Fatma: When a girl reaches the end of her ninth year in the Islamic (Lunar) calendar, she becomes responsible for fulfilling her religious duties independently (mukalif). Is this age also considered lawful for marriage?

Sayyid: According to some scholars, a girl who reaches the end of her ninth year in the Islamic calendar (hijra) becomes responsible for her religious duties, such as prayers and fasts. There are also some scholars that state a
girl’s religious responsibility commences upon menstruation. Nevertheless, the consensus of contemporary scholars is that menstruation is the primary criterion for marriage, not necessarily one’s age, as being the main factor.

Despite this consensus, in our time and age, I would not recommend marriage before mental and physical maturity, and a demonstration of one’s ability to bear the task of being a full partner in the family.

Fatma: How does Islam justify a “young age” for marriage when, in most cases, adolescent girls are immature and incapable of managing the tremendous responsibilities of a marriage?

Sayyid: One must understand that Islam knows no race or culture, and it is not bonded to time. Islam is a religion sent for all time and humankind. Although there may be many girls in the world who are young and too immature for marriage, there are also many adolescent (ages 13-19) girls who may be ready for marriage. It would be prejudicial to state that all adolescent girls are too immature for marriage.

In most cases, if we compare the maturity level of adolescent girls in Western societies to those of Eastern societies, one would tend to find that the readiness and ability levels of the Eastern girls for marriage surpass that of the Western girls.

Fatma: Islam is a religion that demands of its adherents physical rituals[1] that require psychological and spiritual conceptualization. Considering that, in general, most young adolescent girls are not mature enough to comprehend the religious undertakings mandated of them, how then does Islam explain the equivalence level of religious responsibilities of young girls to that of adult women, since both are required to implement their religious duties?

Sayyid: It would be unfair to state that the religious expectancy levels of young girls and adult women are equivalent. The Qur’an gives, through parables, numerous examples of degrees in accountability and affirms that people will not be judged in the same manner.

“Allah does not impose upon a soul a duty but to the extent of its ability.” (2:286)

When girls begin to change physically, mentally, and emotionally, it is an introductory stage toward womanhood. It is during this phase that Islam also introduces itself. The development of the spirit is the foundation that makes a person become a rightful human being.

Fatma: In Islam, when a girl reaches physical, mental, and social maturity, she is entitled to manage and dispose of her property or commercial enterprises as she pleases, correct?

Sayyid: Considering that she is fully mature in all the areas you mentioned, correct.

Fatma: Taking into consideration that Islam has recognized her as a responsible person, then why is it necessary for her to seek the permission of her father to marry (for the first time)?

Sayyid: Marriage should not be impetuously decided upon. It requires mature thought and keen perception. There is the famous saying “Love is blind.” Marriage should never be based solely on love, and, unfortunately, it is the mere romantic emotion that drives the immature adult into making unwise decisions.

In general, when young women are emotionally involved with a man, their sense of perception is somewhat distorted. It is during this critical time that the father who raised her, cared for her, and loved her all those years, responsibly analyzes if that particular man is well-suited for his daughter. Generally, fathers want what is best for their daughters.

If the groom was a man who feared and obeyed Allah, and he was able to provide for his daughter a comfortable lifestyle, then there would be absolutely no objection to the marriage. In fact, most fathers would give their blessings from the beginning of the religious courting.

Some women may take offense to this particular ruling, but one should not view it in a negative or demeaning manner. This is a form of protection. This ruling protects the girl from being taken advantage of and from making an irrational decision.

Let us presume that you have a twenty-year-old daughter and she was in love with a man who drank and was consistently in and out of work. Would you give your blessings or would you state your opposition to such a marriage? Even though your daughter is twenty years old, would you agree that she is making an appropriate decision? Age is not the only criterion for marriage; maturity counts as well.

Fatma: Permission of the father for marriage is religiously required for a young woman who marries for the first time. Is there a certain age limit to this ruling? What would be the case if the woman were thirty-something? Would she still be required to obtain her father’s permission?

Sayyid: Scholars of Islam state that, as an obligatory precaution and as a gesture of respect for the father, the woman should seek her father’s approval.

Fatma: According to some schools of thought, the father or grandfather are permitted to contract a marriage for a minor, whether male or female. Then, upon puberty (baleigh) that contract becomes binding unless one of the parties opposes the marriage. A traditional story has been told:

A young girl came before the Prophet perplexed and anxious. She exclaimed, “O Messenger of Allah, from the hand of this father…” “But what has your father done to you?” the Prophet asked. “He has given me in marriage before consulting me in the matter,” she said.

“Now that he has done it, agree and be his wife,” said the Prophet. “How can I be a wife to a man I do not like?” asked the woman. “If you do not like him, that is the end of the matter. You have full authority. Go and make the choice of a man whom you would like to marry,” said the Prophet.[2]

All the varying schools of thought agree that a marriage contract is only valid when both parties consent, but my inquiry is to understand why Islam allows the father or grandfather to contract a marriage prior to the maturity of the girl or boy when their approval is a prerequisite for the marriage contract to be binding?

Sayyid: In the early days of Islam, it was customary for some individuals to marry at a young age. Parents used to arrange marriages for their children. This was the tradition. Islam encourages parents to seek the best suitor for their children, but it forbids parents to exercise a marital contract in which one or both parties oppose.

Fatma: What happens in cases when the father unjustifiably rejects his daughter’s suitor and she decides to elope. Would her marriage be void (batal)?

Sayyid: In order to answer that question correctly, unjustifiably must be clarified.

If the suitor were a man of good faith, a practicing Muslim, compatible with the moral and religious standing of her family, and was capable of sustaining her then there would be no basis for the father’s objection. If
the daughter eloped, then her marriage would be in order. At the same time, Islam advises that the woman continue to seek her father’s blessings.

[1] e.g., five daily prayers, fasting, ritual cleansing baths, and others.
[2] The Rights of Women in Islam, Murtaza Mutahheri.

Women In Islam : A Dialogue with a Muslim Scholar {Sayed Moustafa Al -Qazwini} By Fatma Saleh

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