1. Marriage and Sexuality in Pre-Islamic Arabia

 Before the advent of Islam, the relationship between the sexes was not firmly established the way it became under medieval Islam. According to William Robertson Smith there were three main aspects of marriages in the tribal societies of pre-Islamic Arabia:  a)  endogamy,  b)  exogamy, and  c) mixed marriages. The endogamous marriages were the most common in Muhammed's time. Robertson Smith divides them into two groups; Baal- and Sadiqa-marriages. Baal is a Semitic word for a husband, master and owner. This type of marriage was the most common in Muhammed's time and was adopted by him as a divine ruling for the relationship of the sexes. It was also the type where the husband had absolute authority over his wife. 6
 However, the mu'ta type of marriage, a subdivision from Sadiqa, was also common and traces of this type can be found in the Koran. In mu'ta, the woman's rights were greater than in any other marital type, which included mutual rights to end the marriage. According to tradition, Muhammed allowed the mut'a for a while and verse 4:28 can be interpreted in that manner. Women's marital rights were at one time accepted by Muhammed, although he abolished them later. Indeed, if we want to discuss whether women's status in pre-Islamic Arabia was 'good' or 'bad' we have to compare it to the neighbouring civilisations at that time. If compared with the status of women in Europe, or even the Byzantine Middle East at that time, Arabian women were probably not treated badly.
 Promiscuity was quite common in Mecca before the advent of Islam. Women could 'play the field' and enjoy physical relationships with men, without being hindered by demands of strict decency. As Joseph Schacht stated:

The relations of sexes in pre-Islamic Arabia were characterized not so much by polygamy, which certainly existed, as by frequency of divorce, loose unions, and promiscuity, which sometimes make it difficult to draw a line between marriage and prostitution....7
A group of women called qiyan (singular qayna) entertained pilgrims in Mecca as well as the local population. They danced, sang and slept with whomsoever they liked or especially those could reward them abundantly for their favours. Slave girls, either captured in raids or imported from Iraq or Syria, made the idle hours of the Meccans enjoyable with their dancing, singing and 'other services'. The Meccan nobility and Kaaba's guardians, the Hums, were usually addicted to drinking, gambling, womanising and music. Muhammed, belonging to the Hums, had probably been among those who used to enjoy life in this manner, which was 'perfectly natural' in pre-Islamic Arabia.
 The Arabic word for marriage, nikah, literally means 'to have sexual intercourse'. Thus, a sexual relationship, in which the woman often played an equal part, was one of the basic reasons for marriage, which is universally accepted. However, sometime after the advent of the patriarchal Islam, women were confined to their houses and subjected to the men's rule under the twofold meaning of nikah.
 Soon after the death of Muhammed's first wife Khadija, he got engaged to Aisha, Abu-Bakr's daughter, and married her soon after the hijra. She was only eight or nine years old, 'still playing with her dolls', when Muhammed took her to his bed. Scholars thus assume that child marriages were quite common in pre-Islamic Arabia and build that theory on Muhammed's marriage to Aisha (and other Muslim sources). Muslim scholars do, however, tend to generalise about the jahiliya, according to Islamic standards. If Muhammed, and other prominent Muslims, became 'cradle-grooms', it had to have been practised by the pagans before. Indeed, it might have been, but we do not know to what extent, and especially, if that was a common way of marriage in Mecca or Medina. The Arabs married for sex, beauty, riches, alliances or wisdom. What good would a doll-playing child do to a man, especially one in his later years of life?
 Another issue is the famous infanticide (e.g. the Koran 16:58) commonly believed to have been practised in pre-Islamic Arabia. However, it was totally incomprehensible to kill female children, since they could be a source of income and alliances through marriage. Although Madelain Farah, in her introduction to the Etiquette of Marriage, states boldly: 'Female infanticide (wa'd) was a common practice everywhere' she offers no evidence for her assumption.8 On the other hand, H. Lammens declared:
There is nothing to prove that infanticide was prevalent in Arabia, except in the Tamim tribe, which appears to have practised it during severe famine. This imputation, too easily admitted by Orientalists, is based upon the disregard of the Bedouins for their female children.9
Choosing between those two authors, one would cast his lot to Lammens who, though radical, is fairly accurate. Farah, on the other hand, seems to represent those who take ancient 'truths' for granted without questioning their validity, such as concerning polygamy, which "reigned in pre-Islamic Arabia"10 though polygamy surely existed but was not prevalent. The opinions of other authors do rather tend to draw closer to those of Lammens.
 Then it comes down to this question: were child marriages as common in Mecca as they were claimed to be? Perhaps the same assumption arose in this case as in the above-mentioned. Although child marriages were known, we seem to lack concrete evidence to determine to what extent they occurred, especially in Mecca. What we do know, is that girls could be engaged to be married very young, but  they had to have reached puberty when married. If Aisha was eight, nine or ten when she was married to Muhammed, as commonly believed, she could hardly have fulfilled that obligation. Umar b. al-Khattab was not in dilemma about following Muhammed's sunna. In AH 16, then a caliph, he proposed to marry Umm Kulthum, Aisha's half-sister, who was only 3 or 4 years old at that time.11 Thus, Muhammed's sunna was naturally adopted by the faithful Umar, who would probably also have married Muhammed's wives if the Koran had not prohibited it.



6 See; William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia (London, 1885).
7 Joseph Schacht, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton, 1981), 7.
8 Farah, Marriage and Sexuality, 9-10.
9 H. Lammens, Islam. Belief and Institutions (London, 1929/1987), 21.
10 Farah, Marriage and Sexuality, 11-12.
11 Nabia Abbot, Aishah. The Beloved of Muhammed (Chicago, 1942), 91-92