite sex, as worthy of affection and love leads to violence. Violence against children, against women and even against other men. It is easier to rape than love. Whether we are Israelis or Muslims or Asians or Africans or people of the Americas. We are men and we need to learn to respect us. This may be the first step to reclaim our humanity.

  • Meaghan B.S.H.

    The marriage to Aisha is always upheld and idealized ….why not our Prophet’s marriage to the 45 year old and widowed Khadija whom he monoagamously married and loved at the age of 25, or his other marriages after her death to other widowed or older women? There’s not even 100% accurate historical evidence to Aishas age and the age of 9 is highly contested between scholars. She was his only virgin wife, but we do know that his others were factually, older and widowed women… why is his love for them not idealized?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tatiana-Covington/100002159242044 Tatiana Covington

    Primitive superstitions of backward ignorant inferior savages.

  • valhalla

    The arrogance of these clerics and it’s male dominating -controlling -abusive religion? these poor little girls have no say -no rights and are forced to live a life of misery -a slave to some ugly old despot with one foot in the grave,and it all started with that -perfect man–Mahammad-lusting after a 6 year old girl-named -Aisha shame on him and the ideology of -Islam .

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