Does Islam Allow Child Marriage?

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asked May 19, 2015 by admin (4,350 points)

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Summary

One of the major misconceptions about Islam is the age at which a person can get married, and the age at which a person is old enough to consent to sexual relations, especially in relation to the marriage of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her).

The laws of Islam do not change because of changes in culture and social norms; rather, Islam seeks a standard which can be uniformly applied, in every time and place. Even the variation in culture from country to country today shows a vast difference in what is considered acceptable, with the legal age of consent in the world (at the time of writing) ranging between 12 years old and 20 years old, depending on the country.

Islam legislated a clear system for marriage, that would work in all times and ages, while still respecting the changes in social norms, according to the following:

  • That the natural minimum age for sexual relations is puberty.
  • That just because the body is ready, doesn’t mean that the person is necessarily mature enough. Maturity changes according to each society and time period, and so each country is free to determine an age of consent, based on maturity and other social factors, but it must not be lower than the age of puberty.
  • That a marriage contract should not be agreed before the age of puberty, unless there is a strong need to do so. Even if this contract is agreed before puberty, it represents nothing more than an agreement to live as husband and wife once the woman reaches marriageable age, and does not allow the man to engage in intimate relations with the woman, until both of them are physically and mentally ready.

As for Aa’isha, her marriage was subject to the same conditions and laws as we have mentioned above, and was conducted with the full consent of her parents, who were already looking for a suitor for her. The Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not live with Aa’ishah, or have intimate relations with her, until she had reached the Islamic legal age of consent, according to the norms of the society at the time – something which was not criticised or challenged by even his worst enemies. She remained his wife for the rest of his life, and all of his other marriages were to women much older than Aa’ishah.

From the point of view of Aa’ishah, she showed none of the characteristics that are commonly associated with forced marriage or child abuse. She was happy, confident, and strong-willed. She remained loyal and loving to her husband, both during his life and after his death. She spoke up for women’s rights, including the right of childhood to be respected, even though she had not even one word of criticism for how her marriage was arranged or conducted.

Finally, just because the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) married a woman immediately after her reaching puberty doesn’t mean that this is recommended or even allowed for a Muslim today.

Full Answer

One of the major sources of misconceptions that arise in relation to Islam comes from misunderstanding the life of the Prophet Muhammad (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) and the circumstances that existed at the time. Whether this comes from people attempting to deliberately misconstrue some of his statements and actions, or those who mistakenly take certain events out of context, there is a need to address some of the most common areas of confusion. One such area of confusion is the Islamic position on the age at which a person can get married, and the age at which a person is old enough to consent to sexual relations.

Firstly, we must emphasise that Islam strictly prohibits sexual relations outside of marriage. Almighty God said in the Qur’an:

“And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.” [The Quran: al-Isra’ 17:32]

Marriage in Islam comprises two stages: a contract of marriage, and the time when the couple live together as husband and wife. There may be no gap between them, or there may be a significant gap, according to the circumstances of the couple.

Secondly, it is important to understand that Islam is a religion for all times and places. It’s laws have existed for over 1400 years, in places spanning the entire globe. The laws of Islam do not change because of changes in culture and social norms, otherwise there would be hundreds, if not thousands of variations of each law, according to the changes in social norms across the world throughout history. Therefore, Islam seeks a standard which can be uniformly applied, in every time and place.

We must also bear in mind that times were very different, even a hundred years ago, in comparison to how they are today. When comparing our time to that of a thousand years ago, the differences are even more pronounced. Even the variation in culture from country to country today shows a vast difference in what is considered acceptable, with the legal age of consent in the world (at the time of writing) ranging between 12 years old and 20 years old, depending on the country.

Islam legislated a clear system for marriage, that would work in all times and ages, while still respecting the changes in social norms, according to the following:

  • That the natural minimum age for sexual relations is puberty. That is the sign that the body is ready and is much more meaningful than raising and lowering the age of consent, according to changing ideas and perceptions. In Islam, puberty is defined by a number of things in men and women, primarily the beginning of nocturnal emission (wet dreams) in men, and the beginning of regular menstruation in women. This is the age at which a Muslim man or woman is considered responsible for their own actions, and so it is a natural minimum age of consent. In men, the average age is 13, and in women between 12 and 13.
  • That just because the body is ready, doesn’t mean that the person is necessarily mature enough. Maturity changes according to each society and time period, and so each country is free to determine an age of consent, based on maturity and other social factors. However, it must never be below the age of puberty, as this is the minimum age of consent in Islam. Returning to the legal age of consent around the world, while there is no problem with those countries who have set an age higher than 15, ages 15 and lower could potentially conflict with Islamic legislation, as not all men and women would have reached puberty by that age.
  • That a marriage contract should not be agreed before the age of puberty, unless there is a strong need to do so. Even if this contract is agreed before puberty, it represents nothing more than an agreement to live as husband and wife once the woman reaches marriageable age, and does not allow the man to engage in intimate relations with the woman, until both of them are physically and mentally ready.

This is a simple system which works in every culture and every time. It allows for countries to legislate a minimum age based on varying maturity and social norms (like 15, 18, etc.), but it sets a minimum age of consent which is the same age that a person becomes responsible for their actions, i.e., puberty. At this age, a man or a woman are responsible for their deeds, and are taken to account for their decisions, whether those decisions relate to marriage, or any other matter.

One of the most common sources of confusion relating to the age of marriage in Islam, is the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her). Aa’ishah’s marriage was arranged for her before puberty. As mentioned above, this is something disliked in Islam, except when it serves a dire need, because it goes against the principle of a person choosing their own partner. However, there is no doubt that this need was present in her marriage to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), for two reasons. Firstly, a marriage to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is something that no parent would want to turn down, and so they arranged it early, out of a fear that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would no longer be looking for marriage by the time Aa’ishah herself was looking. Secondly, the desire for someone to grow up from the beginning of adulthood with the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and to have the kind of close relationship that can only be had by a man and wife. In this, Aa’ishah was known for her intelligence and memory, and her narrations (over 5,000 in total) tell us information about Islam that we simply would not have known any other way.

Of course, this agreement to marry was subject to the same conditions and laws as we have mentioned above. Therefore, the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not live with Aa’ishah or have intimate relations with her, until she had reached the Islamic legal age of consent, which was within the normal range of puberty that we know today. To quote Wikipedia: “The average age of menarche is around 12-13…but menarche can typically occur between ages 9 and 15.”

The circumstances of this marriage were unique, and there was a significant age gap between husband and wife. Once again, this is something that Islam neither forbids nor encourages. If two people are suitable for each other, and one is a lot older than the other, then they may marry, but every case is different. There are some cases when it would be inappropriate and unsuitable to do so, and Islam recognises that, but once again, Islam does not put a false limit on something, that if it were true for one person, may not be true for another. For example, if we were to say a man over 40 should never marry a woman under 20, or that a man under 20 should never marry a woman over 40, this is something that may well be justified in certain circumstances, especially if it transpires that one party is seeking to take advantage of the other. However, it may also be oppressive and completely unnecessary in others. Islam has its own safeguards and conditions to ensure that the rights of both bride and groom are respected, and to annul any marriage in which this is not the case.

From the point of view of Aa’ishah, she showed none of the characteristics that are commonly associated with forced marriage or child abuse. She was happy, confident, and strong-willed. She was a leader of the women, and her rulings and opinions were sought by caliphs and generals, as well as the common people. She excelled in her education and in her social life, and she even went as far as to lead an army in battle. She remained loyal and loving to her husband, both during his life and after his death. She spoke up for women’s rights, including the right of childhood to be respected, even though she had not even one word of criticism for how her marriage was arranged or conducted. To quote a few examples of her confidence and happiness in her marriage:

  • When the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) mentioned his first wife who had passed away, Aa’ishah said, “But she was only an old woman with red eyes, and Allah has compensated you with a better and younger wife (i.e., herself).”
  • Aa’ishah narrates, “By Allah, I saw the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) standing at the door of my room, when some Abyssinians were playing with spears in the mosque. The Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) screened me with his cloak so that I could watch the spear play over his shoulder. He stayed there for my sake, until I had seen enough. So pay attention to young girls’ need for entertainment.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
  • In one narration of the above story, the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Haven’t you had enough?” Aa’ishah said, “I kept saying `No’ in order to test my status with him until finally I had enough.”
  • In another narration, Aa’ishah said, “And so he continued standing for me. When he asked me the second time if I had had enough, I again told him not to rush. I saw him switching his feet from weariness…I really had no desire to look at them, I only wished for the news to reach the women of the way he stood there for me, and the regard he had for me, though I was only a girl. So appreciate the status of a girl young in age and fond of pleasure and fun.”

From the point of view of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), he showed none of the characteristics of a person seeking anything other than a happy, loving marriage. He had ultimate authority to command, and yet he did not touch Aa’ishah until she reached puberty. Aa’ishah remained his wife for the rest of his life, and he did not take a younger wife, despite her own admission that she had grown large and put on weight. All of his other marriages were to women considerably older than Aa’ishah, and all of them had been previously married, with a number of them having children from their first marriages. Aa’ishah’s parents had already considered agreeing her marriage before the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to one of his companions, and so there was no question of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) arranging this himself. He took her as his wife with the full consent of her parents, who were already looking for a husband for her, and he was incredibly loving and kind towards his wife, suffering considerable difficulty on a number of occasions in order to please her. Despite the fact that she was the only young girl that he married and the only virgin, he remained faithful and loving to his other wives, and did not give Aa’ishah any extra time or money. He also used to frequently mention his first wife, Khadeejah after she passed away, even though she was a divorcee and considerably older (according to some reports, she was at least 15 years older than him). All of these are signs that his marriage to Aa’ishah was a permissible marriage which was of incredible benefit and blessings to the Muslims and through which we learned more than we learned from any of his other marriages. He showed none of the evil tendencies that are associated with forced marriage and child marriage today, and he committed no crime according to Islamic legislation, or the standards of the time in which he lived.

Furthermore, there was no criticism of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his marriage, even from his enemies, despite his enemies taking every opportunity to attack him. That’s because what he did was completely consistent with the social norms at the time.

Finally, just because the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) married a woman immediately after her reaching puberty doesn’t mean that this is recommended or even allowed for a Muslim today. The age of marriage and the age of consent to sexual relations is something that every society determines for itself. That is why, at the time of writing, the legal age of consent around the world varies, from puberty (Bolivia, Yemen, and one state in Mexico), and then from 12-20 years old in various places around the world, and with various conditions. Islam simply legislates a minimum standard which must be adhered to, even if the law allows a person to engage in sexual relations at a younger age than the age stipulated in Islam, and this minimum age is one that is suitable in every place and time, and reflects the natural development of the human body.

In summary, one of the major misconceptions about Islam is the age at which a person can get married, and the age at which a person is old enough to consent to sexual relations, especially in relation to the marriage of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her).

The laws of Islam do not change because of changes in culture and social norms; rather, Islam seeks a standard which can be uniformly applied, in every time and place. Even the variation in culture from country to country today shows a vast difference in what is considered acceptable, with the legal age of consent in the world (at the time of writing) ranging between 12 years old and 20 years old, depending on the country.

Islam legislated a clear system for marriage, that would work in all times and ages, while still respecting the changes in social norms, according to the following:

  • That the natural minimum age for sexual relations is puberty.
  • That just because the body is ready, doesn’t mean that the person is necessarily mature enough. Maturity changes according to each society and time period, and so each country is free to determine an age of consent, based on maturity and other social factors, but it must not be lower than the age of puberty.
  • That a marriage contract should not be agreed before the age of puberty, unless there is a strong need to do so. Even if this contract is agreed before puberty, it represents nothing more than an agreement to live as husband and wife once the woman reaches marriageable age, and does not allow the man to engage in intimate relations with the woman, until both of them are physically and mentally ready.

As for Aa’isha, her marriage was subject to the same conditions and laws as we have mentioned above, and was conducted with the full consent of her parents, who were already looking for a suitor for her. The Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not live with Aa’ishah, or have intimate relations with her, until she had reached the Islamic legal age of consent, according to the norms of the society at the time – something which was not criticised or challenged by even his worst enemies. She remained his wife for the rest of his life, and all of his other marriages were to women much older than Aa’ishah.

From the point of view of Aa’ishah, she showed none of the characteristics that are commonly associated with forced marriage or child abuse. She was happy, confident, and strong-willed. She remained loyal and loving to her husband, both during his life and after his death. She spoke up for women’s rights, including the right of childhood to be respected, even though she had not even one word of criticism for how her marriage was arranged or conducted.

Finally, just because the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) married a woman immediately after her reaching puberty doesn’t mean that this is recommended or even allowed for a Muslim today.

answered May 19, 2015 by admin (4,350 points)
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