Do the Reliance of the Traveler and Other Islamic Books Promote Pedophilia?

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

Do the Reliance of the Traveler and Other Islamic Books Promote Pedophilia?

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“Test ˹the competence of˺ the orphans until they reach a marriageable age. Then if you feel they are capable of sound judgment, return their wealth to them.”[1]

            Some Christian lowlifes have been sharing screenshots of books by Islamic scholars on the internet and claim that these books allegedly state that it is allowed to have sexual intercourse with a pre-pubescent child in Islam, and thus, Islam promotes “pedophilia”.[2] One of the most commonly cited books is the classical Shafi’i manual of Sharia law Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveler [RoT]) by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 769 AH/1368 CE).[3] Another book that has been making the rounds on the internet is the more contemporary Bahisti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments), written by the Indian scholar Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (d. 1943).[4] In this article, we will scrutinize the screenshots of these books provided by the Christian lowlifes to show that they have not even read these books and are guilty of deliberate acts of deception, insha’Allah.

Exhibit 1: Reliance of the Traveler and “Prepubescence”

            The screenshot below (Figure 1) has been given as “evidence” by some Christians of Islam’s alleged “immoral” teachings. This segment can be found on p. 567 of the manual.

Abdool chimp - RoT screenshot
Figure 1: Screenshot of the Reliance of the Traveler purporting to promote “pedophilia”.

If we assume that by “prepubescent”, the RoT meant before the “stage of human development when the body becomes capable of reproduction” (i.e., “puberty”, see note #2), then it would appear that it clearly promotes “pedophilia” (sexual activity with a prepubescent child). It seems to be a slam-dunk for the Christians, or does it?

            Upon investigation, it becomes immediately clear that the Christians have not read the entire manual, because if they had, they would know how the words “prepubescent” and “puberty” are defined in the manual. They are not the same definitions as in modern parlance. In fact, the RoT defines “puberty” as the following (also see Figure 2):

“[p]uberty applies to a person after the first wet dream, or upon becoming fifteen…years old, or when a girl has her first menstrual period or pregnancy.”[5]

Reliance of the Traveler - onsent of puberty A

Reliance of the Traveler - onsent of puberty B
Figure 2: Screenshot of the Reliance of the Traveler which shows how the term “puberty” was defined (pp. 411-412).

            So, we can see that the definition of “puberty” in the RoT is not the same as in modern, scientific sources. Thus, if a girl had a “wet dream” (i.e., nocturnal emission), was 15 years old, OR had her first menstrual period, she was considered to be “pubescent”. If none of these conditions were met, then she would have been considered “prepubescent”.

            It is also important to note that the RoT indicates that the earliest possible age for menstruation is “about 9 full years” (this is based on Aisha’s age as mentioned in the authentic ahadith and proves that Aisha was menstruating by that time).[6] If a girl experienced uterine bleeding before that age, it was not considered to be menstruation and the girl was considered a minor (see Figure 3).

Reliance of the Traveler - menstruation age
Figure 3: Screenshot of the Reliance of the Traveler stating that the earliest age for menstruation is 9 full lunar years (p. 93).

            To better understand these points, suppose a 14-year old girl has never had a wet dream and has not started menstruating. According to the RoT, she would be considered “prepubescent”, despite the fact that she would most likely be showing other signs of puberty, as recognized by modern science. According to the website “Healthline”, puberty usually begins in girls between the ages of 9 and 11 and is accompanied by breast and pubic hair growth and uterine enlargement.[7] However, according to the RoT’s definition, a girl who is 9 years old and exhibits breast or pubic hair growth would not be considered “pubescent” until 1 of the 3 conditions previously mentioned is met, one of which is menstruation. Thus, breast growth or the presence of pubic hair in the absence of a wet dream, menstruation, or being 15 years old would NOT qualify as puberty, according to the standards of the RoT.

            According to the “Healthline” link, most girls experience their first menstrual period between the ages of 12 and 14, but it can also happen earlier.[8] Menstruation is thus a STAGE of puberty and is not synonymous with puberty itself. This is also stated by the well-known Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, which defines “menstruation” as (emphasis ours):

“[t]he cyclic, hormonally generated sloughing of the uterine endometrium, which occurs between puberty and menopause and is accompanied by bloody vaginal discharge. The onset of menstruation (menarche) usually occurs during puberty (9 to 17 years of age).”[9]

However, according to the RoT, if a 14-year old girl has not experienced her period or had a wet dream (and is obviously not yet 15 years old), she is considered “prepubescent”, despite the fact that she would certainly be exhibiting other signs of puberty.

            However, the website IslamQA cites the Hanbali scholar Ibn Uthaymeen in stating that the presence of pubic hair would also indicate the onset of puberty, even in the absence of the other signs, e.g., menstruation. It states:

“Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: Puberty is reached with the occurrence of one of three things in males, namely:

1. Reaching the age of fifteen years

2. Growth of pubic hair

3. Emission of maniy with desire when awake or asleep.

If one of these three things occurs, then the individual has reached puberty.

In the case of females, a fourth sign is added to this list, namely menstruation. If a female menstruates, even if she is ten years old, then she has reached puberty.”[10]

Thus, by this standard, the person would be considered pubescent, not prepubescent.

            Nevertheless, it should be noted that just because a person is pubescent does not mean that it is automatically allowed to have intercourse with that person. The RoT clearly states in multiple places that sexual intercourse is only allowed if a person can physically endure it. For example, on p. 525, it states (also see Figure 4):

“It is obligatory for a woman to let her husband have sex with her immediately when:

  • he asks her;
  • at home
  • and she can physically endure it…

As for when sex with her is not possible, such that having it would entail manifest harm to her, then she is not obliged to comply.”[11]

Reliance of the Traveler - husband's rights
Figure 4: Screenshot of the Reliance of the Traveler stating that sexual intercourse is only allowed when a person can physically endure it (p. 525).

This was also the view of other scholars, including the founders of the 3 major schools, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’i, and Imam Abu Haneefah.[12]

            Also, in a separate fatwa, IslamQA noted that even if someone has entered puberty, it does not mean that they are necessarily able to have intercourse. Rather, it states this “varies from one environment and time to another”.[13]

            The fact is that an appropriate age at which a person was considered physically able to endure sexual intercourse was never set by the classical scholars of Islam. Rather, this was left up to the parties concerned (i.e., the prospective bride and groom and the former’s father) to decide. Medical expertise could also be sought and called to testify in a Shariah court, as Jonathan Brown explained in his book Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy:

“[t]he norm that the ulama it comes to consensus and was only a general guideline: they prohibited sexual intercourse for girls ‘not able to undergo it,’ on the basis that otherwise sex could be physically harmful. if the groom and his wife or her guardian disagreed about her capacity for sex, a Shariah court judge would decide, perhaps after a female expert witness examined her. This was also based on the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha. The couple had concluded the marriage contract when Aisha was only six but had waited to consummate the marriage until she reached physical maturity. In the case of the Hanbali tradition followed by the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, sex was allowed when the bride was ‘at the age at which others like her have intercourse,’ specifying nine as the norm for suitability for sex on the basis of Aisha’s Hadith.”[14]

            It is also important to note that sex with a person who was unable to endure it was condemned by scholars. For example, Brown notes the following:

“[h]istorical evidence from nineteenth-century Ottoman Palestine suggests that husbands having sexual intercourse with wives before they reached puberty did sometimes occur. But it was rare, condemned socially and censured by Shariah court judges. Shariah courts in French Algeria in the 1850s considered it equally despicable…”[15]

Also, this was not a later view. Classical scholars also condemned people who had sex with children. According to Rais et al. in an article in the Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Recent Innovations:

“[i]n Islamic criminal law it is explained that sexual crimes against children can be divided into three forms, adultery (sexual intercourse without marriage), liwath (anal sexual intercourse), and sihaq (homosexuality/lesbian), each of whom has a clear sentence in Sharia Law. If the crime was categorized as adultery, then the punishment is jilid (whipping) for those who are not married and stoning if they have been married. It if was categorized as liwath and sihaq, then the punishment is in accordance with the differences of opinion of the ulama, namely stoning, or even death sentence. If the act is in the category of sexual abuse, then the punishment is ta’zir.”[16]

            Thus, in conclusion, the preponderance of the evidence undoubtedly demonstrates that neither the Reliance of the Traveler nor classical Islamic law promotes “pedophilia”.

Exhibit 2: Does the Book Bahisti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments) Promote “Pedophilia”?

            The following screenshot (Figure 5) has been shared on social media by some Christian lowlifes. The screenshot is from the book called Bahisti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments) by the Indian scholar Ashraf Ali Thanvi.

Abdool chimp - Bahisti Zevar screenshot
Figure 5: Screenshot from the book Heavenly Ornaments allegedly showing that sex with children is allowed.

According to deceptive and ignorant Christians, Thanvi states that sex with an “under-aged woman” is permissible. However, this idiotic claim can be easily refuted by employing some simple reading comprehension. The fact is that Maulana Thanvi was simply mentioning a hypothetical scenario and was not talking about whether the act was halal (allowed) or haram (forbidden).

            As another example, let us look at a hypothetical scenario where ghusl (bath) would have been required (in the previous scenario, ghusl was not required). On page 75 (see Figure 6), Thanvi mentioned a scenario in which a woman inserted the penis of an animal into the vagina.[17] This act is obviously HARAM, but it is only the scenario that is being discussed.[18]

Bahisti Zevar - bestility p. 75
Figure 6: Screenshot from the Heavenly Ornaments mentioning a hypothetical scenario involving bestiality (p. 75). Merely discussing this scenario does not mean that bestiality is allowed in Islam.

            The irony is that in a different book compiling the teachings of Maulana Thanvi, it is unequivocally stated that the ideal age for marriage is “adulthood”, namely when a person enters puberty. In the book The Islamic Marriage: Sayings of Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, it is stated that (also see Figure 7):

“Allah has said: And test the orphans until they reach a marriageable age. (4:6)

This is evidence that the ideal time of marriage is after adulthood. Thus, when children grow to adulthood and become intelligent they may be married. (Islah Inqilab pp. 35, 44)”[19]

It also states that:

“[t]here is [no] specified age for a girl to gain adulthood, but certainly not before nine and before she is fifteen years old. The signs are menstruation and such others, but if these signs are not found until she is fifteen, she is regarded as an adult. (Imdad ul Fatawa, v-2 p-218)”[20]

Bahisti Zewar - ideal age for marriage
Figure 7: Screenshot from the book The Islamic Marriage: Sayings of Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi that clearly shows that Thanvi did not promote marriage before puberty.

In fact, on page 107, it is explained that “marriage in childhood is harmful” (Figure 8).

Thanvi - evils of child marriage
Figure 8: Screenshot from The Islamic Marriage: Sayings of Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi showing that Thanvi was against child marriage (p. 107).

            It should also be noted that Thanvi was talking about marriage, not sexual intercourse (which is only allowed after marriage). As was seen in the RoT, sex was only allowed when a person could physically endure it. The bottom line is that Islamic law is very clear on the institution of marriage. While a person who has not reached puberty can be married, that does not mean it is lawful to have sex with that person. Christians who present cherry-picked screenshots are only despicable propagandists.

Exhibit 3: Surah at-Talaq Promotes Pedophilia?

            In light of the above discussion, let us briefly discuss Surah at-Talaq, 65:4, which the vile detractors of Islam love to quote as allegedly allowing sex with children. This is not the case! The verse states:

“As for your women past the age of menstruation, in case you do not know, their waiting period is three months, and those who have not menstruated as well. As for those who are pregnant, their waiting period ends with delivery. And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make their matters easy for them.”

Since it mentions females who have not menstruated, some ignorant people assume this means someone who is “prepubescent”. However, as mentioned above, as per the scientific definition, menstruation is not the same as “puberty”. Rather, the former is considered a stage of the latter. In most cases, menstruation is one of the last stages of puberty in girls (Tanner stage 4).[21]

            Thus, when the Quran mentioned the iddah (waiting period for a woman after the death of the husband or divorce) for women who have not menstruated, it does not mean that they were not “pubescent”, but rather just not menstruating. This could be due to a medical condition (amenorrhea) or simply because menstruation has just not started yet. A person could be “pubescent” but not yet menstruating.

            Furthermore, as we have seen, Islamic law does not allow sexual intercourse with a person who is not able to do it. Also, the ideal age for marriage is clearly stipulated in the Quran in Surah an-Nisa, 4:6:

“Test ˹the competence of˺ the orphans until they reach a marriageable age. Then if you feel they are capable of sound judgment, return their wealth to them.”

 The scholars of Islam agreed that this referred to the age of puberty. The famous commentator Ibn Kathir stated that the “marriageable age”:

“…the age of puberty, according to Mujahid. The age of puberty to the majority of scholars comes when the child has a wet dream.”[22]

Therefore, once again, the preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that Islam does not promote “pedophilia”.

Conclusion

            In this article, we have 3 cases of ignorant and deceptive Christians (although other “critics” of Islam may also make similar claims) trying to “prove” that Islamic sources promote sexual intercourse with children (pedophilia). In each case, we demonstrated the complete ignorance of the Islamic sources, and perhaps more embarrassingly, of the basic concepts of human sexuality (these presumably fully-grown adults do not know the difference between “puberty” and “menstruation” for example) of the critics of Islam. The evidence shows that books like the Reliance of the Traveler and Heavenly Ornaments forbid sexual intercourse when it would be harmful (as it would in children), and while marriage can occur before the onset of puberty, sexual intercourse is not allowed until the person is physically able to endure it. The determination of when this would be possible was not discussed by the classical scholars and was instead left to the concerned parties to decide, perhaps with the help of medical experts presented before a judge.

            And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] Surah An-Nisa, 4:6 (Mustafa Khattab translation). Unless otherwise noted, all translations of the Quran are from Dr. Mustafa Khattab’s The Clear Quran.

[2] By “prepubescent”, it is assumed that these lowlifes are using the modern definition, which is someone who has not entered “puberty”. Also, as we will see, there is much confusion among these people what “puberty” actually is. Indeed, the scientific definition is also rather vague. According to the book Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, “puberty” is defined as:

“… the stage of human development when the body becomes capable of reproduction. For legal purposes (e.g., laws relating to child abuse), puberty is considered to begin at age 12 for girls and age 14 for boys” (William L. Yarber and Barbara W. Sayad, Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America [New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2016], p. 161).

By “pedophilia”, it is assumed that the definition provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is acceptable to the detractors of Islam. According to the book Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, the DSM-5 defines “pedophilia” as:

“…recurrent, for at least 6 months, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving sexual activity with a prepubscent child or children” (Ibid., p. 313).

[3] Nuh Ha Mim Keller, “Introducton,” in Reliance of the Traveler: A Classical Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1994), p. ix.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashraf_Ali_Thanwi

[5] Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler: A Classical Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1994), pp. 411–412.

[6] Ibid., p. 93.

[7] https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/stages-of-puberty

However, Yarber and Sayad state that puberty “typically” begins “between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 9 and 14 for boys…” (Yarber and Sayadi, op. cit., p. 161).

[8] https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/stages-of-puberty

[9] Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 21st Edition (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: F.A. Davis Company, 2009), p. 1445.

[10] https://islamqa.info/en/answers/192334/are-emission-of-madhiy-and-growth-of-armpit-hair-signs-of-puberty

[11] Al-Misri, op. cit., p. 525.

[12] https://islamqa.info/en/answers/22442/on-acting-and-the-ruling-on-marrying-young-girls

[13] https://islamqa.info/en/answers/178318/child-marriage-in-islam-is-subject-to-the-condition-that-it-serve-a-clear-and-real-interest

[14] Jonathan A.C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choice of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (London: OneWorld Publications, 2015), p. 143.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Isnawati Rais, Khamami Zada, Tresia Elda, and M. Nurul Irfan, “Sharia and International Law on Chemical Castration Sentence in Sexual Crime against Children: Conflict and Contraint”, Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Recent Innovations (ICRI 2018), p. 2456, https://www.scitepress.org/Papers/2018/99444/pdf/index.html.

[17] Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Heavenly Ornaments (Bahisti Zewar) (Karachi, Pakistan: Darul-Ishaat, 2009), p. 75.

[18] There is disagreement among the scholars of Shariah Law whether bestiality has a hadd (prescribed) or a ta’zir (discretionary) punishment. But all scholars agree that it is HARAM. So, when Thanvi mentioned either scenario, he was not saying whether they were allowed or not!

[19] The Islamic Marriage: Sayings of Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, trans. Rafique Abdur Rahman (Karachi, Pakistan: Darul Ishaat, 2003), p. 108.

[20] Ibid.

[21] https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/stages-of-puberty#tanner-stage-4

[22] http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-An-Nisa/Giving-Back-the-Property-of-th—

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