Marriage to Minors

Surah At-Talaq (65:4)

In Surah at-Talaq (i.e. divorce), the author gives some rulings on issues what has to be done in case of divorcing a wife. In particular, verse 4 specifies waiting periods that need to be observed before newly-divorced women can marry another man. This verse is problematic because together with Muhammad's example of marrying a minor ('Aisha at age nine) it is the reason that Shariah law does not set a minimum age for marriage.

This is correctly reflected in many English translations. Just a few are given here:

Abdel Haleem Aisha Bewley Muftis Shafi‘ & Usmani Shakir Al-Hilali & Khan
If you are in doubt, the period of waiting will be three months for those women who have ceased menstruating and for those who have not [yet] menstruated; the waiting period of those who are pregnant will be until they deliver their burden: God makes things easy for those who are mindful of Him. In the case of those of your wives who are past the age of menstruation, if you have any doubt, their ‘idda should be three months, and that also applies to those who have not yet menstruated. The time for women who are pregnant is when they give birth. Whoever has taqwa of Allah – He will make matters easy for him. And those women from among you who have despaired of (further) menstruation, if you are in doubt, their '‘iddah is three months, as well as of those who have not yet menstruated. As for those having pregnancy, their term (of '‘iddah) is that they give birth to their child. And whoever fears Allah, He brings about ease for him in his affair. And (as for) those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, if you have a doubt, their prescribed time shall be three months, and of those too who have not had their courses; and (as for) the pregnant women, their prescribed time is that they lay down their burden; and whoever is careful of (his duty to) Allah He will make easy for him his affair. And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the 'Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise, except in case of death]. And for those who are pregnant (whether they are divorced or their husbands are dead), their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is until they deliver (their burdens), and whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make his matter easy for him.

The main purpose for the waiting period is for making sure who is the father of any child. The case of fertile women is covered in Surah 2:228 which prescribes to wait for three menstrual cycles, and gives the command not to hide a pregnancy. This present verse is concerned with the question of what to do when there is no menstrual bleeding and the assumption is that within three months it should become clear if a woman is pregnant, so that this time period is sufficient. Thus the verse has a clear structure: There are those for whom one does not really expect that they are pregnant – because they have either passed the age of monthly courses or not yet reached this age – and who are thus commanded to wait three (lunar) months. And then there are those women who are already pregnant. Their waiting period is until they give birth.

The verse specifies for women who do not menstruate the waiting period between divorce and remarriage, and lists these women in three categories:

(a) those who do no longer menstruate because they are already too old,
(b) those who do not yet menstruate because they are still too young, and
(c) those who do currently not menstruate because they are pregnant.

That the phrase "and of those too who have not had their courses" refers to prepubescent girls is not only obvious from many modern translations of the Qur'an (see the above as well as others listed on this page), but it has been the traditional understanding and is stated explicitly in many classical source texts of Islam, see the section under the subheading "The classical interpretation".

Some Muslim translators, however, seem to have been duly embarrassed by the statement regarding the divorce of girls who have not even menstruated yet. It has, after all, the clear implication that Islam endorses marriage to and sex with minors (cf. S. 33:49). Thus they are trying to cover up or at least dilute the actual teaching of this verse in one way or other. Let us examine first the following three translations:

Ali Ünal Amatul Rahman Omar Shabbir Ahmed
Those of your women who have passed the age of monthly courses (or those who for some reason do not have monthly periods) – if you are in uncertainty about it – their waiting-period is three (lunar) months. As for the women who are pregnant (whether divorced or widows), their waiting-period is until they deliver their burden. Whoever keeps from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety, He makes his affair easy for him. If you are in doubt (how to calculate the period) of such of your women as have despaired of monthly courses, then (know that) period for which they must wait is three months and (the same holds good) for such women as have not menstruated (for some other reasons). And (as to) pregnant women, their term (will end) when they are delivered of their burden (after giving birth to a child). And (bear in mind) for the one who keeps his duty to Allah, He will provide facility in his affair for him. And such of your women as no longer expect menstruation, as well as those women who do not have menstruation (for any physiological reason), to resolve your doubts, their waiting period is ordained to be three months. And for those who are pregnant, the waiting period ends when they deliver their burden. And anyone who is mindful of Allah, He will make his situation easy for him.

Ali Ünal puts the clause in parentheses as if this is some kind of comment and not part of the actual text. All three of the above translators add a phrase like "some reason" or "some other reason" or "any physiological reason" as if the issue is some kind of illness — instead of the original and natural meaning of referring to minors who simply have not yet started to menstruate. The approach is to generalize category (b) so that attention is diverted from minors to all kinds of potential reasons (illnesses) which may cause a stop of menstruation.

Note also, that Ali Ünal and Shabbir Ahmed put the verb in present tense, even though the Arabic is in the past tense, as seen in the first three translations given above, and even in Amatul Rahman Omar's version. This use of the present tense is a subtle way to suggest an (unnatural) "current condition" rather than the natural "not yet".

Bassam Khoury provides the following explanation:

The Arabic is clear; it uses "lam yahidna" which means they haven't had it "yet". If the Qur'an wanted to say "they don't have it", it would have used "la yahidna". The use of "Lam" means that something hasn't happened yet but it could happen in the future. The use of "La" means something doesn't happen. Actually the wrong translation makes the point stronger because it shows that some Muslims couldn't accept the verse as Allah has given it.

Even worse than the above is the manipulation found in the following two translations:

Rashad Khalifa Progressive Muslims
As for the women who have reached menopause, if you have any doubts, their interim shall be three months. As for those who do not menstruate, and discover that they are pregnant, their interim ends upon giving birth. Anyone who reverences GOD, He makes everything easy for him. As for the women who have reached menopause, if you have any doubts, their interim shall be three months. And as for those whose menstruation has ceased, and those who are already pregnant, their interim is until they give birth. And anyone who reverences God, He makes his matters easy for him.

They both disconnect the clause "those too who have not had their courses" from what comes before, and join it instead to the next sentence in order to give a totally different impression. However, they do this at the price of turning a clear statement into formulations that are rather obscure.

Rashad Khalifa not only puts the phrase in present tense, but most importantly, he joins the distinct categories (b) and (c) into one group, speaking now of a rather strange group of women "who do not menstruate but nevertheless get pregnant". Instead of the natural categories of women found in the above list, we now have a ruling for a group of women that is very rare indeed, but no longer any regulation for vast majority of women who get pregnant after having menstruated in the usual way.

The manipulation in this translation is as silly as it is obvious. Nevertheless, with his trick Khalifa turned pre-pubescent girls into women, or at least into girls who have just reached puberty, because otherwise they could not have got pregnant. Therefore, the strongly offensive element in this "revelation" is eliminated or at least softened.

While the last three translators tried to drown the little girls in the noise caused by their generalization of group (b), Rashad Khalifa simply eliminated group (b) altogether and restricted group (c) to women who get pregnant without having had a normal menstrual cycle before conception.

Khalifa's trick is not possible when one pays close attention to the rules of Arabic language. Basically, the "wa" (and) between the two clauses makes them two distinct groups. Bassam Khoury again:

In order to justify Khalifa's translation, the Arabic would have to be "waalla-ee la yahidna olatu al-ahmali" instead of "waalla-ee lam yahidna waolatu al-ahmali", i.e. it would have used "la" not "lam" and would have dropped the "wa" and the translation would then have beeen, "As for those who do not menstruate, the pregnant ..."

Progressive Muslims also put the full stop after the first group, and then start a new sentence with the clause that is so problematic. However, their manipulation is just as obvious because of its weird results. First, they make the author of the Quran sound rather absent-minded because he now speaks about women in menopause twice: (1) "women who have reached menopause", and (2) "those whose menstruation has ceased" (instead of not yet started). Moreover, this translation formed a new category of two different groups with a common regulation:

And as for [1] those whose menstruation has ceased,
AND [2] those who are already pregnant
their interim is until they give birth.

Had they said "as for those whose menstruation has ceased because they became pregnant, their interim is until they give birth" that would be meaningful (even though it would still be a wrong translation), but the formulation they chose is absolute nonsense. By repeating "and those" twice this becomes a combination of two distinct groups and means that the cessassation of the menstruation in the first group is not due to pregnancy. But if they are not pregnant, how can they wait until they give birth?!?

As stated above, both Rashad Khalifa and Progressive Muslims managed to eliminate the offensive teaching but only at the price of creating really obscure categories of women and/or formulations that are actually unintelligible. They rather put nonsense into the mouth of Allah if only they can avoid talking about the morally reprehensible teaching of marriage to girls who have not even menstruated yet.

The classical interpretation of Surah 65:4

Sahih Al-Bukhari

CCCLXXXIV: The Tafsir of Surat at-Talaq

Mujahid said that "if you have any doubt" (65:4) means "if you do not know whether she menstruates or not." The 'idda of women who do not longer menstruate and those who have not yet menstruated is three months. ...

(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Chapter 68: Book of Tafsir; English translation by Aisha Bewley; underline emphasis mine)

XXXIX. A man giving his young children in marriage

By the words of Allah, "that also applies to those who have not yet menstruated" (65:4) and He made the 'idda of a girl before puberty three months.

4840. It is related from 'A'isha that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, married her when she was six years old and consummated it when she was nine, and she was his wife for nine years.

(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Chapter 70: Book of Marriage; English translation by Aisha Bewley; underline emphasis mine; Arabic source available in many places, for example, here)

Fath al-Bari – the most authoritative commentary on Sahih Al-Bukhari

واللائي لم يحضن , فجعل عدتها ثلاثة أشهر قبل البلوغ ‏ ‏أي فدل على أن نكاحها قبل البلوغ جائز

"and those who haven't menstruated yet: He made the waiting period ('idda) three months [for those who] haven't menstruated yet, which indicates that giving her into marriage before puberty is permissible." (Arabic source; translation by Bassam Khoury)

Tafsir Ibn Kathir

Allah the Exalted clarifies the waiting period of the woman in menopause. And that is the one whose menstruation has stopped due to her older age. Her `Iddah is three months instead of the three monthly cycles for those who menstruate, which is based upon the Ayah in (Surat) Al-Baqarah. [see 2:228] The same for the young, who have not reached the years of menstruation. Their `Iddah is three months like those in menopause. ... (Source)

Tafsir al-Jalalayn

And [as for] those of your women who (read allā’ī or allā’i in both instances) no longer expect to menstruate, if you have any doubts, about their waiting period, their prescribed [waiting] period shall be three months, and [also for] those who have not yet menstruated, because of their young age, their period shall [also] be three months — both cases apply to other than those whose spouses have died; for these [latter] their period is prescribed in the verse: they shall wait by themselves for four months and ten [days] [Q. 2:234]. ... (Source)

Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

(And for such of your women as despair of menstruation) because of old age, (if ye doubt) about their waiting period, (their period (of waiting) shall be three months) upon which another man asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What about the waiting period of those who do not have menstruation because they are too young?” (along with those who have it not) because of young age, their waiting period is three months. (Source)

Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi

(And for such of your women as despair of menstruation…) [65:4]. Said Muqatil: “When the verse (Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart…), Kallad ibn al-Nu‘man ibn Qays al-Ansari said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, what is the waiting period of the woman who does not menstruate and the woman who has not menstruated yet? And what is the waiting period of the pregnant woman?’ And so Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse”. Abu Ishaq al-Muqri’ informed us> Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hamdun> Makki ibn ‘Abdan> Abu’l-Azhar> Asbat ibn Muhammad> Mutarrif> Abu ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Salim who said: “When the waiting period for divorced and widowed women was mentioned in Surah al-Baqarah, Ubayy ibn Ka‘b said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, some women of Medina are saying: there are other women who have not been mentioned!’ He asked him: ‘And who are they?’ He said: ‘Those who are too young [such that they have not started menstruating yet], those who are too old [whose menstruation has stopped] and those who are pregnant’. And so this verse (And for such of your women as despair of menstruation…) was revealed”. (Source)

Tafsir al-Kabir by Ar-Razi

{and those who have not menstruated yet} A man stood and asked: ‘O messenger of Allah, what is the period (Iddah) of the young girl who has not yet menstruated?’ Then Allah revealed {and those who have not menstruated yet}, meaning that her Iddah is like the old-aged woman who reached her menopause. (Arabic Source; translation by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

Tafsir Al-Qurtubi

{and those who have not menstruated yet} Meaning the young girl.(*) (Arabic Source; translation by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

[Note: * Here “young” (as-sagheerah) denotes a girl who did not reach the age of puberty yet.]

Asrar ut-tanzil wa Asrar ut-ta'wil by Al-Baidawi

{and those who have not menstruated yet} Meaning those who have not menstruated yet. (Arabic Source; translation by M. Al-Fadi)

It is noteworthy that Al-Baidawi simply repeats the Quranic phrase, i.e. the explanation is identical to the phrase that is to be explained. Maybe Al-Baidawi felt the need to comment because the issue is controversial, but since the statement itself is clear, you better accept it as it is. Perhaps this is an attempt of persuasion by repetition?

Tafsir al-Qur'an by Al-Fayrooz Abadi

{and those who have not menstruated yet} Those who did not menstruate due to their young age. (Arabic Source; translation by M. Al-Fadi)

Zad al-Masir fi ‘Ilm al-Tafsir (”The provision of the Journey”) by Ibn al-Jawzi

{and those who have not menstruated yet} There are two reasons behind the revelation of this verse:

The First: when the Iddah guidelines for the Divorced women was revealed in Q.2:227-232, Ubay ibn Ka’b said: ‘O messenger of Allah: some of the women in Medina have been saying; this passage [Q.2:227-232] does not cover the category of all women. [The messenger] said: “which one is that?” [Ubay] said: the young; the old; and the pregnant. So this verse was revealed. This was narrated by Amro bin Salem.

The Second: when Allah revealed [Q.2:228 ...] Khallad bin al-Nua’man al-Ansari said: ‘O messenger of Allah, so what is the Iddah for the one who does not menstruate, and the one who is pregnant? So this verse was revealed. Narrated by Muqatil. (Arabic Source; translation by M. Al-Fadi)

Al-dar al-manthour fi al-tafseer bil ma’thour by As-Suyuti

{and those who have not menstruated yet} They are the young girls (jawari) who have not menstruated yet. (Arabic Source; translation by M. Al-Fadi)

Tafsir Muqatil ibn Sulayman

{and those who have not menstruated yet} ... means the Iddah of the young girls (jawari) who have not menstruated yet, and they were married and then divorced. (Arabic Source; translation by M. Al-Fadi)

We conclude with excerpts from two important commentaries from the 20th century.

English Tafsir Ma'ariful Qur'an by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ and Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani

... and in the terminology of Shari'ah the term '‘iddah means the waiting period prescribed for a divorced woman before she can marry another man. [p. 493] ... Women who do not menstruate, because they have not yet attained puberty, or because they have attained menopausal age, ... [p. 494] ... This procedure applies in the case of the women whose '‘iddah is calculated by menstrual cycles or clean cycles. It does not apply to women for whom waiting-period is not compulsory, as in the case of a woman who did not have privacy with her husband. If a man and a woman got married but they did not get together in privacy, '‘iddah is not necessary for her at all when she is divorced. Therefore, it is permissible to divorce such women during their monthly courses. Likewise, '‘iddah for a woman who does not menstruate on account of minority of age, or because she has attained menopausal age, is computed on monthly basis. Their '‘iddah is three months. [pp. 495-6] (Source)

Tafhim al-Qur'an by Maududi

Here, one should bear in mind the fact that according to the explanations given in the Qur'an the question of the waiting period arises in respect of the women with whom marriage may have been consummated, for there is no waiting-period in case divorce is pronounced before the consummation of marriage. (Al-Ahzab: 49). Therefore, making mention of the waiting-period for the girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl in marriage at this age but it is also permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Qur'an has held as permissible. (Source, footnote 13).

[The WikiIslam article Pedophilia in the Quran presents further classical source texts (tafsir) on this verse and discusses various objections by modern Muslim apologists.]

Analysis and implications

Syed Abul A'ala Maududi (1903 - 1979) was a highly respected scholar of Islam. He was well aware of the criticism of child-marriages that is levelled also at Islam but he clearly says Muslims cannot reject and forbid something that the Qur'an has permitted.

In fact, this verse goes even further than "marriage and intercourse" with prepubescent girls. It speaks not of only one marriage, but about the waiting period between two marriages. In other words, the Qur'an endorses explicitly that (usally much older) Muslim men can marry eight or nine or ten year old girls, have sex with them, then divorce them and – after a waiting period of three months – other (older) men can marry them, and have sex with them. That would be a traumatic experience for any girl. (And, potentially, this could be repeated several times without violating Islamic law.)

Even though one cannot summarily label every child-bride marriage as child-abuse, many or even most of them are indeed abusive and traumatic for those girls (both physically and psychologically, see the evidence in the below listed articles). However, as Maududi recognized, because of the “divine revelation” in S. 65:4, (orthodox) Muslims cannot even legislate against this kind of child-abuse nor punish it, at least in a Sharia framework.

Certainly, this alone should be a sufficient reason to reject Sharia as the law for any country, to object strongly against the introduction of Sharia law in not traditionally Muslim countries, and for enlightened Muslims to campaign for its restriction or replacement in countries where Sharia is currently the basis of national law.

However, manipulating the text to cover up what it really says is not acceptable. Genuine progress can only be made on the basis of knowledge and truth and dealing with the facts.

Jochen Katz

The quotation from Al-Hilali & Khan was taken from the QuranBrowser, Mufti Shafi‘ & Usmani's translation and commentary were taken from the English Tafsir Ma'ariful Qur'an (1, 2) by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, Translation by Prof. Muhammad Hasan Askari & Prof. Muhammad Shamim, Revised by Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Vol. 8, pp. 489-90, 493-496 (*), all other translations of S. 65:4 used in this article, as well as the transliterations, were taken from IslamAwakened.

Further reading

Qur'an Versions
Answering Islam Home Page