Following are excerpts from a TV debate on the marriage of young girls in Saudi Arabia, which aired on Iqraa TV on May 20, 2010.
Saudi expert on family affairs Ghazi Al-Shimari: According to our social perception and conventions, the definition of a minor changes from one country to another. Here in Saudi Arabia, it is different from Syria, where a girl of 12 or 13 years is considered to be a woman, ready for marriage. The same goes for Yemen, whereas in Kuwait and the Gulf, they are viewed as little girls. We all agree that a minor girl is someone who has not yet reached the age of puberty. That’s how it is among the Sunnis.
Interviewer: What is the age of puberty?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: It is determined according to three criteria: she begins to menstruate, the voice changes, or hair begins to grow in the well-known spots.
Having sex with a woman – that’s another matter. A girl’s marriage does not necessarily entail that having sex with her is permitted. Get it? She has to be able to handle it.
Interviewer: To handle what?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Having sex. A girl may be ready to bear marital responsibilities, but not sex, due to her fragile build, and so on. Get it? But this is true only of some girls.
In Syria, a 12-year-old girl is already grown, and in India, a nine-year-old girl has matured like a woman, because as you know, in a warm climate girls grow up quickly, in contrast to a cold climate.
Thus, we draw a distinction between the legitimacy of marriage, and the permission to have sexual relations.
Hassan Safar, Marriage Official in UAE Justice Ministry: The minor girl is weak in her society. She is forced to get married, but she is not ready and cannot cope with this mission. This is considered a form of corruption, and preventing corruption is one of the principles of Islamic law.
Ghazi Al-Shimari: As religious scholars, we do not support a man of 80 marrying a six-year-old girl. I don’t know where you got the idea about a girl of six or seven years. Nobody said that.
But if there is a 12- or 13- year-old girl, and she is ready – like in the case of Syrian women... If you went knocking on doors in Syria, saying that you wanted to get married, they would ask you: What age? We have a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old. If there is a 20-year-old woman, she has missed her chance.
The Prophet Muhammad married ‘Aisha when she was six years old, but he had sex with her only when she was nine. At that point, she had become a young woman and could cope with it.
Interviewer: Is it religiously appropriate to marry off a girl who knows nothing about marital life, pregnancy, and childbirth? Can a little girl bring up men with awareness for our nation?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: I agree with you when it comes to girls of six, seven, or eight years, but if we are talking about girls of 11, 12, or 13...
Brother, my mother got married at age 13, and I have many aunts and relatives who got married at the age of 13. How old was your mother when she married your father?
Interviewer: Don’t know. She was born before me, and got married before me.
Ghazi Al-Shimari: But Allah be praised, they raised us according to the Koran and Sunna. The problem does not lie in their being 12 or 13 years old. The problem is that even at the age of 18 or 20 years, they may not be ready.
It depends on their upbringing. If she is 11, 12, or 13 years old, yet she is ripe and sensible, and capable of bearing the responsibility... This what you find among our girls.
Interviewer: So if a girl is well developed and tall, and is 11 or 12 years old, she can marry?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Why not? At the age of 13... Yes, she’s ready for marriage. There are girls of 13 or 14 years... I deliver lectures at many schools, and I can tell you that girls in junior high and I can tell you that girls in junior high know things that even adults don’t know.
Interviewer: You give lectures at schools for women?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: But only through a one-way screen.
Interviewer: So how do they see you?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: They can see me, but I don’t see them.
Interviewer: So how can you describe them?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: On the basis of their questions. Some of their teachers describe them to me as well. Besides, I have some relatives aged 11 or 12, and I can see how big they are.
I am a marriage registrar. Sometimes, we ask the girl if she wants to be married, and even though she is hidden by the hijab, you can see that her body is developed. She is 12 or 13 years old, and she can’t wait to get married and have children.
Interviewer: How can you accept the marriage of a girl who has not yet reached maturity, and does not understand the meaning of... She doesn’t know a thing about the sex her husband expects from her.
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Who says they don’t know anything? Today, among girls of 18 or 14 at school, sometimes masturbation and lesbian relations are widespread, and they go out wherever they like.
Interviewer: These are girls who have not matured?
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Exactly. That’s what happens. We live on planet Earth, not Saturn. Therefore, I anticipate that limiting the age of marriage to no less than 16 or 18 years will to the spreading of abomination and crime in society.
Hassan Safar: If it were permitted to marry off a minor girl, who is weak and helpless, and this became public in the West, they would blame Islamic law, not the political regime...
Ghazi Al-Shimari: Why are you so worried about the West? What has the West even given us, yet we bow to them and worship them? We honored them, yet they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, and are wreaking destruction on Palestine. Brother, what has the West ever done for us?