Age under Muslim Marriage Laws

According to Muslim law, marriage between a man and his wife is a multi-dimensional reality, partaking of the domains of the sacred and the secular. THE THREE ESSENTIALS ARE AS FOLLOWS:

  1. OFFER & ACCEPTANCE
  2. COMPETANT PARTIES
  3. NO LEGAL DISABILITY

Competent parties is defined as A person who is of sound mind and major i.e. who passes the minimum age required for the marriage. Under the Muslim Law  Puberty is considered as age of majority and presumption is that a person attains majority at 15 years of age. The Quran doesn’t provide a minimum age of marriage. The two authoritative sources of Islamic Law sine quibus non, are the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

The Qur’an is relatively silent on the issue of marriageable age, albeit for one verse which states, “And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgment, release their property to them.” (Qur’an 4:6) According to this verse, there seems to be an affinity between being of marriageable age and the age of mature intellect. Extrapolating from this correlation, Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi( the author of family laws of Islam and the Ten companions of the prophet who were promised paradise) claims a constitutive element of having a mature intellect is the ability to understand that one has choices, and the ability to choose the preferential option. Hence, the age of majority, a term Siddiqi equates with marriageable age and the age of mature reason, only occurs after puberty.

He states, “A man or woman who has not attained puberty is unable to exercise his or her choice in matters of sexual matters and is unable to decide whether he or she will like or dislike a certain woman or man as wife or husband. As Qur’an does not give much information on this matter, many jurists turn to sunnah. In the Sunnah there are recount events surrounding the Muhammad’s marriage to Lady Ayesha’s. The prophet married her when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine. The prophet sets a limit as to what is acceptable and what is not. Namely, by consummating his marriage with „Aisha when she is nine instead of when she was six, he effectively sets a limit to acceptable practice. Some might argue, and quite correctly I might add, that this age has risen dramatically since then.

However, some fail to acknowledge this change and prefer to adhere to inherited practices. Eligible age as per old style Islamic law agrees with the event of pubescence. The Hanafi school accept that adolescence will happen no later than at eighteen years for guys and seventeen years for females. In  contrast  to  the  Hanafi  opinion,  both  the  Shafi’i and the Hanbali school set the age of the legal capacity  to marry at fifteen years for both sexes, while the Maliki school draws the line at seventeen years. According to the Jafari school, fifteen years for boys and nine years for girls is considered as the age of majority. In Islamic teaching, girls cannot therefore be deemed to have reached puberty any early than nine, while for boys the minimum age is twelve.

Under this the fact about the minimum age of marriage will be explained i.e. For those who go into marriage, the basic rules in Islam are that they should not only have achieved pubescence, but also have the thorough maturity to recognise and be able to fulfil their rights and obligations in marriage. Only when he is emotionally and intellectually mature to fulfil the conditions of marriage that Islam imposes upon him, the perfect age for a Muslim to marry would be.

For girls, maturity may be defined as follows: ‘A girl’s ability to manage a good life, her level of acceptance of the responsibility of motherhood and child-rearing, as well as her appropriateness in social behaviour.

From the above definitions, we can see that although one may have reached the age of puberty and according to Islamic practical laws, Salat (prayer) and Sawm (fasting) are now obligatory on him/her, but if he/she is not socially active and economically productive, then he/she may be termed as an adolescent, but not as ‘mature’.

The prime age of marriage for girls, would also depend on their mental and psychological maturity. It may be possible that in some cases by the age of 14, a girl may be mature enough to shoulder the responsibility of family-life and motherhood, but a woman of 30 may not yet be mature enough to do so!

The minimum age is set so that they cannot force girls for the early marriage because Marriage before the period of adolescence is unsuitable and disregards the Shari’ah. Marriage after pubescence requires exhaustive maturity and sound, grown-up judgment – given that it is a legitimate agreement which happens with Ayesha because she was married at six which is early marriage and disregarded by Islamic law. Moreover, debating the age of Lady Ayesha’s at marriage Does not discharge the Muslims of their obligation to adhere to the principles of Islamic law and the teachings of prophet Muhammad’s, which prohibits practices and state that physical and intellectual maturity is a precondition of marriage.

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