Often, people will use euphemisms to avoid being graphic about private matters--such as those concerning the intimate life of couples. "Marital duties," to that end, usually mean the sexual union between man and woman, which in the Catholic faith is meant for bonding and babies. The bond helps to tie the two for life, and the children are accepted as a gift of God to be raised for His greater glory. In Christianity, the family itself is understood to be a shared mission built on the solid foundation of mutual submission and respect between husband and wife.
But what does it mean in this context?
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti okayed marriage for girls starting at age 10 and criticized those who want to raise the legal marriageable age, according to news reports.
Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh said a girl becomes ready for marriage at 10 or 12 according to Islam and stressed that Islamic law is not by any means oppressive to women, the London-based al-Hayat reported Wednesday.
"Those who call for raising the age of marriage to 25 are absolutely mistaken," al-Sheikh said in a lecture he gave at the faculty housing mosque of Imam Mohamed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.
"Our mothers and grandmothers got married when they were barely 12. Good upbringing makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties at that age."
"All marital duties" make it sound like there are more than just the one named above, but what are these young children capable of, really? In addition to bearing children (which is the consequence of sexual intimacy, obviously) they might be capable of tidying a house, fixing simple meals and various limited chores.
It would be nearly impossible to finish school or maintain critical friendships -- especially with the workload that falls primarily on their young shoulders. There is also the loss of the ongoing formation that only a mother could provide. Childbirth before age 14 is certainly possible, but very hard on a little body, and if they survive, they might have as many as 3 or 4 children before turning 20. Remember also, these girls can be cast off at any time with no recourse, and so they must submit in order to have a place to live and so that they will not lose contact with their own children. In all, these victims will have remarkably stunted lives, which may explain why generation after generation insists on the same abusive scenario--for it follows that their own mothers never had a chance to properly mature.
It is astonishing that grown men see no problems in this system, and have no concern for the intellectual, spiritual or emotional maturity of wives and mothers--in fact, they seem to have no expectation of a mutually edifying relationship. Indeed, if it is true that Islamic tradition states "Paradise lies at the feet of mothers," then there is something terribly wrong either with the Islamic paradise or the Imams who believe it and marry off their girls in this manner. Either way, the continued inequality in marriage is an ongoing tragedy that seems to have no end in sight.