At the age of six, a Turkish girl — identified only by her initials HKG — was married off to 29-year-old Kadir Istekli, a friend of her family, by her father. Why at the age of six? That was the age at which little Aisha was called in from playing on her swing to be introduced to, and then to be betrothed to, Muhammad. He waited patiently until she was nine, however, until he was 54, to consummate his marriage to her. Muhammad is the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil) and Model of Conduct (uswa hasana); if he “married” Aisha when she was six, then consummated the marriage when she was nine, Muslims since then have felt justified in emulating him and taking a six-year-old child bride for themselves and, like him, consummating the marriage when she turned nine.
HKG only realized in 2020 that her marriage was both most peculiar, and illegal, and she is now pursuing a criminal case against her parents and her husband Kadir Istekli, for her hideous mistreatment, including the sexual relations (though not necessarily sexual intercourse) she was forced to have with her husband starting at the age of six. Muhammad, let’s remember, the Model of Conduct, had the decency to refrain from sexual intercourse until little Aisha attained the age of nine; Istekli must have done the same with HKG.
Meanwhile, Muslim fanatics have rallied to the side of the three accused, while other Turks, including the large number who, thanks to Ataturk’s reforms, are secular, have expressed their support for the former child bride. More on this sensational case, this cause célèbre, can be found here: “Turkish Fury Over 6-Year-Old Bride Could Change Country’s Future,” by Abigail R. Esman, Algemeiner, April 5, 2023:
It was a game, the child’s father and his friend told her. They would visit a photographer. She would wear a beautiful white dress.
But by the time the photo session ended, the little girl was married. It hadn’t been a game at all.
Her father’s friend, 29-year-old Kadir Istekli, was her new husband. And she was only 6 years old.
Now 24, that girl — known only by her initials, HKG — is pursuing a criminal case against both Istekli and her father, Yusef Ziya Gumusel, who had arranged the marriage. The case has created significant uproar in their native Turkey, where Gumusel is a leading figure in the Islamist Ismailaga Brotherhood, considered by many to be a cult. With over 100,000 members, the Brotherhood — based in Istanbul’s Fatih district — also is said to have ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP party.
HKG’s father, a deeply sincere, even fanatical, Muslim, is a man of consequence in Islamic circles. He’s a leader in the Ismailaga Brotherhood, an Islamist group with more than 100,000 members that many in Turkey consider a cult of fanatics. He’s a supporter, of course, of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Politicians from the opposition parties have condemned the marriage and sexual abuse of HKG and other girls in this and other religious sects as prosecutors call for a 27-year sentence to be imposed on each of HKG’s parents and Istekli, with an additional 40-year sentence for Istekli for sexual assault. Meanwhile, the Ismailaga community is calling for the journalists who first broke the story last December to be arrested. Sentencing in the case is scheduled for May 22 — one week after Turkey’s May 14 presidential elections, which many see as the most significant in the 100-year history of the Republic.
A 27-year sentence for both parents will mean they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. And so will Kadir Istekli, if he is given the extra 40 years on top of the 27 years that the prosecutor has requested. Do these sentences seem excessive? Not to me, nor to you, and most importantly, not to the victim of their religiously-sanctioned villainy, HKG.
The Isamilaga community has rallied around the father and gone on the offensive, calling for the journalists who first reported on HKG’s horrific history, and the criminal charges that have now been brought against her parents and her husband, to be arrested. How dare journalists criticize such an upstanding member of the Ismailaga community as HKG’s father who, after all, was only following the example of the Prophet Muhammad with Aisha in allowing his six-year-old daughter to be “married” to his 29-year-old friend?
HKG’s story is particularly horrifying: the journalists who first reported it uncovered evidence that she was sexually abused from the start of the marriage, and she has said that it was not until she was 18 that she first realized that it was not normal for 6-year-old girls to be wedded off — a discovery she claims she made only when she looked it up on her phone.
I assume that as a good Muslim, Kedar Istekli would have put off sexual intercourse with HKG until she turned nine, the age at which little Aisha had sexual intercourse with 54-year-old Muhammad. But “sexual abuse” of all kinds was apparently going on, likely running the gamut from frottage to pintle-pull to forced fellatio. Don’t ever let it be said that Kadir Istekli would violate the rules of Islam or the example of patient Muhammad, who waited gallantly until little Aisha turned nine before penetrating her. But it would have been cruel to require him to abstain from sexual activity altogether with her during those three years.
Moreover, her father warned her repeatedly against disobeying her husband and when she first attempted to escape, he found her, beat her, and sent her back to Istekli. In November, 2020, however, HKG finally fled her marriage and filed charges against her husband and both parents.
When HKG’s father found and beat her, and sent her back to her husband, he was only acting as Islam permits. Daughters must obey both their husbands and their fathers, who can beat them, and in some cases even kill them, without suffering any punishment. Think of all the Muslim fathers who have beaten or murdered their daughters, including Yaser Abdel Said, who killed his daughters Amina and Sarah for going out with American non-Muslim men. Think of all the Muslim husbands who have beaten or murdered their wives for refusing to supply sex on demand, or otherwise being “disobedient.” Qur’an 4:34 allows husbands to “beat” their wives if they merely suspect them of being disobedient. Islamic practice has allowed for the infliction of far greater punishments than mere beatings, by husbands on their wives. And “honor killings” in Muslim societies of husbands and fathers are often punished lightly, if at all. In Turkey, Muslim fanatics would naturally take the side of HKG’s father and her husband, whom she should have unquestioningly obeyed, and certainly she should never have reported them to the police.
But while hers was an especially shocking case, child marriages are not uncommon in Turkey, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe. Approximately one-third of all Turkish women marry before the age of 18. And sects such as the Ismailaga Brotherhood, a highly conservative Sunni Sufi group, are arguably a large contributor to the trend. Indeed, many Turks maintain that the Ismailaga’s strong influence on Turkey’s ruling party was behind the country’s 2021 withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.
That influence, and the suspected ties between Erdogan and the AKP and Ismailaga and other Islamist groups, may well have consequences for the upcoming elections. Already, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who leads Erdogan in the polls, has accused justice officials and the Minister of Family and Social Services of neglect and complicity, noting it took a full two years to arrest Istekli and Gumusel after HKG filed charges….
Erdogan has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and, apparently, to the Islamist Ismailaga Brotherhood as well. Many Turks assume, given his links to the Ismailaga Brotherhood, that he too does not think the father and husband of HKG should be punished for what is Islamically sanctioned. And it is that assumption that could be devastating to Erdogan’s chances to win the presidential election being held this May.